Seabed Treaty (1971)
Multilateral agreement between the U.S., U.S.S.R., U.K., and 84 other countries banning the emplacement of nuclear weapons or "weapons of mass destruction" on the ocean floor beyond a 12-mile coastal zone. Allows signatories to observe all seabed "activities" of any other signatory beyond the 12-mile zone in order to ensure compliance. The treaty entered into force on May 18, 1972.
Like the Antarctic Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, and the Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone, the Seabed Treaty sought to prevent the introduction of international conflict and nuclear weapons into an area hitherto free of them. Reaching agreement on the seabed, however, involved problems not met in framing the other two agreements.
In the 1960s, advances in the technology of oceanography and greatly increased interest in the vast and virtually untapped resources of the ocean floor led to concern that the absence of clearly established rules of law might lead to strife. And there were concurrent fears that nations might use the seabed as a new environment for military installations, including those capable of launching nuclear weapons.
In keeping with a proposal submitted to the U.N. Secretary General by Ambassador Pardo of Malta in August 1967, the U.N. General Assembly, on December 18, 1967, established an ad hoc committee to study ways of reserving the seabed for peaceful purposes, with the objective of ensuring "that the exploration and use of the seabed and the ocean floor should be conducted in accordance with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, in the interests of maintaining international peace and security and for the benefit of all mankind." The Committee was given permanent status the following year. At the same time, seabed-related military and arms control issues were referred to the ENDC and its successor, the CCD. 1In a message of March 18, 1969, President Nixon said the American delegation to the ENDC should seek discussion of the factors necessary for an international agreement prohibiting the emplacement of weapons of mass destruction on the seabed and ocean floor and pointed out that an agreement of this kind would, like the Antarctic and Outer Space treaties, "prevent an arms race before it has a chance to start."
The Seabed Arms Control Treaty was opened for signature in Washington, London, and Moscow on February 11, 1971. It entered into force May 18, 1972, when the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and more than 22 nations had deposited instruments of ratification.
Source: Department of State