58. Report on Preliminary Consultations with Antarctic Treaty Negotiations Regarding Antarctic Mineral Resources1 2

Report on Preliminary Consultations with Antarctic Treaty Nations Regarding Antarctic Mineral Resources

NSDM 263 authorized the Department of State, in coordination with interested agencies, to undertake preliminary consultations with the other parties to the Antarctic Treaty to gain acceptance of the idea that there should be an internationally agreed approach to the issues of commercial exploration for and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources.

Operating under the terms of the NSDM, a fact-finding team held consultations in October 1974 with Foreign Ministry officials in London, Paris, Brussels, and Oslo and with representatives of the other Antarctic Treaty nations (Argentine, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Africa and USSR) attending a preparatory meeting in Oslo for the Eighth Consultative Meeting on the Antarctic Treaty.

The immediate and overriding concern of all these countries is that international decisions taken regarding the Law of the Sea not impinge upon the interests of the twelve Antarctic Treaty signatories with respect to management of the Antarctic Treaty area. All agree that a coordinated approach to Law of the Sea negotiations is needed, and that consultations among the twelve Antarctic Treaty delegations during the course of the Geneva LOS conference may be desirable. Motivated by the specter of control of Antarctic resources activity passing into the hands of the international community as a whole, current thinking by Antarctic Treaty nations ranges from readiness to propose detailed plans for an international instrument to regulate exploitation of Antarctic minerals (United Kingdom) to a stated willingness on the part of the less internationally-oriented countries (Argentina and Chile) to seek a “realistic, equitable and intelligent” formula for economic activities in the area. “Antarctic Resources-Effects of Mineral Exploration” has been inscribed as the 15th and last substantive item on the agenda for the Eighth Consultative Meeting on the Antarctic Treaty, scheduled to convene in Oslo on June 9, 1975. The preparatory committee is due to meet in late February to discuss the relationship between the mineral resources question and LOS concerns.

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At no point in the team’s consultations was there any indication that any Antarctic Treaty nation is considering dealing with the minerals problem in a context other than an international one. Many countries’ positions appear to have evolved well beyond those taken at the Seventh Consultative Meeting in 1972. At that time debate centered on whether or not there should be a moratorium on exploration and exploitation. All evidence now points to general acceptance of the idea that there should instead be an internationally agreed approach to the issues of commercial exploration for and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources. Some countries have begun to consider what kind of international regulatory instrument might be established to deal with extractive activity by any Party, and perhaps non-Parties, in any part of the Treaty area. Consonant with U.S. policy objectives, as stated in the NSDM, there was a consensus among the representatives of the Antarctic Treaty Parties at the October 1974 preparatory meeting that their governments should discourage commercial exploration for and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources by their nationals during the time an internationally agreed approach is being sought.

There is general agreement that knowledge of the nature and extent of mineral deposits in Antarctica is extremely limited and likely to remain so until techniques are developed for measuring resource deposits under the extensive ice cap, and that for the foreseeable future the only mineral resource whose exploitation may be possible is offshore oil.

Discussions revealed that suspicion of United States’ motives regarding Antarctic resources continues to grow among the other Treaty Parties. This suspicion arises from the failure of the U.S. to exercise its usual leadership role at the Seventh Consultative Meeting and in subsequent consideration of the subject, coupled with the recent and planned Antarctic activities of the research ship GLOMAR CHALLENGER. Suspicion appears to be especially strong in Argentina, Chile, Australia and to a lesser degree, in the United Kingdom.

A summary of individual country views is presented below:

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Antarctic Treaty Nations’ Views on Exploitation of Antarctic Mineral Resources


The mineral question is very important, highly political and extremely sensitive. Big powers should exercise restraint while a solution is being worked out. Any solution would have to take into account the present balance of interests as well as the views of the twelve Treaty Parties. The solution should maintain the provisions of the Treaty, including the principle of unanimity, and should take into account the desire that Antarctica shall not become the scene or object of international discord. The Government of Argentina is prepared to discuss the question realistically and responsibly, and is coordinating its position with that of Chile on the basis of shared interests in the area. The Antarctic Treaty was difficult to negotiate, and cannot be relied on too far for guidance on this issue. The question deserves deep, comprehensive, and prudent consideration and cannot be resolved in haste.

Argentina is extremely concerned that the Geneva Law of the Sea Conference may seek to take over the Antarctic mineral resources issue, and strongly urges adoption of a common position by the Antarctic Treaty nations; however, Argentina does not desire to go as far as an agreement on principles or a draft convention or protocol prior to the Geneva Law of the Sea meeting.


Australia expressed great concern that the LOS Conference will attempt to regulate Antarctic offshore resources, and is anxious that the twelve Treaty signatories present a common front at the Geneva LOS Conference. There are indications that Australia would accept an international approach to commercial mineral exploitation; however, Australia considers the priority task that of identifying Law of the Sea issues that could affect Antarctica.

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Belgium has not received any inquires from industry regarding Antarctic resource activities; however, Belgium has no legal means to prevent firms from undertaking such activities in the Antarctic Treaty area. Belgium strongly believes that the resources issue should be worked by the Treaty Parties either inside or outside of the Treaty framework. Belgium feels Treaty Parties must face up to the issue in a direct manner and is looking to the U.S. to provide necessary leadership in working toward a solution.

