72. Department of State Briefing Paper on Antarctic Resource Exploitation1 2

Antarctic Treaty: The Issue of Antarctic Resource Exploitation


The Antarctic Treaty, signed by twelve countries in 1959 and to which seven additional countries have adhered, sets aside the continent and the waters south of 600 South latitude for peaceful purposes only, prohibits nuclear explosions or the disposal of nuclear wastes there, provides the right of arms control inspections, and guarantees freedom of scientific research throughout the Antarctic. The Treaty provides for a consultative system which, carried out through regular meetings, has served to harmonize the interests and the activities of the participants in Antarctica.

For those matters it deals with, the Treaty freezes the positions of the seven original signatories which had prior territorial claims in Antarctica as well as the position of countries, e.g. the U.S., that neither make claims nor recognize claims of others.

Now, however, growing interest in Antarctic resources poses a major challenge to the Treaty, whose provisions do not address resource exploration and exploitation.

Antarctica is thought to have significant mineral resource potential, with attention focused upon possible continental shelf hydrocarbons. Antarctic waters are extremely productive and major living resource exploitation, particularly of krill, may develop rapidly. Exploitation of either non-living or living resources in the Antarctic Treaty area will raise basic resource management, environmental, and political issues of great potential divisiveness.

The U.S. considers resource activity to be a permitted peaceful use of the Treaty area under the terms of the Treaty, and Antarctic waters to be high seas in which high seas fishing rights would apply. Several claimant states, notably Chile and Argentina, consider only those activities specifically mentioned in the Treaty to be permitted on the continent and that claimant states can claim national fishery zones in Antarctic waters. The Soviet Union and Japan oppose mineral resource activities for other reasons [Page 2] and may well oppose efforts to manage living resource exploitation. Such disputes issues pose a threat of international conflict which could undermine the Treaty. The U.S. is currently seeking to achieve an international solution to the problem arising from possible Antarctic mineral resource exploration and exploitation and is developing its position on how to resolve the issues which are posed by potential living resource exploitation.

U.S. Policy

In brief, U.S. policy toward Antarctica is:

  • —to maintain an active and influential presence in Antarctica.
  • —to preserve the Antarctic Treaty and prevent Antarctica from becoming an object of international discord.
  • —to protect the Antarctic environment.
  • —to seek an international arrangement for eventual mineral resource activity which gives non-discriminatory access to minerals in all areas of Antarctica.
  • —to urge other nations to join the U.S. in exercising voluntary restraint on commercial exploration for minerals while seeking a timely international arrangement for resource activity.
  • —to ascertain U.S. interests in Antarctic marine living resources and a possible international management regime for those resources.

Discussions in the Treaty Consultative Forum

The Antarctic mineral resource question has been on the agenda of the two last Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and was subsequently treated at a Special Preparatory Meeting. The subject will be placed on the agenda of the next, Ninth Consultative Meeting in September 1977. The marine living resources question appeared on the agenda of the last Consultative Meeting and will also be inscribed at the Ninth Consultative Meeting. Both subjects will also be discussed at two regular preparatory meetings for the Ninth Meeting, one on the March 14–18 and the other in late spring of 1977.

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In the period since the mineral resource question surfaced formally in the Treaty Consultative forum in 1972, the views of the majority of other signatories have evolved from support for a moratorium on all resource activity to guarded acceptance of the U.S. policy objective, i.e. the need for an international regime. The shift has been prompted by the realization that some resource exploitation may well be inevitable in Antarctica, and by possible intervention by third parties, including the United Nations, which might complicate a solution acceptable to the Treaty parties. Meanwhile, two important Treaty nations, Japan and especially the USSR, have maintained that any discussion of regulation of mineral resource activity is premature until all data on possible reserves are in hand, raising a suspicion that they are simply trying to forestall exploration until they have the technology to enter the field.

Attention among the Treaty Parties has been increasingly focused on the living resource issue as the possibility of major commercial exploitation of krill has become imminent. The USSR and Japan, the major initial exploiters among the Treaty have not defined a view on possible efforts to manage living resource activities but can be expected to resist any proposals which would limit their opportunities. There have been informal proposals within the Treaty system to develop a Convention to deal with living resource exploitation and consideration of resource management arrangements will likely become an urgent item of Consultative Party business.

A list of highlights of the evolution of U.S. policy on resource questions and key past and coming events is annexed hereto.

Action and Decisions Required as Resource Discussions Proceed

There are a number of decisions and actions which we will have to take in the months ahead:

Determination of whether U.S. should enter into negotiations of a marine living resource regime. A decision is desirable before the March 14–18 preparatory meeting for the Ninth Consultative Meeting.
Preparation for the Antarctic Policy Group of a detailed study of alternative mineral resource regimes, with options. The study is underway. A final decision is preferable no later than the second preparatory meeting in mid-1977.
Approval of recommendations from the 8th Consultative Meeting. Consultative Meetings usually agree on various recommendations which then go to the treaty partners for approval. We need to act on the recommendations resulting from the 8th Consultative Meeting, including one concerning Marine living resources and another regarding mineral resources. The Assistant Secretary of OES has the authority to approve all recommendations with the exception of certain political ones, which must go the Circular 175 route. We have sought other agencies’ concurrence so that we may take the necessary steps to approve these recommendations.
Creation of a Special Public Advisory Group. Increasing public interest, even pressure, from public special interest groups to be informed of and involved in Antarctic resources policy-making suggests that a public advisory group should be established. We plan to set one up before the Ninth Consultative Meeting in September, 1977. Several months’ lead time is required.
Bilaterals. We may need to make a special effort with certain countries in advance of Ninth Meeting. Current indications are that such consultations are required with at least Japan and the USSR, the latter having already informally suggested them.
Requests for Circular 175 Authority. Timing of any request for authority to negotiate (Circular 175) will depend on events, our own strategy, and tactical considerations. If it appears that momentum for serious negotiations is great, we may need to seek authority before the Ninth Meeting. Our soundings may indicate that the Ninth Meeting would adopt Recommendations for rapid initiation of regime negotiations, either within or outside the Consultative forum. Circular 175 Authority would be required in any case for approval of such Recommendations sometime after the Ninth Meeting.
Preparation of draft EIS on Antarctic Mineral Resources. A “scope paper” for a draft EIS was completed in December, 1976. At the time we seek Circular 175 Authority we should have a draft EIS in hand. A decision on who will prepare it will be needed.
Selection of U.S. Delegations. The delegations to the Antarctic meetings should be chosen early. Under State leadership, they should include appropriate experts from interested agencies of Government. Experts on marine living resources should be included on the delegation to the March 14–18, 1977 preparatory meeting, experts on mineral resource questions on the delegation to the second preparatory meeting, [Page 5] and experts from both groups should be included on the delegation to the Ninth Consultative Meeting on September 19 - October 7, 1977. Consideration must also be given to inclusion of public and Congressional representatives on the delegation to the Ninth Meeting.

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Highlights of Evolution of U.S. Policy on Resource Questions and Key Past and Coming Events

  • April 26, 1974 - Study for NSC recommends, with FEA dissent, an international rather than unilateral approach to mineral resource exploitation.
  • July 29, 1974 - NSDM 263 directs a) the U.S. to seek an internationally agreed approach for any commercial exploration and exploitation of Antarctic mineral resources, and an international policy of voluntary restraint on commercial exploration; b) an analysis of what we should seek and avoid in discussions on establishing an internationally agreed approach.
  • March 12, 1975 - NSDM 263 Response, an analysis, describes options ranging from the “national legislation” approach and no moratorium to a special, international arrangement affording non-discriminatory access to resources, a mechanism avoiding the rule of unanimity employed in the Treaty Consultative forum and a continuation of the policy of voluntary restraint. A recommendation was made for the “international” approach, supported by the majority of agencies, but opposed by FEA, Treasury and Interior.
  • May 20, 1975 - NSC Memorandum reaffirms policy guidance to seek an internationally agreed approach, etc. and calls for an “action program” to be developed by the Antarctic Policy Group as well as further studies of alternative legal regimes, environmental considerations, and U.S. interests in marine living resources.
  • June 9–20, 1975 - Eighth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting expresses conviction that “timely agreed solutions” of mineral resource problems are necessary and adopts Recommendation VIII-14 which proposes that “Antarctic Resources - the Question of Mineral Exploration and Exploitation” be fully studies in all its aspects, be the subject of a special preparatory meeting, and be placed on the agenda for the Ninth Consultative Meeting. Eighth Meeting also proposes discussion of marine living resource questions. U.S. proposes a meeting to survey marine living resources.
  • December 1975 - Department, in anticipation of NEPA requirements, contracts for a “scope paper” for an eventual Environmental Impact Statement on mineral resource activities in Antarctica.
  • December 1975 - Antarctic Policy Group establishes special ad hoc Committee on Antarctic Mineral Resources, with four working parties, to prepare studies requested in NSC Memorandum, the Action Plan and to prepare for the Special Preparatory Meeting.
  • June 28 - July 10, 1976 - Special Preparatory Meeting on the Antarctic mineral resource question reveals that majority of Consultative Parties see a need for regulation of mineral resource activity but sovereignty questions pose problems.
  • August 23–24 - U.S. proposed meeting at Woods Hole, Massachusetts of experts of Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), a non-governmental advisory body, sets up concise program proposal for scientific study of marine living resources.
  • October 18–23 - XIVth Meeting of SCAR, responding to call of Eighth Consultative Meeting and Special Preparatory Meeting, establishes a Group of Specialists on Environmental Impact Assessment of Mineral Resource Exploration and Exploitation (EAMREA), headed by the Chairman of the U.S. Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • October 29 - First monthly preparatory meeting for Ninth Consultative Meeting takes place in London attended by Embassy representatives of Consultative Parties.
  • March 14 - 18, 1977 - First regular preparatory meeting in London will concentrate on marine living resource discussions.
  • —late spring or mid summer - Second regular Preparatory meeting in London will deal with both marine living and mineral resource questions.
  • September 19 - October 7 - Ninth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in London will deal with marine living and mineral resources questions and traditional housekeeping items. May also have to consider admission, for the first time, of a new Consultative Party (Poland).
  • September 17–21 (Tentative) - simultaneously and in the framework of Ninth Consultative Meeting there will be a meeting of Government technical experts on environmental, technical and economic aspects of Antarctic mineral resource activity.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, OES/OA Files: Lot 90 D 234, Antarctic Mineral Resources 1976. Confidential. Drafted by OES staff.
  2. The briefing paper identified issues to be addressed in forthcoming negotiations about the Antarctic regime.