55. Memorandum NSCU/DM–39A from the from the Chairman of the National Security Council Under Secretaries Committee (Rush) to President Nixon 1 2

Subject:

  • U.S. Policy on Antarctic Mineral Resources

In early 1973, you directed that a review of United States policy on Antarctic mineral resources be undertaken. A policy decision is needed now to enable us to begin mustering support for the U.S. position prior to a meeting of Antarctic Treaty nations in April 1975.

Since 1961, the Antarctic Treaty has provided a satisfactory framework for activity in Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty does not specifically address mineral exploitation, but it is clear that this is a permitted peaceful use. It is practically certain that there are mineral deposits in Antarctica, but their extent is unknown.

There are at present no known mineral resources that can be extracted economically in Antarctica and, with the possible exception of petroleum, no mineral exploitation appears feasible in the foreseeable future. There are also at present no known commercially-oriented mineralogy activities or planning by any Treaty or non-Treaty nation.

However, the subject of mineral resource exploration and exploitation was actively discussed at the 1972 Consultative Meeting of the Treaty parties and the issue will be on the agenda of the 1975 Consultative Meeting.

Several policy options regarding commercial exploration for and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources have been examined in this review, including:

  • —adopting a unilateral approach without any agreement with other countries in accordance with our legal right to engage in peaceful uses of Antarctica;
  • —entering into agreements with states claiming Antarctic territory;
  • —seeking an internationally agreed approach;
  • —keeping options open by adopting no policy at this time;
  • —supporting a limited moratorium on mineral resources activity.

Although some contentious issues would surely arise in the process of seeking an internationally agreed approach, the Under Secretaries Committee, with the exception noted below, believes this option would provide the U.S. with the best chance of gaining access to Antarctic resources, of reducing the possibility of significant international discord on this subject, and of protecting our security, political, scientific and conservation interests in Antarctica.

Except for the Federal Energy Office, the members of the Under Secretaries Committee recommend that you (1) authorize consultation with the Treaty parties and possibly others to gain acceptance of the concept that there should be an internationally agreed approach to the commercial exploration for and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources, and (2) approve the policy statement attached to this Memorandum. Further steps in the development of an international approach will depend upon additional study within the U.S. Government, based in part upon the consultations, which study gill be forwarded for your decision.

An Executive Summary, three memoranda setting forth the Federal Energy Office position and a summary of agency inputs to the review are attached.

Kenneth Rush
Chairman
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Attachment

U.S. POLICY ON ANTARCTIC MINERAL RESOURCES

Contents

1.
Proposed U.S. Policy on Antarctic Mineral Resources
2.
Executive Summary
3.
Scenario
4.
Federal Energy Office Comments
5.
Summary of Antarctic Mineral Resources Study
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Proposed U.S. Policy on Antarctic Mineral Resources

1.

It is the objective of the United States

  • —To ensure that, if undertaken, commercial exploration and exploitation in Antarctica are carried out in a manner that does not disrupt the implementation of the Antarctic Treaty as long as it is in effect, and does not become a cause for significant international discord.
  • —To ensure that any exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources is compatible with environmental considerations and with United States obligations under the Antarctic Treaty.
  • —To gain acceptance of the concept that there should be an internationally agreed approach for any commercial exploration and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources, which should at the same time (a) permit free access by the U.S. and other nations for exploitation purposes to any part of the Antarctic Treaty area except those areas specifically designated for other uses, (b) be without prejudice to and appropriately compatible with United States law of the sea interests, (c) provide for the protection of the Antarctic environment, and (d) preserve the rights under the Antarctic Treaty of scientific research.

2.
During the time that the United States is seeking an international approach, the United States will oppose actions by any nation with the purpose of commercial exploration and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources. At the sane time, however, the United States will continue as feasible within the present scientific program to determine the mineral resource potential of Antarctica more accurately. (This position will need to be reevaluated periodically in light of the progress of any negotiations, actions by other countries, and continuing economic and technological assessments of United States and foreign capabilities to be provided by a subcommittee of the Under Secretaries Committee.)
3.
The United States will continue to maintain and be prepared to augment as appropriate an active and influential presence in Antarctica in keeping with its present and future scientific, economic (including resource potential), political and security interests in Antarctica.
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Executive Summary

Mineral resources exploration and exploitation in Antarctica became an issue at the November 1972 Consultative Meeting of the parties to the Antarctic Treaty. There was considerable pressure by several countries for at least a limited moratorium on any mineral resource exploration and exploitation activities in Antarctica. The U.S. urged and it was agreed that the subject should be examined further and included on the agenda of the 1975 Consultative Meeting, for which preparations will begin later this year. The subject is expected to become an even more active and possibly contentious issue.

The Under Secretaries Committee review, has taken into account, as directed by the President, U.S. obligations under the Antarctic Treaty; pertinent technical, economic, commercial, legal and political considerations; and potential problems associated with resource development in the Antarctic.

Discussions and Options

Since 1961, the Antarctic Treaty has provided a satisfactory framework for all activity in Antarctica, defined as that area lying south of 60 degrees South Latitude, and preserves the rights of states under international law with regard to [Page 7] the high seas in this area. Seventeen countries are party to this Treaty.*

Seven Parties claim sovereignty over Antarctic territory—Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Certain portions of Antarctic territory are unclaimed. Most non-claimant parties, including the U.S. and the USSR, do not recognize any claims and consider Antarctica as terra nullius.

