As far as government is concerned, less is often held better. Still, total absence of government gives a draughty feeling and it is just this sense of vacuum which pervades all today's discussions of the sea and seabed, areas into which, for good or evil, technology is fast hauling us. There is no government, no general system of law or of law enforcement, no obvious way even of setting about instituting government for these seven-tenths of the globe.

Arms control, it is rather hurriedly supposed, would be a good thing, not so much because there are too many weapons of a dangerous sort on and under the sea (although there may be), but rather to prevent a nuclear arms race breaking out on the sea bottom, just as the Space Treaty and the Antarctic Treaty have prevented arms races in space and in Antarctica.

In fact there is not much parallel, and the reason for considering sea and seabed arms control now is the almost total absence at sea of the kind of constabularies that are fundamental to any system of law and regulation. Trade has always followed the flag, because only a flag has given any guarantee of enforcible law (flags of convenience are another matter-their purpose has rather been the avoidance of enforcible law), but as far as most of the seabed, and more of the waters above it, are concerned, there is no flag, nor any other authority, unambiguously responsible for keeping what in England is called the Queen's Peace. The devising and control of sea-government forces must, I think, be considered a form of arms control of a rather new sort. If we are to use and civilize what is either our last frontier or our last great common, a purpose must govern its use. This purpose I take to be the enhancement and maintenance of national and international security and well-being at the lowest possible level of expenditure.

The problems that arise from the ungoverned status of the sea and seabed are themselves manifold: the seabed, on which industrial development of various kinds is beginning to take place, is not only the physical interface between underlying ground and superjacent waters, but also the interface between two quite different legal régimes, one for the continental shelf, one for the high seas. (There are three legal régimes when you include territorial waters,) It was Harry Truman who de facto initiated the distinction in 1945 by appropriating to the United States the natural resources of the seabed adjacent to the American coast

Today the rights of a coastal state on the continental shelf (the continuation oceanwards of the continental land mass) and, arguably, beyond that, are limited, valuable and confusingly defined by the relevant Convention on the Continental Shelf of 1958 (an international convention widely, but not universally, accepted). This declares that beyond territorial waters the coastal state has exclusive rights on the shelf to explore and exploit its natural resources, out to a depth of 200 meters and, beyond that, "to where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of natural resources." The limitation is confusing because there is probably no practical limit any more to the depth at which exploitation is possible-in 1958 it was thought there would be a technological limit. Moreover, whereever the coastal state sets up "installations and other devices" for exploration or exploitation, it can declare a cylinder of water, reaching out half a kilometer all around it and up to the surface, to be a "safety zone" into which others may not penetrate, even though this "safety zone" itself will be part of the high seas.

The Convention of the High Seas of 1958, on the other hand, declares that "no State may validly purport to subject any part [of the high seas] to its sovereignty." The high seas start where territorial waters (and national sovereignty) end, which may be three or 12 miles offshore, or in the case of several Latin American states, 200 miles. Fishing limits may be different still-in Western Europe, for instance, they are at 12 miles. The Canadian government last year added to the confusion by taking unique and wide-ranging powers to control all activities that could pollute Canadian Arctic waters, out to 100 miles from the Canadian coast. And recently the British government has taken powers to prevent oil pollution outside territorial waters. Certain international oil conventions now in process of ratification limit the amount of oil which may be discharged anywhere at sea.

In practice, as technology and industry take to the sea, the governments of coastal states have acquired new administrative duties on the adjacent seabed, new submarine frontiers with other states, and of course new responsibilities for defense and national security. The new frontiers are mostly ill-defined or not defined at all, and international law is too incoherent to provide much help. The International Court at The Hague has even decided not to back the relevant international Continental Shelf Convention. One of the few "natural laws" of political science is that violence most easily erupts over an ill-defined frontier: one need only envisage the dividing up of the bed of the Mediterranean, which is very likely to bear oil, or of the East and South China Seas, to realize what scope there is for dispute.

