800.014 Antarctic/12–1147

The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Sullivan)1


The Acting Secretary of State encloses for the Secretary of the Navy five copies of a memorandum on American Antarctic policy.

This memorandum consists of a brief synopsis and a fuller statement ending with a conclusion and recommendation.2 There are two attachments to the Memorandum. 1. A brief statement on the value of Antarctica,3 and 2. An excerpt from a Department of State Policy and Information Statement summarizing very briefly the history of American Antarctic policy.4 In addition, the memorandum is accompanied by a study of the History and Current Status of Claims in Antarctica recently prepared in the Department of State.5 A related study entitled Basis for Possible U.S. Claims in Antarctica (OIR Report No. 4436, Sept 12, 1947)6 has previously been circulated by the Department of State to the interested Divisions of the Department of Navy.

It will be noted that in this material care has been taken to avoid any position which might lead to the re-enforcement of the “sector principle” in the Antarctic.

The comment of the Navy Department will be appreciated upon the recommendation embodied in this memorandum as well as upon problems related thereto. A similar letter is being addressed to the Departments of Army and Interior.


Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State



A settlement of territorial claims in the Antarctic is complicated by the absence of general agreement on the legal principles which should [Page 1056] govern acquisition of territory of this kind. Even the facts of discovery, exploration and investigation do not fall into any clear pattern and possible interpretations of the significance and implications of the facts are uncertain and complex.

However, a settlement is made desirable by the tendency towards increasing conflict rather than towards agreement. It is doubtful whether; continued activity on the part of individual countries will ever bring the situation to maturity for settlement on clear legal principles. In view of existing and potential conflict of national claims it is also difficult to find a practical basis for partition of the area by political agreement. The United States could probably without serious objection on the part of other claimants lay claim to the “American Sector” between 80 degrees and 150 degrees west longitude.

Present incomplete knowledge indicates that the economic and strategic values of the Antarctic continent are probably small.*

There is general agreement that full exploration and investigation are desirable on scientific and technical grounds and that meteorological and magnetic stations established in Antarctica would perform an important service, of value to all countries but possibly of more immediate interest to countries in the southern hemisphere.

In view of the probable slight value of the area for the purposes of economic exploitation or strategic use, the difficulty of arriving at a valid basis for settlement by partition, and the general benefits which will derive from scientific investigation and establishment of meteorological stations, the development of the Antarctic may be considered an appropriate field for international cooperation.

An international trusteeship under the United Nations would raise the problem of recognizing and safeguarding the more direct interest in the area of certain countries. This problem may be met by giving these countries a predominating voice in the international trusteeship arrangement.

In the light of the present situation and the factors involved in the various possible courses of action, it appears that one of two courses looking towards a stable situation in the Antarctic is practicable for the United States Government: (1) Present claims together with a proposal for judicial settlement of conflicting claims. (2) Propose establishment of an international administration.

Given the assumption that the United States has little to gain from exclusive national control over large areas of Antarctica but that, on the other hand, many or all peoples will benefit by the results of a program of scientific studies and meteorological observations in the area, the second alternative is preferable.

  1. Identical communications, mutatis mutandis, were sent to the Departments of Army and Interior on December 11, and to the Departments of Commerce, and Air Force on December 16.
  2. Of the memorandum attached to the source text, only the brief synopsis is printed here. The fuller statement comprised 11 typewritten pages and ended with a conclusion and recommendation substantially the same as those set forth in the synopsis.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Dated January 27, p. 1043.
  5. OIR Report No. 4296, November 24, prepared by the Map Intelligence Division, Office of Intelligence Collection and Dissemination, Department of State (93 pp.); not printed.
  6. Prepared by the Special Adviser on Geography of the Department of State; not printed.
  7. See numbered paragraphs 2 and 4 of the annexed memorandum by the Geographic Adviser. [Footnote in the source text; memorandum not printed.]