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Seabed Treaty

Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Seabed and Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof (Seabed Treaty)

The treaty prevents placement of NBC weapons on the seabed and ocean floor to eliminate the possibility of an underwater arms race and promote the peaceful exploration of water bodies.

  • Ratified

See Status

Ratified (173)

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Signed

11 February 1971

Entered into Force

18 May 1972

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Treaty Overview

In the 1960s, there were concerns that due to recent advances in oceanographic technologies, nations might use the seabed as a new environment for nuclear-related military installations. The Soviet Union and the United States submitted two separate drafts that differed on what was to be prohibited and verification measures. On 7 October 1969, the two States submitted a joint draft to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD). During the deliberations in the CCD, coastal States raised concerns about the protection of their rights and smaller States had doubts whether they could check on violations. The final draft was approved by the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 2660 (XXV) on 7 December 1970 by a vote of 104 to 2 (El Salvador, Peru), with two abstentions (Ecuador, France). The Seabed Treaty was opened for signature on 11 February 1971 and entered into force on 18 May 1972, when the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as more that 22 nations had deposited instruments of ratification.

Treaty Obligations

The Treaty forbids States Parties from implanting or placing on the seabed or ocean floor or in the subsoil thereof, beyond a 12-mile territorial zone, any nuclear weapons or any other types of weapons of mass destruction or structures, launching installations, or any other facilities specifically designed for storing, testing, or using such weapons.

Verification and Compliance

Verification

The Treaty allows for verification through observation by the States Parties of the activities of other States Parties, provided that observation does not interfere with such activities. If after such observation reasonable doubts remain, further procedures for verification may be agreed upon, including inspections. After completion of the further procedures for verification, an appropriate report shall be circulated to other Parties by the Party that initiated such procedures.

Compliance

If consultation and cooperation have not removed the doubts concerning the activities and there remains a serious question concerning fulfillment of the obligations assumed under this Treaty, a State Party may, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, refer the matter to the Security Council, which may take action in accordance with the Charter.

Review Conferences

As set forth in Article VII of the Treaty, review conferences have been held every five years in 1977, 1983, and 1989. In 1989, it was agreed that the next review conference would be held no sooner than 1996. In 1992, the Conference on Disarmament informally considered further measures and established no need for a fourth review conference.

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Glossary

United Nations General Assembly
The UN General Assembly is the largest body of the United Nations. It includes all member states, but its resolutions are not legally binding. It is responsible for much of the work of the United Nations, including controlling finances, passing resolutions, and electing non-permanent members of the Security Council. It has two subsidiary bodies dealing particularly with security and disarmament: the UN General Assembly Committee on Disarmament and International Security (First Committee); and the UN Disarmament Commission. For additional information, see the UNGA.
Nuclear weapon
A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
WMD (weapons of mass destruction)
Typically refers to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, though there is some debate as to whether chemical weapons qualify as weapons of “mass destruction.”
Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The CD is an international forum focused on multilateral disarmament efforts. Although it reports to the UN General Assembly and has a relationship with the United Nations, it adopts its own rules of procedure and agenda, giving it some degree of independence. The CD has a permanent agenda devoted to the negotiation of disarmament issues. The CD and its predecessors have negotiated major nonproliferation and disarmament agreements such as the NPT, the BTWC, the CWC, and the CTBT. In recent years, the CD has focused on negotiating a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); and negative security assurances. For additional information, see the CD.

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