63. Memorandum NSCU/DM–39C From the Acting Chairman of the National Security Council Under Secretaries Committee (Sisco) to President Nixon1 2


  • Report by the US Delegation to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting

The Eighth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in Oslo, June 9–20. I am enclosing for your consideration the report of the US Delegation on the outcome of this meeting.

The Delegation reports that the Consultative Meeting recognized the need to seek agreed solutions to questions related to the resources of the Antarctic and also the need to observe restraint while agreed solutions are sought. This policy of restraint will be kept under review. A further meeting will be held in 1976.

NSDM 263 required development of an action plan outlining steps to bring about an internationally agreed approach. Pursuant to NSDM 263 and your subsequent directive of May 20, 1975, on this subject, the Antarctic Policy Group will now proceed to develop this action plan. For these purposes, the Antarctic Policy Group will include representatives of all interested agencies. Major unresolved policy issues will be reviewed by the Under Secretaries Committee.

Joseph J. Sisco
Acting Chairman
[Page 2]




  • Antarctic Mineral Resources Policy: Prospects For Agreement on a Resource Regime

The President’s directive of May 20, 1975, instructed the NSC Under Secretaries Committee to submit a report to the President, following the Eighth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, on the prospects for reaching an acceptable agreement concerning any mineral resources that may be found in Antarctica in commercially attractive quantities and recommendations for next steps. This report by the U.S. Delegation analyzes the results of the meeting, which was held in Oslo, June 9–20, in light of the U.S. objectives as set forth in NSDM 263, and proposes next steps.


The U.S. Delegation sought three specific goals at the Consultative Meeting with respect to commercial exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in Antarctica. First, the Delegation sought to develop sufficient information upon which to base an assessment of the prospects for reaching an acceptable agreement. Second, the Delegation sought to obtain an agreed recommendation concerning mineral resource activities setting forth the principles upon which an internationally agreed resource regime could be based. Third, a Delegation objective was to convene an experts meeting prior to the Ninth Consultative Meeting to begin work on such a regime, if satisfactory progress was made at Oslo.

The Consultative Meeting produced an agreed recommendation on mineral resources (at Tab A) which incorporates most of the principles and objectives sought by the U.S. The preamble states that the representatives are convinced that the twelve consultative parties should seek timely agreed solutions to the problems raised by questions concerning Antarctic mineral resources and of the need for [Page 3] restraint (subject to continuing review) while doing so. The representatives also resolved to seek to develop an approach to the problems raised by the possible presence of valuable minerals bearing in mind the principles and purposes of the Antarctic Treaty.

The representatives recommended to their governments that the mineral resources question should be fully studied in all its aspects and that a special preparatory meeting for the Ninth Consultative Meeting should be held in 1976. The subject of this meeting was broadened to address questions of mineral exploitation as well as exploration. Precise terms of reference for this preparatory meeting will be determined through diplomatic channels. Studies of the environmental aspects of the question by governments and by the International Council of Scientific Unions’ Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research were also recommended.

The recommendation must now be approved by all twelve Consultative Parties before formally taking effect. There is no reason to feel it will not be so approved.


Negotiations on the agreed recommendation concerning mineral resources were arduous and lengthy. The principal negotiating hurdles were, first, the positions of the hardline territorial claimants (Chile and Argentina) that mineral resource activities are prohibited by the Antarctic Treaty for the time being; and second, the positions of ten of the twelve delegations in favor of some form of moratorium on such activities (the U.S. and U.K. dissented). Negotiations were further complicated because some delegations were inadequately instructed and some could not agree to-all objectives sought by the U.S. because necessary high-level policy decisions had not yet been taken in their capitals.

Compromise solutions to these problems were found only at the eleventh hour. The position of the hard-line claimants were accommodated with the U.S. view that mineral resource activities are a permitted peaceful use of the area on the basis that it could not be predicted, as a matter of fact, whether such activities would occur or not. Those who favored a moratorium accommodated U.S. insistence [Page 4] that there be no more than “voluntary restraint” expressed in non-binding preambular language, conditioned on satisfactory progress toward an acceptable international approach and subject to continuing review in light of the actions of other nations. The U.S. Delegation was unable to obtain agreement on the principle that any resource arrangement should guarantee non-discriminatory access for the U.S. and other nations for exploitation purposes to any part of the Antarctic because some of the twelve were uninstructed and others were not yet ready to accept the principle of such non-discriminatory access.


The political will on the part of all participants to seek an agreed approach among the twelve was striking. This was apparently motivated in part by the repeatedly expressed fear that the UN or Law of the Sea Conference would take action that could pre-empt the Antarctic Treaty. General satisfaction with the implementation of the Treaty and concern for the need to protect the Antarctic environment added to the general effort to seek solutions together. Three principles enunciated by the U.S. were generally acceptable as a starting point for the consultations:

  • —Mineral resource activities in Antarctica should not become the object of significant international discord.
  • —Exploration for and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources should not disrupt the continued implementation of the Antarctic Treaty.
  • —The sensitive Antarctic environment must be protected from harm caused by any mineral resource activities.

Whether an acceptable agreement on a resource regime will be obtainable is impossible to predict at this stage since the delegations were generally unprepared to address seriously the basic questions of access to the resources, a regime for mineral resource activities, and participation by others. The interest displayed by the U.S., France, Norway, the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, Belgium and South Africa, in possible future mineral activities in Antarctica [Page 5] should encourage more urgent consideration of these issues in preparation for the 1976 meeting. On the other hand, the U.S.S.R., Australia, and New Zealand appear to prefer that no resource activities occur for the time being.

On the critical question of access to the resources, statements and informal corridor conversations indicated that each of the twelve Consultative Parties may come to perceive a national interest in the kind of open access system sought by the U.S. The other non-claimants (Belgium, Japan, South Africa and the U.S.S.R.) can be expected to take a view similar to ours if a regime is negotiated. Among the claimants, France, New Zealand, Norway and Great Britain indicated support or implied eventual acceptance of non-discriminatory access. Australia indicated an understanding that there is no hydrocarbon potential within her claimed area so that open access is her only mechanism to acquire resources. While Chile and Argentina did not speak to the issue, the U.K. territorial claim, which overlaps and conflicts with the Latin claims, may put sufficient pressure on the Latins to accept open access. The threat of unilateral action by the U.S. or others, the fear of UN action in the area, and the potential economic benefits for developing Southern Hemisphere nations, such as Chile and Argentina, from providing a logistical base for Antarctic mineral activities may add to the pressure for agreement on open access.

The particulars of a resource regime were not discussed at the Oslo meeting. Only France and South Africa were prepared to enter such discussions, although the U.K. presented an informal, unofficial working paper intended to focus discussion.

The question of participation in a resource regime by states other than the twelve original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty may become a thorny negotiating problem. It is unlikely that any of the twelve would welcome negotiating an Antarctic mineral resource regime with the global community. At the same time, only a few would assert that all of Antarctica is closed to mineral activities by others as a matter of international law. Moreover, there is a general recognition that the twelve cannot appear to be carving up the minerals of Antarctica among themselves for fear that the global community would not stand for it. Brazil’s accession to the Treaty with accompanying efforts to observe the Consultative Meeting caused some concern [Page 6] that the original signatories were losing their special position, and recent indications that Sri Lanka may raise the issue at the UN makes the question all the more troubling.


The Department of State should approve the mineral resources recommendation (VIII-14) when it is tactically advantageous to do so.
The Antarctic Policy Group, with input from all interested agencies, should develop terms of reference for the 1976 special preparatory meeting and seek their adoption through diplomatic channels after appropriate bilateral preparation. If necessary, the U.S. might host an informal meeting in Washington no later than March, 1976, to work out final terms of reference.
The U.S. should undertake bilateral consultations with the U.S.S.R. and Japan at an early date. These non claimants are natural allies of the U.S. on this issue, but were too unprepared at Oslo to be helpful.
A long-term Action Plan as called for by NSDM 263 should be prepared and the U.S. position elaborated as contemplated by the President’s directive of May 20, 1975.
The APG shall give early consideration to the implementation of the study called for in Operative paragraph 2 of Recommendation VIII-14 and the preparation of an environmental impact statement.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, L/OES Files: Lot 98 D 419, Antarctica, 8th Consultative/II. Confidential. Forwarded on August 20 by Gathright to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Director of the National Science Foundation, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Administrator of the Federal Energy Administration, the Assistant to the President for International Economic Policy, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretaries of Interior, Commerce, and Transportation. The attachments were not found.
  2. The memorandum forwarded a report by the U.S. delegation to the Eighth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.