Skip to main content Accessibility help

In search of an ocean regime: The negotiations in the General Assembly's Seabed Committee 1968–1970

  • Johan Ludivk Lφvald


This study deals with the opening phase of the UN negotiations concerning the future international regime for ocean space. It seeks to establish how the technological and economic capabilities of member nations condition the manner and style of negotiation, the definition of national objectives, and the growth of attitudes and expectations with regard to such a regime. By the end of the 1968–70 period expectations about the future international regime had narrowed noticeably. Yet, for long-range tactical reasons many delegations were still holding out in anticipation of a new Law of the Sea Conference. The original Maltese seabed proposal envisaged a comprehensive international regime. In general, developing countries favored such a solution in the beginning, while industrialized countries preferred an intermediate solution. Eventually the Maltese proposal and the negotiating situation inadvertently set off a wave of claims for various forms of national jurisdiction. This meant that the emphasis at the end was more on the rights of the coastal states and less on the capacity of the world community to deal collectively with the future of ocean space.



Hide All

1 UN Document A/6695, 18 August 1967.

2 General Assembly Resolution 2749 (25), 17 December 1970.

3 The units of analysis are the mentions of different themes by delegates. However, these were only recorded in connection with an “interaction,” i.e., any direct public reference, question, or citation made by any delegate to any other delegate, concerning either substantive or procedural issues during the Committee deliberations. In order not to force the data into predetermined thematic categories, a two-step procedure was followed. First, all the summary records covering one year of debate were analyzed, letting the actual occurrence of independent themes decide the number of theme categories to be used (employing a very narrow definition of what constituted a theme). Second, those categories with only a few mentions were then merged with those categories with which they had most in common, substantively.

Friedheim, et al. have also done a content analysis of seabed issues. They took a more general approach than used here as to what constitutes an “issue” and derived their data from debates in the 22nd and 23rd General Assemblies and in the Ad Hoc Committee during 1968. They identified 189 individual types of assertions, which were defined as the individual phrase used by a state to describe its position on some substantive or procedural subject under discussion; see Friedheim, R. L. et al. , “Quantitative content analysis of the United Nationa seabed debate: Methodology and a continental shelf case study,” Internation Organization vol. 24 (1970): pp. 483–84.

4 A factor analysis, not reported fully here, was also performed on these themes in order to discover possible dimensions underlying the debates. Certain super-themes then emerged each year. The percentage of variance of the total discussion explained was as follows:

Lφvald, Johan Ludvik, Planning the Future of Ocean Space: A Case Study of the United Nations Sea-Bed Committee, 1968–1970. Ph.d. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1973, ch. 7.

5 UN Document A/8021, Annex 3.

6 The 24 th General Assembly passed one very controversial resolution during 1969 asking states to halt the exploitation of the international seabed area pending the establishment of an international regime. The delimitation question had consequently assumed special importance in the Committee during 1969.

For a somewhat similar scheme of discussion as used here, see Friedheim, Robert L., Understanding of the Debate on Ocean Resources, Monograph Series in World Affairs, vol. 6, no. 3, 19681969, University of Denver. Also see Pardo, Arvid, “Whose is the Bed of the Sea?” American Society of International Law. Proceedings., 1968, pp. 216–29.

7 The eight indicators which were selected were: 1) GNP per capita at market prices 1967 in US dollars; 2) Size of merchant shipping fleet in 1,000 gross registered tons 1968; 3) Gross registered tons of merchant shipping fleet per capita 1968; 4) Amount loaded and unloaded in ports per apita in 1,000 metric tons 1967; 5) Breadth of territorial sea in nautical miles; 6) Total estimated area of exclusive national jurisdiction over the sea (breadth of territorial sea x length oT coastline); 7) Manpower in Navy as a proportion of manpower in armed forces; 8) Value of exports of fish products as a proportion of GNP 1967. For details, see Lφvald, ch.5. These indicators were selected because it has been argued that they represent dimensions of divergent interests which were present when the law of the sea was last discussed on a large-scale multilateral basis in 1958 and 1960; see Vallee, Charles, Le Plateau Continental dans le Droit Poiitif Actuel (Paris: Editions A. Pedone, 1971), p. 109.

8 It was dscided to use the highest loading variable on each of the four factors instead of the factor scores as a basis for comparison.

9 GNP per capita is used here as an approximate measure of technological capability.

10 The interviews on the basis of which this and subsequent discussions of delegates' views are based were conducted in two rounds. The first took place during the fall of 1969, at which time officers of the Seabed Committee and UN Secretariat officials were interviewed. The purpose of this round was to acquire knowledge of the workings of the Committee and to pretest the interview schedule. The second round of interviews took place in the spring of 1970, and its results are presented here.