The whole situation so obviously leaves so much to be desired that the international community has quite definitely started to seek to improve it. Thus it has been generally accepted in the United Nations Seabed Committee that some sort of "seabed régime" should be devised, and also that there is an area of the seabed "beyond the limits of present national jurisdiction," which is the "common heritage of mankind," and which should be reserved "exclusively for peaceful purposes." But two other things are also generally accepted. The United States, the United Kingdom and France have all made proposals, more or less elaborate, for a régime, but there is no consensus about what it should be; nor about where the "limits of national jurisdiction" now are or should be, nor whether an international régime should overlap them. Particularly there is no consensus about how to take account of the fact that the sea and its bed is one natural system even though received law holds it to be several. The freedom of the high seas has come to include the freedom to dump, the freedom to pollute, the freedom to destroy living resources, and because most coastal states contain an influential body of opinion which would wish to maintain these freedoms uncurtailed, governments tend to speak with ambiguous voices and divided minds. Easy and total consensus is still very far away. Perhaps a knight's move is indicated, into another area of agreement.

It is also generally agreed that time is short if anarchy and chaos are not to acquire squatters' rights on our last common. This for three reasons- there is a limit to the amount of pollution the oceans and the shores they wash will endure: the Baltic, the Caspian, parts of the Atlantic, are already dying; there is a limit to the amount of mismanagement the living resources will endure, even if they survive the pollution: some fish stocks, by no means only whales, are now being extracted like ore from a mine, not harvested like the crop they are; and there is probably a limit, though this is not yet quite in sight, to the political uncertainties that industry will put up with as it moves into these potentially profitable fields. If Caesar doesn't soon decide to keep the peace in these places, Mammon will. The result would be that the overriding purpose of development and use would be profit alone instead of the wider range of interests (of course, including profit) which it is governments' function to consider. Chief among these concerns are the control of pollution, conservation and a just distribution of benefits; and of course a political régime which will allow the achievement and continuation of the first three. All will require political decision and organization and administration on a large and unfamiliar scale. A régime might plausibly seek to conciliate in cases of submarine boundary disputes below the high seas, though hardly to adjudicate or enforce judgments. Pollution controls and conservation will require-and very soon-the formulation and monitoring and enforcement of regulations. These will have to be functional, in the sense that they must relate not so much to the international community which endorses them, as to the natural systems which are to be protected and conserved for the long- term benefit of that community. Such monitoring and enforcement necessarily implies inspectorates and constabularies which, as ultimate sanction, can call for the application of legitimate and effective force.


A pioneering article by Robin and Frances Murray appeared in "Quiet Enjoyment: Arms Control and Police Forces for the Ocean,"[i] a collection of background papers for the Malta 1970 Pacem in Maribus Convocation. This study makes clear how infinitely far away the international community is from being able to call on even national inspectorates and constabularies to monitor and enforce such regulations as may be enacted. Not that national inspectorates, even if they became plentiful and widely effective, are likely to fill the international bill adequately, if only because neither pollution nor the requirements of conservation observe national boundaries. De legibus, non curat natura. The sea, its surface, its bed, its waters, its life, is a single system. Regulations concerning conservation or pollution which, however conveniently, relate to national (or indeed commercial) units, rather than to the ocean systems' natural phenomena, cannot but be inadequate.

In fact, an international police force, armed with powers of arrest and seizure, able to penetrate nationally declared "safety zones" and such, and backed by an international system of penal jurisdiction, is at present practically inconceivable. But monitoring and enforcement are separable, and monitoring of international regulations need not remain in national hands merely because enforcement cannot be internationalized.

International inspectorates, charged with monitoring regulations functionally devised and internationally endorsed, and able to require prosecution of wrongdoers in their national courts, we probably can hope for and achieve by negotiation (a combination of World Health Organization- type pollution monitoring activities and Intergovernmental Marine Consultative Organization reporting and prosecuting arrangements). Although there is perennial disagreement in the United Nations concerning armed peacekeeping forces for joint international enforcement action, there is far less disagreement over observation forces which monitoring inspectorates might well resemble. Agreement might even be reached to allow impecunious governments to delegate limited powers of arrest and seizure, though not penal jurisdiction, to the monitoring inspectorate.

