61. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1 2


  • U.S. Policy on Antarctic Mineral Resources

The NSC Under Secretaries Committee (USC) is seeking your guidance on how to approach the issue of mineral and resource exploration and exploitation in the Antarctic, as we prepare for the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ASW) in June (Tab C).

There are some indications of oil and gas deposits in the Antarctic, particularly in the off-shore area, but because of technical difficulties, exploitation is probably a decade or more away. A question at the ASW will be how to establish principles that provide fairly for such exploitation without causing a break up of the Treaty and reviving the conflicting territorial claims. A follow-on conference devoted to this question may well be proposed.

In NSDM 263 (Tab B), President Nixon approved in principle the concept of seeking an internationally agreed approach to any Antarctic mineral exploitation, which would (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 right under the Antarctic Treaty of scientific research.

NSDM 263 directed the USC to recommend what the U.S. should both seek and avoid in attempting to establish such an international arrangement. NSSM 263 also approved seeking to maintain an international moratorium on commercial exploration and exploitation until a suitable international arrangement is reached, though our scientific mineral exploration program would continue.

Because of agency differences, the USC has not been able to develop a reasonable set of proposals for dealing with mineral exploitation at the ASW. The USC Chairman has therefore requested certain decisions on [Page 2] your part so that the interagency impasse can be broken. Those decisions relate to three questions: should the internationally agreed approach encompass an international decision-making arrangement, should the Antarctic seabeds be included under the International Seabeds Resources Authority (ISRA) contemplated in the Law of the Sea Conference, and should we continue to seek to maintain an interim moratorium?

Internationally Agreed Aproach

Basically our choice is to try to reach an international understanding (1) that each country can license its companies, under provisions of reasonable domestic laws, to explore and exploit Antarctic resources except in protected areas, and that other Treaty parties will honor such licenses (and not deny access), or (2) that an international decision-making system be established to regulate mineral exploration and exploitation by Treaty parties. The first option might be the best from a U.S. viewpoint, but its negotiability is highly dubious and could well stimulate some countries (particularly Chile and Argentina) to reassert their presently dormant territorial claims. The second option would be acceptable if the new decision-making system did not become a burdensome or costly regulator or be used to deny the U.S. free access. (Treasury and CIEP support the first option, and Interior would pursue this objective initially while holding open ultimate adoption of the second option. State, Commerce, Defense, CEQ, EPA, and NSF support the second option. FEA favors the second option if it leads to the early opening of the Antarctic for mineral exploitation.)


The Law of the Sea (LOS) is difficult enough without adding the Antarctic seabeds to the picture. Since (1) there is no current move in the LOS Conference to include Antarctic seabeds in the ISRA, (2) the Antarctic Treaty parties oppose assumption by the ISRA (Tab D), and (3) no U.S. agency sees any advantage in pushing the issue now, it seems that we can defer this question.


An interim moratorium has the advantage of helping to avoid reassertion of territorial claims while an internationally agreed approach is sought. (State, Commerce, Defense, CEQ, EPA, and NSF recommend an interim moratorium.) On the other hand, if an international agreement proves difficult to achieve, what started as an interim moratorium could drag on for years. (Interior, Treasury, FEA, and CIEP recommend we discontinue our moratorium policy.)

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I recommend that we:

  • —Confer at the ASW on the basis of the broad principles stated in NSDM 263, leaving open our position on the mechanism of an internationally agreed approach to commercial mineral exploration and exploitation in the Antarctic, and not precluding the possibility of an international decision-making arrangement. Based on these consultations and other bilateral discussions, we would then reassess our ability to achieve an acceptable international agreement.
  • —Retain the Antarctic seabeds (the region defined in the Antarctic Treaty as south of 60°S latitude) within the purview of a special regime for dealing with Antarctic mineral resources. If the ISRA comes into being and would better serve our Antarctic mineral purposes, we could consider seeking a transfer of authority at that time.
  • —Continue our moratorium policy until we have better evaluated the prospects for an acceptable international arrangement for dealing with Antarctic mineral resources.

A draft NSDM encompassing these recommendations is at Tab A.


That you approve the decisions in the memorandum at Tab A.

APPROVE [GRF initialed] DISAPPROVE __________

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential File of NSC Logged Documents, Box 17, 7501481, U.S. Policy on Antarctic Mineral Resources. Confidential. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Ford approved the recommendation. Tab A is published as Document 62. Tab B is published as Document 56. Tab C is published as Document 60. Tab D was not found.
  2. Kissinger explained the interagency disagreements about Antarctic resource extraction policy and recommended a course of action intended to preserve U.S. options.