87. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Pickering) to the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1 2


  • ERTS-B - Pilot Crop Survey

This memorandum responds to an informal request from the NSC for preliminary guidance for use by the OMB on foreign policy considerations related to NASA’s proposal for use of ERTS-B for a pilot crop survey. We are commenting on the proposal outlined in Dr. Fletcher’s letter of September 5 to Secretary Schultz as this was clarified to the Department by senior members of the NASA staff.

Specifically, we understand from this oral clarification that:

The crop survey proposal would use about twelve percent of the imagery acquired by ERTS-B outside the US. For this and other reasons the survey would not significantly affect NASA’s ability to accept foreign experimental proposals or to meet other commitments, explicit or implied, to the international community, including the master data offer of January 31, 1973.
The current guidelines covering our experimental ERS program, particularly with reference to open dissemination of all data acquired by satellites, would continue to apply to all experiments and operations conducted by ERTS-B, including the pilot crop survey.
The Department of Agriculture, in using ERS and other data, would continue its present practice of disseminating its crop estimates at regular intervals on a non-discriminatory
The crop survey would be concentrated on wheat production and, in addition to the US, would cover Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Australia, the USSR and the PRC.

It is possible that this proposal, if put into effect, would advance our foreign policy interests with respect to the world food situation and further orderly marketing conditions. In his address before the UNGA on September 24 the Secretary of State expressed concern about the world food situation and proposed that a World Food Conference be held in 1974. In principle, it might be possible to relate the proposed survey to this initiative, although we do not have sufficient information at this stage to determine how useful a crop survey would be in this context.

However, the crop survey proposal could raise problems that relate to other uses of outer space. Although the international community has on the whole given earth resources surveys by remote sensing from space (ERS) a favorable reception, there are growing concerns about the possible competitive economic advantages such space technology might give to the US. These concerns have led to strong pressure, centered in the UN Outer Space Committee (OSC), for an international study of the legal aspects of ERS. This study would include a review of acquisition as well as of dissemination of ERS data when such activities are conducted without the prior consent of states whose territory is concerned. A crop survey that was not carefully prepared in advance through consultation with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the main grain producing nations would probably lead other countries—grain importers and exporters alike—to assume the proposal was intended chiefly to give the US a competitive economic advantage. This in turn could intensify pressures for an early international study of the legal aspects of ERS, with consequences that could complicate other important and even vital space activities.

Some large grain producing countries have shown sensitivity to the ERS program generally. Argentina, [Page 3] for example, is among those nations that urge prior consent for acquisition of data from space. Australia would probably want strong assurances that grain crop information would be promptly passed to its own officials. China has been reluctant in the past to release more than very general estimates of crop production. The USSR has stressed “sovereignty” over data related to natural resources.

Because of the international factors cited above, we believe that if domestic considerations lead to a decision to proceed with the survey, the international groundwork should be carefully laid. This would involve (1) consultation with the FAO and probably the main grain producing countries and the representatives of the OSC; and (2) meaningful efforts to enlist their active cooperation and to accommodate reasonable views and suggestions that they may offer.

If the crop survey proposal is approved, the Department recommends that the Under Secretaries Committee conduct a study to draft guidelines for its execution.

The Department is not addressing itself at this time to the proposals regarding other policy aspects of the ERS program outlined in Dr. Fletcher’s letter. These should be reviewed in the context of our overall policy in this area.

Thomas R. Pickering
Executive Secretary
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 59, L/OA Files, Lot 99 D 369, Space, Remote Sensing, 1973. Secret. Drafted by Chapin (SCI/SAM); and cleared in S/PC, IO/UNP, PM/AE, INR/DDC/RPS, and L/UNA. Blakeburn signed for Pickering above Pickering’s typed signature. Fletcher’s letter to Shultz is Document 83.
  2. Pickering discussed the potential ramifications of NASA’s pilot global crop survey proposal. In the event of a decision to proceed, Pickering recommended consultation with international organizations and interested governments, as well as guidance from the Under Secretaries Committee regarding implementation.