The Belgian Foreign Office feels strongly that the Antarctic resources question should not become part of the LOS discussions, and that Treaty parties must avoid a confrontation on the issue in that forum.


Chile shares anxiety over possible inroads the LOS Conference may make on an area now subject to the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty. Chile appears to take the resources matter seriously, and has expressed concern over the impact of exploitation on the environment. Chile, which will approach negotiations on this issue conservatively, seeks a minimal solution to the LOS Conference problem. Chile argues that the Antarctic resource issue is not critical since there are many more attractive areas in the world where petroleum resources exist. (Argentina expressed the view that Chile will participate in negotiations on the issue in a responsible and reasonable manner).


The French assume that the twelve Antarctic Treaty nations have the competence to regulate Antarctic resource activity. They believe that any instrument developed for regulation of this activity should apply to the entire seabed area south of 600 South Latitude. They recognize the probable necessity of opening the area for exploitation by interested non-Treaty nations. They suggested a possible solution in which industrial enterprises from either Treaty or non-Treaty states could apply to a Treaty Party for a license anywhere within the treaty area. The consultative parties would meet periodically to decide on applications received. Approved licenses would be granted to the petitioning state which would regulate the resource activity under its national laws and regulations.

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France strongly urges a common position on Antarctic issues at the LOS Conference in Geneva, March-May 1975. They no longer espouse a long term moratorium on exploitive activity, but now favor quick international resolution of the problem.


Japan advanced the thesis that when the interests of specialized international regimes such as the Antarctic Treaty conflict with those of a generalized international regime such as that being developed by the LOS Conference, the former generally are transcendent. In Japan’s view, the entire area south of 600 South Latitude should be under the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty only. Offshore mineral exploitation could have a damaging effect on the renewable biological marine resources; the Antarctic Treaty nations, therefore, should be more concerned at present about living resources than about minerals.

New Zealand

New Zealand considers there is a real threat of intrusion into the Antarctic Treaty area by the international community at the LOS Conference. They advocate adoption of a set of principles by the twelve Treaty nations which would demonstrate both the competence and the unity of the twelve, yet would not be provocative to other LOS Conference participants. New Zealand considers a solution to the problem which may arise at the LOS Conference to be the priority task.

They consider that the solution to the resource question must take into account the provisions of the treaty and the preservation of the environment and support the need for a comprehensive program of resource assessment. New Zealand believes that any instrument developed to control resource activities should preserve the treaty principle of unanimity, if possible.


The view of the Government of Norway is that the regulation of Antarctic mineral extraction should be kept among the twelve Treaty consultative parties. This control should extend out to 60 degrees South Latitude or to the edge of the continental margin, depending on decisions in the LOS. Norway wishes to achieve a modus operandi quickly; ancient Norwegian law respecting rights of citizens to utilize unused government land makes it difficult to restrain citizens from engaging in commercial activities within Norway’s claim. Some influential government sentiment favors steady progress toward internationalization of the area.

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South Africa

Protection of Antarctic Treaty interests during the LOS Conference is viewed as of far greater importance than resolution of the longer term question of how to deal with mineral exploitation. South Africa could accept any reasonable formula for an internationally agreed approach to the resource question.


The question of exploitation has received insufficient attention. There has been no comprehensive study of Antarctic geology. Uncontrolled industrial exploitation can disturb the ecology of Antarctica and could effect the ecological balance of the world’s oceans. There should be no exploitation for 10–15 years, and no decisions concerning exploitation should be taken now. Protection of the interests of private companies would conflict with and weaken Antarctic Treaty provisions regarding freedom of scientific research, free exchange of information, and inspection. In the Soviet view the status of the area is defined by the Antarctic Treaty, which applies to all of the area south of 60° South Latitude. In dealing with the resources problem, greater reliance should be placed on the Antarctic Treaty, which has proven to be an effective international instrument, than on the LOS forum, which has not yet agreed on a convention. The Consultative Parties should discuss the problem among themselves, taking into account what is going on in the Law of the Sea.

United Kingdom

The UK seeks to retain control over exploration for and exploitation of antarctic mineral resources among the twelve Antarctic Treaty signatories and fears an incursion by Law-of-the-Sea interests. They fear that unilateral action by a treaty signatory could have unfortunate consequences. The British suggest a conference be held in the capital of one of the Consultative Parties to consider a draft protocol, based on the principles of the Antarctic Treaty, for the regulation of any commercial exploitation of mineral resources, and are prepared to accept approved commercial extraction of mineral resources anywhere in Antarctica, including the area over which they claim sovereignty. The UK has informally circulated among the other Treaty signatories a draft protocol which it states should be regarded only as a possible example.

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Robert D. Yoder
Department of State
James Heg
Office of Polar Program
National Science Foundation
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 53, NSDM 263, U.S. policy on Antarctic resources (2). Confidential. Forwarded as NSC–U/SM–55F on November 22 by Gathright 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 Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Administrator of the Federal Energy Administration, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretaries of Defense, Interior, Commerce, and Transportation.
  2. The report summarized discussions with, and outlined the positions of, parties to the Antarctic Treaty concerning exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources.