740.00119 EW/6–1246

The British Minister (Balfour) to the Acting Secretary of State


My Dear Dean: I enclose a Memorandum on the subject of freedom of passage through the entrances to the Baltic, together with a draft protocol.

The Foreign Office originally intended to discuss the draft protocol with the United States Delegation at Paris last month, but they now think it unlikely that the question of the entrances to the Baltic will be raised during the present series of meetings in Paris and have therefore instructed us to pursue the matter in Washington.

Although the Foreign Office have thought it desirable to formulate their views on the subject now in case it is raised by the Soviet Government, they believe, nevertheless, that it is advisable to wait for the Soviet Government to take the initiative since it is they who appear to be dissatisfied with the present position. The Foreign Office do not therefore propose to put forward the draft protocol now, but to keep it in reserve until the question of the entrances to the Baltic is brought up by the Soviet Government.

Should the Soviet Government agree to the protocol when it is presented to them, France and the two riparian States, Denmark and Sweden, might then be consulted and invited to sign it also.

I should be grateful to learn the views of the State Department on this matter, and in particular whether they agree in principle with the draft protocol.

Yours sincerely,

John Balfour
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[Enclosure 1]


His Majesty’s Embassy has the honour to refer to the exchange of views which took place in January and February of this year between Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin on the question of free passage through the entrances to the Baltic. As the Department of State will recall, Mr. Bevin explained in the Aide-Mémoire which he left with Mr. Byrnes on January 14th that he would like to consider with Mr. Byrnes how best the United States Government and His Majesty’s Government could pursue a common line in any future discussions on this subject, and whether it would be desirable to place the views of the two Governments on record in any agreed communication to the Soviet Government. In that case, Mr. Bevin pointed out, it would be for consideration whether France and the two limitrophe States, Sweden and Denmark, should be associated with such a communication.

In his reply of February 28th, Mr. Byrnes agreed that at the appropriate time some advantages, both political and otherwise, might be derived from a revision of the arrangements made in 1857 which would neutralise the Sound and the Belts and would maintain and confirm the right of merchant ships and war vessels of all States, whether neutral or belligerent, to pass freely through the Straits, both in peace and war, subject to such stipulations as might have to be made to provide for restriction of the right of free passage under the direction of the United Nations Security Council.
Since the above-mentioned exchange of views took place, a draft protocol affirming His Majesty’s Government’s policy has been prepared and has been approved by the British Chiefs of Staff. A copy of this draft protocol was communicated last month to the United States Delegation at Paris by the United Kingdom Delegation, but for convenience of reference a further copy is enclosed herein. His Majesty’s Embassy would be glad to receive the comments of the Department of State on this draft.
It will be observed that the protocol makes no reference to the Treaties of 1857, to which Mr. Byrnes drew attention in his reply to Mr. Bevin. The reason for the omission is that freedom of passage through the entrances to the Baltic does not, in the view of His Majesty’s Government, depend on these Treaties, which were solely concerned to abolish the practice whereby the Danish Government levied dues on the passage of ships through the Sound. The principle of free passage through the Great and Little Belts and the Sound is, in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government, a recognised principle of international law and does not depend on any Treaty. [Page 396] It would, therefore, appear to be preferable not to refer in the protocol to the Treaties of 1857 or any other previous arrangements, but simply to reaffirm the principle of free passage.
Mr. Byrnes also referred, in his reply to Mr. Bevin, to the possibility of neutralising the Sound and the Belts. In this connection Mr. Byrnes may have had in mind that it should be laid down that no act of hostility should be permitted in the Straits. In the view of His Majesty’s Government, however, such a stipulation would be unnecessary since it is impossible for ships to pass through either the Sound or the Great or Little Belts without passing through Danish or Swedish territorial waters, and the principle that no act of hostility should be committed in territorial waters is already sufficiently established in international law.
Mr. Byrnes may also have intended that it should be laid down that the entrances to the Baltic should not be fortified. As regards this possibility, His Majesty’s Government are of the opinion that it is very doubtful whether it would be possible to persuade the riparian states to agree to such a provision. Furthermore, the British Chiefs of Staff, who have been consulted, would be opposed to it on military grounds, since they see no objection to the riparian states maintaining such fortifications as they consider necessary.
As regards the possibility of the establishment of some form of international control of the Straits, which Mr. Byrnes may also have had in mind, His Majesty’s Government feel that such an arrangement would not be desirable.
For all the above reasons, it would, in His Majesty’s Government’s view be preferable not to include any reference to neutralisation in the protocol, and all mention of it has, therefore, been omitted from the proposed draft protocol.
[Enclosure 2]


Whereas it is a recognised principle of international law that merchant ships and vessels of war of all countries have freedom of passage both in time of peace and in time of war through straits forming part of the highways of international traffic, notwithstanding that the said straits may consist in whole or in part of territorial waters;

And whereas this principle has for long been recognised as applicable and has been applied to the straits giving entrance to the Baltic Sea namely the Sound and the Great and Little Belts;

[Page 397]

And whereas the event of war of 1914–18 and of the recent hostilities make it desirable to reaffirm this principle in respect of the said entrances to the Baltic Sea;

The undersigned duly authorised to that effect by their respective governments hereby declare as follows

In accordance with the principles stated in the first paragraph of the preamble to the present protocol merchant ships and vessels of war of all countries have at all times freedom of passage through the entrances to the Baltic Sea, namely, the Sound, the Great Belt and the Little Belt, subject always to the rights and obligations of any country under the Charter of the United Nations.