68. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (Irving) to the Undersecretary for Economic Affairs (Rogers)1 2

Antarctic Mineral Resources

The twelve Antarctic Treaty partners met in Paris from June 28 to July 10 at a Special Preparatory Meeting for the Ninth Consultative Meeting, which will be held in 1977. The purpose of the special meeting was to engage in wide-ranging and informal consultations regarding any mineral resources that may be found in Antarctica in commercially attractive quantities.

The U.S. Delegation sought to gain acceptance of the concept that there should be an internationally agreed approach to this matter, pursuant to NSDM 263. Seven states claim territorial sovereignty over parts of Antarctica. The U.S. and others do not recognize these claims. Thus, an internationally agreed approach is necessary, inter alia, to preserve our position in Antarctica, establish a suitable climate for investment and a source of supply of minerals, protect the environment and protect the stability of the Antarctic Treaty regime from the prospect of conflict between claimant and non-claimant states over mineral resource activities.

In contrast to the Eighth Consultative Meeting in 1975, ten of the twelve nations, including all claimant states, supported the concept of an internationally agreed approach and many expressed a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency results primarily from a fear that the Group of 77 will raise the issue at the United Nations and take the matter out of the Antarctic Treaty framework, which would threaten the claimant position and destabilize the balance between claimants and non-claimants. Several delegations also felt that the contracting parties or non-contracting parties might undertake mineral resource activities without regard for the claims.

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Nevertheless, Australia, Argentina and Chile took firm territorialist positions in the consultations, while indicating that their national mining laws could be folded into an international arrangement. The Soviet Union and Japan considered the consultations on legal/political issues to be premature, and the Soviet Union took an obstructionist stance. The U.S., U.K., and most others supported parallel work on legal/political issues on the one hand and geological, ecological, economic and technical issues on the other, without prejudice to the question whether any mineral resource activities will occur or could proceed in an environmentally safe manner.

Having largely succeeded in generating momentum toward a resource regime, our next step is to elaborate our position in order to play the kind of leadership role our treaty partners expect from us. In the next months, I intend to organize the supporting staff necessary to capitalize on, these developments and proceed to do so.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, L/OES Files: Lot 98 D 419, Antarctica, 1976 Paris spec. prep. Confidential. Drafted on July 15 by Burton. A copy was sent to the Legal Adviser, Monroe Leigh.
  2. The memorandum reported the results of the Ninth Antarctic Consultative Meeting.