The Murrays have pointed out that, at present, largely for reasons of expense, inspectorates and constabularies operate as far as possible on land and that seaborne inspectorates are scarce. However, the more industry itself moves into the sea (and the techniques enabling it to do so in increasing variety are being developed in all the advanced countries), the more the civil power will have to be there, too. Activities, for instance, on the British continental shelf are regulated almost exactly as are the same activities on land: the National Insurance Acts apply; there are specially designated Coroners; when coal is found, it is already nationalized; a police constable about his business in an offshore installation has all "the powers, protection and privileges which he has in the area for which he acts as constable" on land; the petroleum inspectorate inspects. So far, Planning Law (which regulates land use ashore) does not apply, but this too is likely when it comes to laying potentially very dangerous pipelines carrying crude oil along the bed of a sea as heavily used by man, fish and weather as the North Sea, even though at present the freedom to lay pipelines is specifically included in the 1958 Convention on the High Seas. The Common Market Commission has explicitly concluded that the provisions of the Treaty of Rome apply to the continental shelf of member states on exactly the same basis as for land areas.

The processes of civilized administration-the job of government-are here seen spreading out from land as a concomitant of economic activity. Where this happens it has, necessarily and increasingly, an "arms-control" effect in that it is reducing the sea areas where military activities may clandestinely be carried on; and it is happening particularly in those areas that are likely to be militarily the most sensitive: it is in shallow seas and channels that minefields can most easily and effectively be laid and surveillance activities most rewardingly be carried out. However free in theory the high seas above a developed shelf may be, and however limited the sovereign rights of the coastal state on the seabed, in practice the freedom to use either waters or seabed for military purposes is shrinking, except for the coastal state, in direct proportion to development and exploitation. A form of arms limitation, a de facto reduction of military activities, will occur, in part because of the general reduction in privacy, but also because of the coastal state's probable right, certain interest and growing ability to remove any military or other hardware it may find lying about close to its shores.

There are, however, many parts of the world where the governments of coastal states have neither the technical, nor financial, nor administrative, nor military resources to follow richer parties' economic activity out to sea, to monitor their observance of national laws and international regulations, to apprehend transgressors, or to scan for military activities. Even off the shores of the United States respectable oil companies neglect safety regulations, are not apprehended in time by the local inspectorate, and cause massive pollution. The scale of the worldwide monitoring problem is daunting, but international inspectorates are not for that reason avoidable. They are necessary not only for the offshore oil industry, but for all potentially polluting offshore industries and seaborne activities, for traffic control in international narrows, and of course for the fishing industry (where nationalist folly is currently rampant), Such monitoring bodies might well make their services available to less affluent governments, or groups of governments, within territorial waters, as well as supervising the effectiveness of national inspectorates in their zones on the continental shelf, in the high seas and in whatever international seabed zones may eventually be determined. Pressure for the establishment of some such system is likely to grow, boosted by government and public opinion, and also by the opportunities for agreement and action presented by the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment and the 1973 Conference on the Law of the Sea.

Such inspectorates would have an arms-limitation effect proportionate to the range and scale of their presence and activities. If, in time, the space powers were to contribute to such international inspectorates, virtually instantaneous information from observation satellites would be available for the identification, for instance, of oil spills, or areas of plankton and fish mortality. Thus, the inspectorates' work would become infinitely easier than now seems likely. Whether the Russian government would show a more positive attitude to satellite and aircraft photography of the high seas than they do to such photography of the land remains to be seen. Making such information available would result in the at least partial publication of naval activities, which naval powers might not care for, at least until their activities have become substantially more submarine than they now are. They well may.

Indeed, the arms race itself may go underwater. This it would do partly because technological developments will allow it to, but also because land- based missiles and airfields and surface vessels-particularly large ones- will become so vulnerable to attack by the end of the decade that they will cease to have much value for retaliatory deterrence-the only form at all stable. If only to conserve the stability of mutual deterrence, a switch away from land-based systems to mainly underwater strategic systems might well seem plausible, and indeed seems rather likely: the Soviet Union's submarine fleet continues to grow apace and in the United States funds are to be tripled next year for research and development for a new class of deep-diving, quiet-moving, missile-firing submarines and for a new underwater missile for them with a 5,000 or 6,000-mile range. With the whole wild ocean to roam, what could be more invulnerable?

