The Minister in the Netherlands (Tobin) to the Secretary of State

No. 127

Sir: Referring to the Department’s unnumbered Instruction of September 10, 1923 (File 711.569/3), and in continuation of my despatch No. 107, of October 3, 1923 (see last paragraph), I now have the honor to submit herewith a report regarding the attitude of the Dutch authorities towards the question of the extent of territorial waters.

The extracts from the Columbia Law Review quoted at the end of page 1 and the beginning of page 2 of the Department’s Instruction under acknowledgment are correct.

[Page 201]

On August 4, 1914, the Netherlands Government issued a proclamation relative to the preservation of neutrality during the European War. Article 17 of this proclamation reads as follows:

“The territory of the State includes the coastal sea to a distance of three nautical miles of 60 to the degree of latitude measured from the low-water line.

“In the case of bays, this distance of 3 nautical miles shall be measured from a straight line drawn across the bay as near as possible to the entrance, at the first point where the mouth of the bay does not exceed 10 nautical miles of 60 to the degree of latitude.”

On October 22, 1895, the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs addressed a communication to the Dutch Ministers at Washington, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, Rome, Vienna, Lisbon, St. Petersburg, Madrid and Stockholm, instructing them to sound the Governments to which they were respectively accredited as to whether they would participate in a conference which should have as its object the establishing of a distance of 6 miles as the limit of territorial waters. It appears from the diplomatic correspondence published by the Dutch Government in 1899 (copy and translations enclosed)55 that the Governments of the United States, Russia and Portugal replied favorably to the overtures of the Dutch diplomatic representatives.56 The Spanish and Austrian Governments declared that they would await the decision of the great sea Powers regarding this matter, the Belgian Government gave a rather evasive answer, and [Page 202] the Governments of Great Britain and Germany openly opposed the meeting of such a conference. In view of the opposition manifested by Great Britain and Germany, the Dutch Government did not press the question, although, throughout the diplomatic correspondence in this matter, the Dutch Foreign Office showed much interest and activity in pushing the idea of a six mile limit.

So far as can be ascertained, the Dutch Government has never recognized a distance of more than three miles as constituting the limit of its territorial waters. Dutch writers on international law do not throw much illumination on this subject.

Judge Loder, President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, whom I consulted recently regarding the question of the three mile limit, informed me that, although the Netherlands Government has always recognized the three mile limit, he personally can see no objection to an extension of this limit. Judge Loder declared that, as is generally known, the three mile limit was adopted before modern guns were devised. Three miles is no longer the limit of effective gun shot, and he therefore believes that the three mile limit could well be extended.

The manifest desire of the Netherlands Government to extend the three mile limit in 1895 and the views recently expressed by Mr. van Karnebeek and Judge Loder seem to constitute some grounds for believing that the Netherlands Government may be favorably disposed towards entering into an agreement with the United States for a reciprocal extension of the three mile limit for the purposes desired by the United States Government.

I have [etc.]

Richard M. Tobin
  1. Ministerie van Buitenlandsche Zaken, Diplomatieke Bescheiden Behoorende bij de Staatsbegrooting voor het dienstjaar, 1899, Zitting, 1898–1899—2, 111de Hoofdstuk: Bijlage der Memorie van Toelichting (Ingezonden bij brief van 7 October 1898), No. 7.
  2. On Feb. 15, 1896, in note no. 30, the Secretary of State, Richard Olney, wrote to the Netherland Minister at Washington, G. von Weckherlin, as follows (Ms., Notes to the Netherland Legation, vol. 8, p. 359):

    Sir: In conformity with your recent oral request …

    “This Government would not be indisposed should a sufficient number of maritime Powers concur in the proposition, to take part in an endeavor to reach an accord having the force and effect of international law as well as of conventional regulation, by which the territorial jurisdiction of a state, bounded by the high seas, should henceforth extend six nautical miles from low watermark; and at the same time providing that this six-mile limit shall also be that of the neutral maritime zone.

    “I am unable, however, to express the views of this Government upon the subject more precisely at the present time in view of the important consideration to be given to the question of the effect of such a modification of existing international and conventional law upon the jurisdictional boundaries of adjacent states and the application of existing treaties, in respect to the doctrine of headlands and bays.

    “I will scarcely observe to you that an extension of the headland doctrine by making territorial all bays situated within promontories twelve miles apart instead of six would affect bodies of water now deemed to be high seas and whose use is the subject of existing conventional stipulations.

    “Accept [etc.]

    Richard Olney”