376. Statement Issued by President Nixon1 2

Statement About United States Oceans Policy.

THE NATIONS of the world are now facing decisions of momentous importance to man’s use of the oceans for decades ahead. At issue is whether the oceans will be used rationally and equitably and for the benefit of mankind or whether they will become an arena of unrestrained exploitation and conflicting jurisdictional claims in which even the most advantaged states will be losers.

The issue arises now—and with urgency—because nations have grown [Page 2]increasingly conscious of the wealth to be exploited from the seabeds and through-out the waters above and because they are also becoming apprehensive about ecological hazards of unregulated use of the oceans and seabeds. The stark fact is that the law of the sea is inadequate to meet the needs of modern technology and the concerns of the international community. If it is not modernized multilaterally, unilateral action and international conflict are inevitable.

This is the time then for all nations to set about resolving the basic issues of the future regime for the oceans—and to resolve it in a way that redounds to the general benefit in the era of intensive exploitation that lies ahead. The United States as a major maritime power and a leader in ocean technology to unlock the riches of the ocean has a special responsibility to move this effort forward.

Therefore, I am today proposing that all nations adopt as soon as possible a treaty under which they would renounce all national claims over the natural resources of the seabed beyond the point where the high seas reach a depth of 200 meters (218.8 yards) and would agree to regard these resources as the common heritage of mankind.

The treaty should establish an international regime for the exploitation of seabed resources beyond this limit. The regime should provide for the collection of substantial mineral royalties to be used for international community purposes, particularly economic assistance to developing countries. It should also establish general rules to prevent unreasonable interference with other uses of the ocean, to protect the ocean from pollution, to assure the integrity of the investment necessary for such exploitation, and to provide for peaceful and compulsory settlement of disputes.

I propose two types of machinery for authorizing exploitation of seabed resources beyond a depth of 200 meters.

First, I propose that coastal nations act as trustees for the international community in an international trusteeship zone comprised of the continental margins beyond a depth of 200 meters off their coasts. In return, each coastal state would receive a share of the international revenues from the zone in which it acts as trustee and could impose additional taxes if these were deemed desirable.

As a second step, agreed international machinery would authorize and regulate exploration and use of seabed resources beyond the continental margins.

The United States will introduce specific proposals at the next meeting of the United Nations Seabeds Committee to carry out these objectives.

Although I hope agreement on such steps can be reached quickly, the negotiation of such a complex treaty may take some time. I do not, however, believe it is either necessary or desirable to try to halt exploration and exploitation of the seabeds beyond a depth of 200 meters during the negotiating process.

Accordingly, I call on other nations to join the United States in an interim policy. I suggest that all permits for exploration and exploitation of the seabeds beyond 200 meters be issued subject to the international regime to be agreed upon. The regime should accordingly include due protection for the integrity of investments made in the interim period. A substantial portion of the revenues derived by a state from exploitation beyond 200 meters during this interim period should be turned over to an appropriate [Page 3]international development agency for assistance to developing countries. I would plan to seek appropriate congressional action to make such funds available as soon as a sufficient number of other states also indicate their willingness to join this interim policy.

I will propose necessary changes in the domestic import and tax laws and regulations of the United States to assure that our own laws and regulations do not discriminate against U.S. nationals operating in the trusteeship zone off our coast or under the authority of the international machinery to be established.

It is equally important to assure unfettered and harmonious use of the oceans as an avenue of commerce and transportation, and as a source of food. For this reason the United States is currently engaged with other states in an effort to obtain a new law of the sea teaty. This treaty would establish a 12-mile limit for territorial seas and provide for free transit through international straits. It would also accommodate the problems of developing countries and other nations regarding the conservation and use of the living resources of the high seas.

I believe that these proposals are essential to the interests of all nations, rich and poor, coastal and landlocked, regardless of their political systems. If they result in international agreements, we can save over two-thirds of the earth’s surface from national conflict and rivalry, protect it from pollution, and put it to use for the benefit of all. This would be a fitting achievement for this 25th anniversary year of the United Nations.

NOTE: On the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on the statement by John R. Stevenson, Legal Adviser of the Department of State.

  1. Source: Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971), pp. 454-456.
  2. The President proposed that the resources of the deep seabed be exploited as the common heritage of humankind, establishing a 12-mile limit for territorial seas, and a guarantee for free transit through international straits.