The United States is already building a deep-diving rescue craft for submarines, and it is likely that the Soviet Union is too. Maintaining the morale of crews in long-diving submarines is obviously of great importance, and will depend on the possibility of rescue if things go wrong. The need for submarines self-revealingly to return to shore to pick up supplies and crews is obviated by having bases and supply craft submarine as well. The Soviet Union has been reported to have one underwater submarine base off the North American coast, and there is no inherent limit to what can be done with artificial islands and platforms, submerged or on the surface. A vast number of submersibles, manned and unmanned, apt for all sorts of commercial and military purposes, seem likely to break out from the Research and Development cupboard in the next few years, to swim, scamper, dig, dive, suck, scrape, throw and fire at almost any depth of sea. Should an agreement about land-based missiles, offensive or defensive, emerge from the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), there would be the further impetus of unused aerospace expertise lying around, both in the United States and the Soviet Union, which would take to the deep sea. Indeed, major American firms in the aerospace industry have already begun so to diversify. The day of the large floating naval vessel may well be almost over (and so, one would have thought, of the absurdly vulnerable supertanker in the merchant fleet of any security-minded, oil-dependent state).

All of which does not seem to augur too well for sea or seabed arms control. At first sight, indeed, it looks as if two processes are at work, one military, one civil, set on a collision course. On the one hand, there is the arms race, which ought to be stabilized, slowed down, and eventually halted, for both political and economic reasons. Because strategic systems deployed in the ocean would allow a more stable deterrent balance in the next few years than would those deployed on land, the arms controller would welcome them as generally compatible with a slowing down of the arms race and progress toward a more satisfactory system of international security. They would provide that stable "nuclear umbrella" that was mentioned by both Russians and Americans in the early sixties as an essential element in any plausible disarmament process. The process itself would then depend on the continued invulnerability of submarines. On the other hand, the impetus of technological capability, commercial interest and plain human adventurousness is making the sea of increasingly immediate concern to governments rich and poor, to industry and to ordinary hungry people. All this will demand, sooner rather than later, a wide-ranging administrative régime, able to impose controls, directly or indirectly, by the exercise of physical power. The question arises whether such a régime, devised specifically to sustain global interests, can coexist with the highly national and secretive activities of great powers' strategic weapons systems, which depend for their invulnerability on the emptiness and wildness and opacity of the oceans and the absence of inspectorates and monitoring devices.

In fact the apposition is not as acute as that: economic exploitation is occurring on the continental shelf (which underlies less than 20 percent of the surface of the sea) and, in the case of the fishing industry, on the sea's surface. This, then, is where administrative inspectorates and constabularies will first be deployed. Deeper is still dearer, in economic terms, but increasingly not in military terms. Submarine strategic systems will operate either in the huge unexploitable space of the deep ocean or, armed with intercontinental range missiles, within the very substantial area of national territorial waters. This latter location would obviate problems of possibly catalytic mis-identification which could arise if missiles came to be fired from an area of ocean containing the missile submarines of several nationalities.


What prospects then are there for sea or seabed arms control? Arms-control negotiations are, necessarily, carried on within the existing legal framework, which here distinguishes with inappropriate precision between the high seas on the one hand and the seabed on the other. No government is at present proposing arms limitations in or on the sea as such (though the Soviet Union was proposing nuclear submarine-free zones at sea in 1968 and a Strategic Arms Limitation agreement might well cover numbers of submarines). But many governments support demilitarization or arms limitations on the seabed. The General Assembly of the United Nations last fall approved a "Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Seabed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof." When the United States and the Soviet Union produced a joint draft for this treaty in October 1969, first reactions were cool. The two superpowers should, it was felt, have been seeking agreement on the limitation of strategic arms rather than working on this irrelevant mite of a proposal. Article VI of the nonproliferation treaty had laid a specific duty on the nuclear powers to "pursue negotiation in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date," and it was clear from its contents that this draft did not actually relate to probable developments in the nuclear arms race at all.

The treaty is now on its way, open for signature. It is of little significance as an arms-control measure because, as the U.S. Navy was pointing out in the early sixties, launchers mobile in three dimensions are preferable to immobile ones on technical, economic and military grounds; and only immobile ones are to be banned by this treaty. By chance, it may also ban the further dumping of obsolete rockets filled with nerve gas-they qualify as weapons of mass destruction-although this was not in anyone's mind during the negotiations. The valuable thing about the treaty, which was improved to this effect since the General Assembly returned the 1969 draft to the Geneva Disarmament Conference, is that it enshrines, even if academically, the right of all signatory governments to verify observance of the treaty, and to investigate suspicious activities on the seabed anywhere beyond a line 12 miles from the coast. The investigation may be conducted by the suspicious party, with assistance from others, and if there "remains a serious question," reference may be made to the Security Council, which then "may take action in accordance with the Charter." Whether there will be scope for dispute over the coastal states' own military equipment on the shelf beyond 12 miles remains to be seen. Nor is it clear how in practice "suspicions" about the coastal state will be acquired in the first place when it has the right to declare "safety zones" one kilometer in diameter.

