• The Government of the United States pledges that all navigation by U. S. icebreakers within waters claimed by Canada to be internal will be undertaken with the consent of the Government of Canada.

  1. Nothing in this agreement of cooperative endeavor between Arctic neighbours and friends nor any practice thereunder affects the respective positions of the Government of the United States and the Government of Canada on the Law of the Sea in this or other maritime areas or their respective positions regarding third parties.

  2. This agreement shall enter into force upon signature. It may be terminated at any time by three months’ written notice given by one Government to the other.

Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Transportation of the United States of America and the Ministry of Transport of Canada Concerning Research and Development Cooperation in Transportation. This broad agreement was signed on June 18, 1970, and has served as the basis for a variety of cooperative transportation projects by the two countries. In 1993, the agreement served as the formal instrument for the exchange of icebreaking services in the Arctic. In 1993, Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers provided standby icebreaker support for ships resupplying Thule Air Base in northwestern Greenland, eliminating the need to send a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker from Seattle every summer. In return, the U.S. Coast Guard has agreed to provide icebreaking support in the western Arctic, an area where Canadian ships operate only sporadically, upon request by Canada.


Executive Order 7521 (1936) directs the Coast Guard to undertake icebreaking operations for harbors and channels, “in accordance with the reasonable demands of commerce.” This executive order has constituted the basic authority for what has generally been called “domestic icebreaking” in mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. and on the Great Lakes. Ice-strengthened Coast Guard cutters and icebreakers have traditionally provided assistance to commercial vessels, especially to facilitate movement of critical cargoes such as fuel oil, assisted remote communities isolated by abnormal ice conditions, and responded to persons and vessels in distress.

National Security Decision Memorandum 71 (July 10, 1970) documents a Presidential decision that “the Antarctic program should be continued at a level which maintains an active and influential United States presence in Antarctica and which is responsive to United States scientific, economic and political objectives.” Budget authority is transferred from the Department of Defense to the National Science Foundation, which shall “draw upon logistic support capabilities of government agencies on a mutually acceptable reimbursement or non-reimbursement basis.” NSF is to use “commercial support and management facilities where there are determined to be cost effective.”

National Security Decision Memorandum 318 (February 26, 1976) reaffirms NSDM 7521. Changes include an amplification of using commercial support and management facilities, which must be not only cost effective but also determined by “the Antarctic Policy Group not to be detrimental to the national interest.” In addition, NSDM 318 states that “the use of logistic support by the Department Defense—assisted by the Coast Guard—gives the U.S. an important flexibility and reach to operate in that area.” The DoD and Department of Transportation are to “maintain the capability to provide the logistic support requested by the National Science Foundation.”

Presidential Memorandum 6646 (February 5, 1982) reaffirms the provisions of NSDM 318, but clarifies U.S. presence to include “the conduct of scientific activities in major disciplines; year-round occupation of the South Pole and two coastal stations; and availability of related necessary logistics support.”

Presidential Decision Directive/NSC-26 (March 9, 1996) provides a comprehensive summary of U.S. national interests in Antarctica (expanding the background and rationale for the U.S. Antarctic Program beyond that contained in the earlier presidential memoranda) and specifically authorizes funding for rebuilding the South Pole Station.

Other U.S. Government Policy Instruments and Agreements

United States Polar Icebreaker Requirements Study (11 July 1984). Directed by the Office of Management and Budget, this multiagency 400-page report resulted from a comprehensive review of national requirements at a time when the World War II-era Wind class icebreakers and GLACIER were at the end of their useful service lives. The increasing needs for polar research were a notable part of the study. Alternatives to using icebreakers were evaluated. The study concluded: “An icebreaker fleet is essential to the national interest” and “should be operated by the Coast Guard.” Significant study recommendations included:

  • The Coast Guard should maintain a fleet of four polar icebreakers to meet stated requirements.

  • Design of a new icebreaker should begin immediately, which would enhance research while retaining escort and logistics capabilities, with icebreaking capability “between a Wind and a Polar-class.”

  • Capital costs of a new icebreaker should be funded by the Coast Guard.

  • The interagency reimbursement system should be reexamined.

  • Crewing and operating day standards should be evaluated.

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