The Oceans

The oceans cover two-thirds of the earth. Man's use of this common asset is now undergoing a transformation. New techniques exist or are being developed which will lead to a vastly increased exploitation of the mineral and living resources of the oceans, including the mineral riches of the world's seabeds.

It is, frankly, not yet clear whether this fact will prove a boon to mankind. There is at present, no authority, international or otherwise, which can ensure the orderly and rational exploitation of these resources. That fact, plus the vast potential wealth at stake, gives cause for deep concern. There is a clear world interest in this matter, and there is a clear danger that, unless it is asserted in time, it may be lost in the confusion of unbridled commercial and national ambitions.

A closely related problem relates to the age-old right of freedom of navigation on the high seas. Traditional usage and current international law have proved to be inadequate barriers to claims which generate international tensions and endanger the rights of all to use the oceans. The claims of some nations now extend two hundred miles seaward. The temptation to assert and defend such claims can only increase as technology provides new means to profit from exclusive rights to the ocean's surface.

In the past year the United States has taken the initiative in moving the world toward an equitable resolution of these two problems, while they are still soluble.

On May 23 I set forth an oceans policy which called for both a system of international regulation for the deep seabeds and a new agreement on the breadth of territorial seas.

Our proposal for the seabeds would divide the ocean floor into two basic categories:

Coastal states would maintain their rights to the natural resources of the seabeds up to the point where the high seas reach a depth of two hundred meters.

Seabeds under the remainder of the high seas would be regulated by an international regime. However, coastal states would license exploration and exploitation of resources as trustees for the international community beyond the two-hundred-meter depth line to a further line which would embrace the continental margins.

As I said at the time: "The regime should provide for the collection of substantial mineral royalties to be used for international community purposes, particularly economic assistance to developing countries. It should also establish general rules to prevent unreasonable interference with other uses of the ocean, to protect the ocean from pollution, to assure the integrity of investment necessary for such exploitation, and to provide for peaceful and compulsory settlement of disputes."

In August our government submitted to the U.N. a draft treaty suggesting in detail how such a system would work. We are seeking a system which fully protects the interests of the less-developed countries in the ocean resources, as well as the interests of those nations which now possess the technological capacity to exploit them. Such an arrangement is both fair and practical. For these resources are a common heritage of mankind, and their benefits should be shared by all. And the world is unlikely to give its sanction to arrangements which do not ensure a wide sharing of those benefits. The mineral royalties involved will eventually be very large. Earmarking them for international purposes-particularly the development of the poorer nations-could be a tremendous step forward toward a solution to one if the world's most grievous problems.

On the territorial seas issue we have proposed a new law of the sea treaty, which would establish a twelve-mile limit for territorial seas adjacent to a nation's coasts and would provide for free transit through and over international straits. It would also provide for conservation of the living resources of the high seas and recognition of the special interests of the coastal states over these resources.

These ideas were extensively discussed at the U.N. last fall. The U.S. initiative was widely welcomed as a step toward organizing recessary international negotiations. In December the General Assembly passed a constructive series of resolutions on the oceans. Most important of all, the General Assembly called for an international conference on the law of the sea to be held in 1973.

At that conference, the world will have an historic opportunity. Resources of enormous potential value can be placed under an international authority to be used for the benefit of all mankind. And three problems heavy with the possibility of conflict among nations -differing national claims to the ocean's surface, the seabeds and fishing rights- can be resolved to the benefit of all.

We recognize the difficult and complex issues involved, but we are determined to make every effort to ensure the success of the 1973 Conference. That success would represent a signal victory for the world interest, and a convincing demonstration of the ability of the world community to meet its common problems.