Whether national or international monitoring inspectorates should have any positive function in verifying this and other seabed treaties is a question of considerable interest. The North Sea governments, concerned to prevent oil pollution there, solicit information from civil and military aircraft, lightships, even private vessels. While the mere existence of monitoring personnel and equipment will have an arms-limitation effect where they operate, this effect could be much enhanced by spelling out for them a duty to report on suspicious structures and activities beneath the high seas and providing them if necessary with specialized equipment. Whether such a duty was imposed would probably depend on any value that governments put on retaining the option to cheat under the seabed treaty. The increase in costs would be marginal, the overall saving substantial. This is indeed one of the central problems of seabed arms control: the cost, both in technical expertise and in money, of verification. Outside certain shallow seas the seabed nuclear treaty will probably be quite unverifiable, for this kind of reason. It has been said on good evidence that the cost of a reasonable search rate on the seabed, which is one square mile per day per vehicle, would be between half a million and one million dollars per year.

A treaty for the complete demilitarization of the seabed has already been proposed by the Soviet Union and its allies, but not accepted by the United States or the other Western powers, many of whom have enormously long coastlines and make extensive military use of the sea bottom for surveillance. In fact, would a treaty for the total demilitarization of the seabed add to or decrease international stability? And is such a treaty negotiable except as part of a general disarmament régime? The invulnerability of sea-based strategic systems, which is what would allow a stable deterrent balance, would certainly be reduced by any marked improvement in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) techniques such as might be built into mechanisms attached to the ocean floor. A specific agreement to prevent or limit such improvement would be useful, but almost impossible to frame, let alone to verify, A general seabed demilitarization agreement would not necessarily hobble ASW research or activities ; ASW equipment secured to the sea bottom provides mainly passive information; but craft moving or stabilized in the water could equally well acquire it. Active ASW is carried on not from the seabed, but by aircraft, by surface craft, and by hunter-killer submarines. That a mere limitation on where an activity is carried out will not preclude the activity, we have already seen with the partial test ban: more tests per year have been carried out since its signature than before.

Discussing the current seabed treaty at the United Nations the French delegate declared that France would prefer a treaty for the total demilitarization of the seabed, which recognized the defensive rights of a coastal state on its adjacent shelf, and this seems to be a fairly common view. In practice, because of the expense and the difficulty, such a treaty would not be verifiable: it would be a declaration of international hope and it would make some kinds of equipment and activity illegitimate. Whether it would also make legitimate the destruction of such equipment when found is difficult to say: it might after all belong to a nonsignatory, or be made to appear to belong to a non-signatory. There would probably not be much enhancement of certainty, which is, after all, a prime requirement for any arms-control measure.

What then? Is the current seabed nuclear nonemplacement treaty the most that can plausibly be negotiated? It probably is. The difficulty about going further is the usual one with all partial measures of arms control: progress is inhibited by lack of progress elsewhere. Just as only an agreement in the SALT to limit research will allow the partial test ban to be completed, so only an agreement in SALT to limit overall submarine numbers would allow any agreement to limit submarine surveillance equipment and activity. Only an agreement in SALT to limit offensive and defensive missiles will reduce the pressure toward more missile-bearing submarines, and consequently toward more equipment in the sea and on the seabed for servicing them.

And yet, and yet. The partial test ban was agreed to as an arms-control measure but the political decision to agree was prompted not only by the condition of the arms race in 1963, but also by widespread public objection to radioactive pollution of the atmosphere. In the event, the partial test ban has been much more successful as an international clean air bill than it has been in curbing nuclear proliferation. In the next few years sea and seabed arms limitation there will probably be, but as the byproduct of general civil administration on the seabed and of the enforcement of conservation and anti-pollution regulations, rather than as the outcome of actual measures of arms control or disarmament.

[i] Edited by Elizabeth Young and Lord Ritchie-Calder. Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1970.

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