An Intellectual History of the Common Heritage of Mankind as Applied to the Oceans

Monica Allen, University of Rhode Island


This thesis traces the development of the concept of the common heritage of mankind from its introduction by Arvid Pardo, the Ambassador to the United Nations from Malta, in 1967 to its translation into policy in the 1982 Third United nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The thesis pays particular attention to the people and ideas that influenced Pardo and the historical period of the late 1960s in which the common heritage idea for the deep seabed was articulated. It was a period of international idealism and a brief period in which the United States President, Lyndon Johnson, lent his grandiose rhetoric to the idea of managing the deep oceans as a common heritage. However, the problem was that the idea could not be translated into workable public policy for international cooperation in manning the deep seabed. The idea could not be translated into workable public policy for international cooperation in mining the deep seabed. The idea became a vehicle for a number of groups and individuals including the Third World nations that wanted to make it a part of their demands for a new economic order. Although a seabed mining regime was negotiated and is in place in the treaty, the United States and some other developed nations refused to sign the treaty because of the seabed regime. Other events that hurt the process of turning the common heritage idea into workable policy were the decline in demand for minerals and a global recession that made such an expensive enterprise less attractive. This thesis is also an examination of how a small group of visionaries were able to promote an idea and place it on a global agenda. Despite the fact that seabed mining has yet to take place and the treaty remains unratified ten years after its completion, the general issues that the common heritage idea raised has not evaporated. International environmental diplomacy today depends on nations devising ways to manage resources in common such as the ocean, rain forests and the atmosphere. This diplomacy also depends on the ability of the more wealthy industrialized nations to cooperate with the poorer, less developed countries. This form of cooperation failed with seabed mining. but it must eventually succeed with more vital global resources.