TFR 9 – A New Regime for the Oceans


The use of the seas has greatly intensified in recent years. The tonnage of merchant shipping nearly quadrupled between 1951 and 1971. The world catch of fish, the source of some 10 percent of the world's protein, also quadrupled in the same period. New uses of the seas, spurred by technological development, have grown rapidly. Offshore oil and gas deposits, scarcely developed a few decades ago, now provide some 20 percent of world production. The polymetallic nodules on the seabed could meet much of future world demand for nickel, copper, cobalt, and manganese.

These developments have created a tension between the traditional law of the sea, based on the notion of freedom, and a growing recognition of the need for more sophisticated regulation. However, in addition to complex technical and economic problems connected with the management and allocation of ocean resources, governments face strong domestic political pressures to exert more extensive national jurisdiction offshore.

For many years governments have sought to resolve these tensions and claims through international negotiations under United Nations auspices, described in Chapter II of the report. The most prominent features of the current phase of these negotiations (the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS III]) have been accelerated movement towards a major extension of national jurisdiction over ocean resources by means of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone; and support for an International Seabed Authority to administer mineral resource exploitation on the seabed beyond national jurisdiction.

The report describes the global interest in rational management of the oceans and in related issues of equity in the use of ocean resources. These global perspectives suggest the outlines of an "ideal" regime of ocean management, which is a useful point of reference for judging the course of UNCLOS III.

Agreement at the Conference is by no means assured. Unilateral actions by frustrated nations or competitive regional treaties could undermine the prospects for the Conference and lead to increasing conflicts over oceans matters. Even an agreed Conference outcome would leave a number of important issues outstanding.

Many of the Trilateral countries are among those which would benefit most from 200-mile economic zones. Advanced industrial nations would also be better able than others to develop and manage the new areas under their jurisdiction, Despite this, the majority of nations tended not to favor the extension of national jurisdiction offshore, though there have been important differences within the Trilateral group. Chapter III of the report describes the positions of the Trilateral countries on the principal issues involved.

The recommendations of the Task Force attempt to bridge the gap between the longer-term, global perspective on oceans management and the short-term policy orientation of UNCLOS III. They are as follows:

* Trilateral countries should not unilaterally extend offshore jurisdiction over marine resources or commence deep seabed mining in 1976. If such actions become unavoidable, they should be taken on a transitional basis in anticipation of ultimate international agreement.

* National continental shelf jurisdiction should be limited to 200 miles, with international sharing by wealthy coastal states of a generous portion (such as one-half) of royalties derived from resource exploitation in this zone but beyond the territorial sea. Less generous alternatives are also offered.

* An International Seabed Authority should manage exploitation of seabed resources beyond the 200-mile limit. In addition to having full powers to license and technically regulate seabed mining, the Authority might engage in joint ventures. Royalties not used in the operation of the Authority should be reserved for internationally agreed purposes.

* Coastal state (and F.E.C.) fishery regimes should be augmented by international management bodies for each distinguishable fishing ground, with general coordinating guidance from FAO. All fishing interests should be represented in these bodies with special weight given to coastal states. Some fees from licensing arrangements should be internationally shared.

* International revenues generated from the above should be used to provide economic assistance for the poorest developing countries.

* Maritime traffic should be encouraged, with coastal state and international responsibilities spelled out for traffic management and pollution control.

* Freedom of scientific research to increase knowledge of the marine environment should be maintained.

* Appropriate institutions for dispute settlement should be established and all states should make a solemn commitment to submit disputes not settled by negotiation and to accept the outcome.


Michael Hardy, Legal Adviser, Commission of the European Communities
Ann L. Hollick, Executive Director, Ocean Policy Project, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington
Johan Jørgen Holst, Director of Research, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
Douglas M. Johnston, Professor of Law, Dalhousie University
Shigeru Oda, Professor of International Law, Tohoku University
Richard N. Cooper, Professor of Economics, Yale University (Special Consultant)

Table of Contents

Summary of Report
I. The Oceans in Global Perspective
A. Introduction
B. The Oceans as a Subject of International Negotiation
C. The Global Perspective
- Navigation
- Fisheries
- Oil and Mineral Exploitation
- Environmental Management
II. The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea
A. The Existing Law
B. The Conference Framework and Process
C. Threats to the Conference
D. The Single Negotiating Text
- Navigation
- The Exclusive Economic Zone
- The International Seabed
- The Marine Environment
- Marine Scientific Research
III. Trilateral Interests and Perspectives
A. The Exclusive Economic Zone
- Minerals
- Fisheries
B. The International Seabed
C. Navigation and Regulation of Vessel-Source Pollution
IV. Prospects for the Oceans
A. Immediate Prospects
B. A Longer View
V. Recommendations

  • Topics: Trade, Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  Trilateral Commission (New York University Press)
  • Publication Date:  © 1976
  • ISBN:  0-930503-54-6
  • Pages:  54
  • Complete Text: Click here to download