Under the Continental Shelf Convention of 1958, the United States, like other coastal nations, has exclusive sovereign rights to the submarine area adjacent to its coasts for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its mineral resources.
In the writer's opinion the exclusive jurisdiction of the coastal nation is not restricted to any numerical depth or distance from shore: it encompasses the entire continental margin, that is, the submerged continental land mass adjacent to that nation's coast, down to junction of the submerged continent with the abyssal ocean floor, irrespective of depth or distance from shore. This opinion is based upon an examination of the legislative history of the Convention and the practice of states, and is concurred in by committees of the American Bar Association and the American Branch of the International Law Association, as well as the National Petroleum Council.
The Convention, by its terms, is open for amendment on June 10, 1969. The writer op poses recommendations of the Marine Science References at end of paper.
Commission that the United States take the initiative in proposing renegotiation of the Convention. He commends the opposite course: that the United States stand on the existing Convention. The minerals of the continental margin now vested in the United States are an important component of the American mineral estate, and may becomeessential to our national survival.
The writer opposes also the Commission's recommendation that the United States invite other coastal nations to join in restricting their claims of jurisdiction to the 200 metre depth line pending anew Convention. He would do the reverse: ask other coastal nations to join us in a declaration that the existing Convention limits our jurisdiction to the seaward edge of the continental margin, irrespective of depth, or distance from shore. His recommendation, also, is concurred in by the Bar groups and the National Petroleum Council.
The writer opposes two of the Commission's three substantive proposals for a new Convention, namely (1) a permanent restriction of coastal jurisdiction to a 200 metre depth line or 50 miles from shore, and (2) creation of an intermediate zone between that line and one fixed at a water depth of 2,500 metres or 100 miles from shore, in which a new international organization would take over royalties and might ultimately assume control. He regards these two proposals as an unjustified giveaway of the nation's resources.
The third component of the Commission's substantive proposals for a new Convention, i.e creation of an International Registry Office to control mineral operations in waters beyond national jurisdiction, he regards as unobjectionable in principle, but premature and requiring amendment.
It is wholly unnecessary to trade off immediate and vital American interests in our continental margin, which will soon become exploitable, to obtain vague advantages in the blueprint of an international regime to govern the development of the minerals of the abyssal ocean floor, which may not become exploitable for several decades. This is trading the doughnut for the hole in the doughnut.