233. Memorandum From the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Foster) to the Committee of Principals1


  • Arms Control on the Seabed (U)

Last December, the U.N. General Assembly established an Ad Hoc Committee to consider future uses of the seabed and ocean floor.2 During the recent meetings of this Committee, there was widespread interest in applying arms control measures to the seabed. The kinds of measures which were mentioned fall into the following three categories:

Demilitarization of the seabed.
Reservation of the seabed for peaceful purposes.
Prohibiting the stationing of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction on the seabed.

On the basis of our studies of the desirability and feasibility of an arms control measure, and as a result of staff-level discussions with other agencies, ACDA has concluded that the proposal for demilitarization of the seabed would be inimical to U.S. national security because of its effect on critical U.S. underwater surveillance systems. The reservation of the seabed for peaceful purposes would require careful definition of the meaning of such a reservation in order not to preclude the use of such surveillance systems. Further study is required before the U.S. position on a peaceful purposes proposal can be determined. Since a proposal to reserve the seabed for peaceful purposes only can be expected to attract wide support, ACDA believes that its implications should be explored on an urgent basis.

I do believe that the U.S. should urgently adopt a policy in favor of negotiating a treaty to prohibit the stationing of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction on the seabed. I believe that such an arms control measure would be in the U.S. interest. Taking such a position will enable us to fend off more general proposals that might adversely affect our security interests.

It should be noted that in the period following the NPT, the U.S. will be under considerable pressure to demonstrate that it is prepared to [Page 580] negotiate further arms control measures as required by Article VI of the NPT. A seabed arms control proposal appears to be the most readily acceptable measure for multilateral negotiation in light of the Soviet announcement of March 20 at the U.N. that they favor discussing it in detail at the ENDC.3

A proposal for arms control on the seabed is herewith enclosed for consideration by the Committee of Principals.4 It is recommended that the Principals approve the following:

That the U.S. attempt to negotiate in the ENDC a treaty, or the relevant provisions for a more general seabed treaty, in which each state party to the treaty undertakes not to station or fix nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction on, within, beneath, or to the seabed beyond 12 nautical miles from its coast and up to the coast of any other state.

It is proposed that this subject be discussed at a meeting of the Committee of Principals which will be called some time after April 29.

William C. Foster
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Clifford Papers, Arms Control on the Seabed (1), Box 20. Top Secret; Noforn. A stamped notation on the source text reads: “Sec Def has seen Brief.”
  2. On December 18, 1967, the U.N. General Assembly established a 35-member Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction. The Ad Hoc Committee held three sessions in 1968. The first two were held at U.N. headquarters in New York; the first March 18-27, and the second June 17-July 9. The third was held in Rio de Janeiro, August 19-30.
  3. For a summary of the statement by the Soviet Representative (Malik), see Documents on Disarmament, 1968, pp. 194-196.
  4. An attached 15-page draft paper entitled “U.S. Proposal for Arms Control on the Seabed” is not printed.