The United Nations Seabed Arms Control Treaty

The United Nations Seabed Arms Control Treaty was submitted for ratification in 1971, and it has been ratified by over 94 countries, including the United States and Russia. Fundamentally, the treaty provides a categorical ban on the deposit of all nuclear weapons and/or related waste products into any oceanic seabed, which is the region of the ocean that is beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. The discussions that led to this treaty were catalyzed by oceanography developments that caused some government scientists to consider deep sea regions as potential nuclear testing and waste storage sites. On the other hand, these developments in oceanography also fueled widespread support in favor of protecting the intricate ecology of marine life, particularly in regions of the deep sea, which had never experienced human influence before. Ultimately, Cold War era concerns about nuclear proliferation provided additional support in favor of blocking the development of deep sea nuclear experiments, and with this in mind, the ratification of this treaty is a historic victory in the preservation of the world’s oceans.

Contributed by Katelyn Young
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University, Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Beer, Tom. Environmental Oceanography. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1997.
  • Hinnawi, Essam. Nuclear Energy and the Environment. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980.
  • Koslow, J. Anthony. The Silent Deep: the Discovery, Ecology, and Conservation of the Deep Sea. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.