The Antarctic Treaty does not specifically address mineral exploitation, but it is clear that this is a permitted peaceful use. There are at present no known mineral resources that can be extracted economically in Antarctica and, with the possible exception of petroleum, no mineral exploitation appears feasible in the foreseeable future. These assessments could change in the next few years—depending, for example, on developments in the world energy situation—but no significant changes are expected in that period. In any event, future economical exploitation in Antarctica would require significant advances in mining techniques, petroleum extraction technology, and transportation techniques.

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There are also at present no known commercially-oriented mineralogical activities or planning by any Treaty or non-Treaty nation. Although some claimant states have expressed interest in or concern about the possibility of exploitation within their territorial claims, claimant states generally have been willing to withhold any unilateral action on issuing licenses for commercial exploration until the Treaty parties have further considered agreed procedures for such activities.

The United States has consistently provided leadership in Antarctic affairs ever since the negotiation of the Treaty in 1959. The conclusions and recommendations of this review have taken into account this leadership role and the following U.S. policy objectives in the Antarctic as announced by the President on October 13, 1970:

1.
“To maintain the Antarctic Treaty and ensure that this continent will continue to be used only for peaceful purposes and shall not become an area or object of international discord;
2.
“To foster cooperative scientific research for the solution of world-wide and regional problems, including environmental monitoring and prediction and assessment of resources;
3.
“To protect the Antarctic environment and develop appropriate measures to ensure the equitable and wise use of living and non-living resources.”

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Several options regarding U.S. policy toward Antarctic mineral resources have been examined in the Under Secretaries Committee review. These include:

  • —Adopt a policy of unilateral exploration and exploitation of Antarctic resources if and when it were deemed desirable without depending on any negotiations or agreement with other countries and in accordance with our legal right to engage in peaceful uses of Antarctica.
  • —Adopt a policy of entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with claimant states, if and when it were deemed desirable, to satisfy a particular claimant’s concerns without depending on broader negotiations or agreement for resource exploitation.
  • —Seek an internationally agreed approach to the exploration and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources which is consistent with our objectives and our obligations under the Antarctic Treaty and which provides a basis for U.S. access to Antarctic resources. (An agreed formal mechanism, regime, or arrangement or less formal understanding need not necessarily, however, be within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty.)
  • —Adopt no policy now on Antarctic mineral resources, in order to keep open the possibility of any of the above options, and oppose any attempts by other countries to establish either a moratorium or agreed international procedures.
  • —Support a moratorium on exploration and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources to last until the next Treaty Consultative Meeting in 1977.

All of the above alternatives, with the exception of seeking an internationally agreed approach, present serious drawbacks and their effectiveness in enabling the U.S. someday to exploit Antarctic mineral resources is subject to serious doubt.

  • —Unilateral U.S. commercial exploration and exploitation or bilateral or multilateral arrangements, which did not include all interested Antarctic Treaty Parties, would create discord among the Parties, lead to accusations that we were in violation of the Treaty, and prompt claimant states to reassert their sovereign claims over Antarctic territories and surrounding high seas. Such reactions could result in serious disruption of the Antarctic Treaty which has and continues to serve our political, security, and scientific objectives in this part of the world.
  • —Taking no policy decision now would seriously weaken our leadership role in Antarctic affairs and our ability to assert effectively an interest in potential Antarctic mineral resources.
  • —A limited moratorium would likely create momentum for indefinite continuation of a moratorium on exploitation activity and thereby exclude the Antarctic from possible United States use.
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On the other hand, it is recognized that the remaining alternative of seeking an internationally agreed approach might result in very protracted negotiations and delay timely access to Antarctic mineral resources, when that becomes feasible and desirable, and that some contentious issues would surely arise in the process of future negotiations. Our proposed policy would contemplate continued review to avoid any disadvantage to the United States arising out of possibly protracted negotiations.

On the positive side, however, in seeking an internationally agreed approach the U.S. would stand the best chance of gaining ready access (alone or in cooperative ventures with others) to the potential Antarctic resources, of reducing the possibility of significant international discord on this issue, and of protecting our security, political, scientific, and conservation interests in Antarctica.

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Scenario

In order to muster support for acceptance of the concept of an internationally agreed solution, the United States should undertake to consult in a timely manner with those Treaty Parties who are known to be favorably disposed to some international solution. Discussion should be exploratory in nature, and the U.S. should not give any indication of finding any specific international approach or attribute thereof more acceptable than any other. Informal discussions preparatory to consideration of the subject at the Eighth Consultative Meeting in Oslo in April 1975 should be confined to attaining acceptance of the concept that there should be an international approach to exploration for and exploitation of mineral resources in Antarctica.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, OES/OA Files: Lot 90 D 234, Box 1, Antarctic Mineral Resources 1974, 1975. Confidential. Drafted by Yoder. Forwarded on April 29 by Grove to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the National Science Foundation, the Director of the Federal Energy Office, and the Secretaries of Defense, Interior, Commerce, and Transportation. Sections 4 and 5, covering Federal Energy Office comments and a summary of the Antarctic Mineral Resources Study, have not been published.
  2. The memorandum considered U.S. policy options concerning extraction of Antarctic mineral resources and recommended consultations with other parties to the Antarctic Treaty.
  3. Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Japan, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, South Africa, USSR, UK and US.