Accelerating Demands on the Oceans
Forthcoming U.N. Conference on Law of the Sea
A united nations conference on the Law of the Sea will open June 20 in Caracas to seek an international agreement on control of the oceans and their vast resources. The success or failure of this conference may decide whether the wealth of the oceanic domain will be considered the common heritage of all mankind or an open realm for national exploitation on a first-come, first-served basis. Many observers fear failure in this effort to write a “constitution” for the seas and foresee resulting chaos—with powerful nations claiming vast expanses of the sea and seabed, and weaker nations grappling for a fair share of the ocean's wealth.
U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, at an organizational session in New York last December, warned: “The essential purpose of the conference is to establish a viable agreed legal basis for international cooperation without conflict and in the interest of all mankind.…It is urgent that we take the first essential steps toward international agreement as quickly as possible. Time is not on our side, and delay would be perilous.”
The conference faces a tangle of problems because its scope is so large and the pressure so great. On the agenda will be such matters as territorial limits, fishing rights, deep seabed mining, free passage through straits, offshore energy exploitation, marine pollution and conservation, scientific research, and a proposed international ocean regime. Each of these issues has generated fierce conflicts and created strange alliances. Wealthy maritime powers generally want maximum freedom of navigation and resource exploitation, while less-developed countries are divided, often depending on whether or not they have coastlines.