340. Memorandum From the Assistant Legal Adviser for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Aldrich) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1 2
- Seabeds—Principles ACTION MEMORANDUM
With one exception, the Department of Interior has agreed to our draft statement of seabed principles. They have proposed language, which you have seen, that substantially alters the principle concerning a boundary for the area beyond national jurisdiction. Since June 1968 the United States has called for an “internationally agreed” precise boundary. The Interior language substitutes a call for precise definition of an “internationally accepted” boundary. Interior also refuses to accept our proposal for a moratorium on boundary claims.
I understand that, upon the advice of Mr. Pollack of SCI, you have agreed to the substitute language proposed by Interior.
The purpose of this memorandum is to request that, for the reasons given below, you reverse this decision.
If the United States proposes the Interior language, without making a concommitant moratorium proposal, the option of eventual agreement to a narrow zone of coastal State jurisdiction will in a very short time disappear. This will be true regardless of whether the United States in fact exercises jurisdiction beyond its geologic shelf. Other nations, apparently at the behest of U.S. oil companies, are currently granting large seabed concessions to private oil companies. Often these concessions include areas which [Page 2]extend to the deep ocean floor. If such exercises of jurisdiction are not objected to by any State they will be, in Interior’s proposed language, “internationally accepted.” It was by this procedure that the Truman Proclamation of 1945 came to be “accented” as international law.
At Tab A is a memorandum which explains more fully the reasons why the United States should propose a moratorium.
- The National Petroleum Council and several nations who favor a broad boundary of coastal State jurisdiction have consistently maintained that the boundary should be established by interpretation of the Geneva Convention, rather than by new agreement. Proposal by the United States of the position favored by Interior would generally be understood as acceptance of this “interpretation” position and a reversal of the position favoring an “agreed” boundary, which we have consistently maintained to date.
- In addition to the above view, the NPC strongly asserts that under the Convention coastal States now have exclusive rights over the entire submerged continental terrace—i.e., to the deep ocean floor. U.S. acceptance of the Interior language may well be understood as acceptance of this part of the NPC position as well. The practical result would probably be that we shall lose the option of ever establishing a narrow zone of coastal State jurisdiction, either by new agreement or through interpretation of the Geneva Convention.
- Quite apart from the above arguments, if we agree that our goal is the definition of a precise boundary, there are a number of reasons why it should be sought through agreement, rather than by interpretation of the Geneva Convention: the most obvious is that an interpretation of the highly ambiguous language of the Convention can more readily be [Page 3]abandoned by new governments in other countries than could a new agreement employing clearer language.
- I would point out that our language does not prevent us from deciding at some point to seek to establish a boundary by interpretation if a new agreement cannot be obtained. Therefore, it does not prejudice Interior’s position, but Interior’s language prejudices our position.
That you decide that the United States should continue to seek an agreed boundary to the continental shelf and a moratorium on national claims.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, General Files on NSC Matters, S/S-I Files: Lot 73 D 288, Box 9, NSC/Misc. Seabed. Confidential. Sent for action. Sent through S/S. Drafted by Carter, who also drafted the undated “Seabeds Moratorium-Background and Considerations.” Copies were sent to Richardson, Samuels, Pollack, and Popper. Johnson disapproved the recommendation on June 2.↩
- Aldrich opposed compromise language proposed by the Department of the Interior concerning seabed principles. Johnson disapproved Aldrich’s recommendation to continue efforts to secure an agreed continental shelf boundary and a moratorium on seabed claims.↩