The selection of respondents, briefly, was based on the following criteria: (for a more elaborate description, see Lφvald, Appendix B). First, it was randomly decided to interview, in each delegation, a representative to one of three Committee bodies: the main committee, the legal subcommittee, or the economic and technical subcommittee. Second, in those cases where a delegation had several representatives who participated in one of these bodies, it was decided to interview the person who had been most active (in terms of interventions) during the proceeding session. Where it was not possible to interview the most active representative, the second most active was selected. (As for diplomatic rank, it turned out that these criteria led to the selection of First and Second Secretaries in almost half of the cases, although the sample includes both higher [up to Ambassador] and lower ranks as well.)

11 In a study of the Law of the Sea Conferences in Geneva in 1958 and 1960, Friedheim found the issue of supranationalism to be one of the major dimensions of conflict. Friedheim, R. L., “Factor Analysis as a Tool in Studying the Law of the Sea,” in The Law of the Sea, Alexander, L. M. (ed.), (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1967), pp. 4769.

12 Twenty-four of 32 delegates expressed themselves as definitely or relatively satisfied with the Committee's work; only six expressed definite dissatisfaction, viz. one African, one Arab, two Latin Americans, Malta and Yugoslavia (the most “supranational” delegations). Twentyone delegations expected a less comprehensive or a registry system to emerge; fourteen were unwilling to express any surmise as to the outcome. A large majority of delegates from developing countries expected the less comprehensive regime or were unwilling to foretell an outcome. The same was true of West and East European delegations.

13 Originally the factor scores of each country on each of the four factors were computed, as the intention was to use them as predictor variables in multiple regression analysis. However, it was decided to use the variables which had the highest loading on each factor instead, since each of the factors was very highly correlated with at least one of the eight indicators used in the factor analysis. The range of these correlation coefficients was between .88 and .99. Thus little would be gained in explanatory power in multiple regression analysis by using factor scores instead of the original variables. As a result, the following four predictor variables were selected: 1) GNP per capita; 2) Estimated area of exclusive national jurisdiction; 3) Size of merchant fleet; 4) Value of fish exports as proportion of GNP. To assure that no explanatory power would be lost by using original data instead of factor scores as predictors in multiple regression analysis, a dual analysis was done on the dependent variables. The factor scores were on the whole not able to account for more variance in the dependent variable than the original variables. More often than not the factor scores actually accounted for slightly less of the variance.

14 In Riker's terms one might claim that the bargaining situation was more “rational” in 1970 in the sense that the negotiating behavior was more goal-oriented and focused. Riker, William H., “A Test of the Adequacy of the Power Index,” Behavioral Science vol. 4, no. 2 (04, 1959) p. 131.

15 All the direct communications from one delegate to another have been coded according to whether they were supportive, neutral, or negative. This is actually a much simplified form of the method of interaction process analysis developed by Bales for the study of small groups; see Bales, Robert F., Interaction Process Analysis: A Method for the Study of Small Groups (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1950). Interaction analysis was originally systematically applied to the study of international negotiations by Alger; see Alger, Chadwick F., “Interaction in a Committee of the United Nations General Assembly,” in Quantitative International Politics: Insights and Evidence, Singer, J. David (ed.), (New York: The Free Press, 1968), pp. 5184.

16 Brody, R. A., “Cognition and Behavior: A Model of Inter-state Relations,” in Experience, Structure and Adaptability, Harvey, O. J. (ed.), (New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1966), p. 343.

17 Some reasons for this have already been discussed; see, supra, Sec. 11–2 concluding paragraphs. More specifically, it seems that such an underdog syndrome is at least partly due to a lack of expertise. During the personal interviews several delegates from developing countries cited this problem specifically in regard to participation in the Economic and Technical Subcommittee. Their handicap was not lessened by the fact that delegations from industrialized countries in many cases included legal or technical experts. Over time as the missions of developirng countries gained more experience just from participation in the Committee work, this imbalance may have been lessened. However, at the time of the interviewing in early 1970, this problem was severely felt by many delegations. Some even openly resented during private discussions what they thought was at times an indiscriminate presentation of facts and figures by some of the leading industrialized countries during Committee meetings. It was felt that this amounted to attempts to manipulate and control the Committee. See Lφvald, ch. 3.

18 Young, Oran R., The Intermediaries-Third Parties in International Crises (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), ch. 3.

19 The high rank achieved by Norway is probably more a reflection of the relatively high negotiating activity displayed by that country as one of the members of the informal working group both in 1969 and 1970-the establishment of which was proposed by Norway both in 1969 and 1970. Due to ties in the scoring, five of the seven potential mediators in 1970, and six out of seven in 1969, appear among the top eight most active mediators as determined by the interviews.

20 This was the description once used by a journalist at the United Nations; see The New York Times, December 10,1969.

Johan Ludvik Lφvald, Ph.D. Northwestern University, is presently affiliated with the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This research was made possible through financial support frcm the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and was conducted prior to and independently of the author's present affiliation with the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed