Memorandum by the Director of the Office of European Affairs ( Matthews ) to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary: Norwegian Ambassador Morgenstierne is coming to see you at 10 o’clock this morning to inform you, on instructions from Norwegian Foreign Minister Lange, of the present status of Soviet-Norwegian conversations on the revision of the 1920 multilateral treaty regarding the status of Spitsbergen (which includes Bear Island and may be referred to by the Ambassador under its Norwegian name Svalbard).

There is attached a telegram dated 11 December from our Embassy in Oslo on this subject.1

We have learned from Mr. Morgenstierne that the Soviets have proposed bilateral Soviet-Norwegian negotiations looking to the abrogation of the 1920 Treaty and the subsequent negotiation of a new multilateral treaty. The Soviets propose that such 1920 signatories as Italy and Japan, and possibly others, be dropped from the new multilateral negotiations when they take place, and that Finland be included.

So far as we can gather, the fundamental points in the Soviet proposals to Norway are: (1) Elimination of those clauses of the 1920 Treaty which demilitarized Spitsbergen; (2) Joint Soviet-Norwegian defense installations in Spitsbergen (which, by the way, is only something over 500 miles from the northeast coast of Greenland); (3) Special Soviet economic privileges with respect to fishing and hunting [Page 1005] rights and the exploitation of the Spitsbergen coal mines which produce roughly 700,000 tons of coal a year and are the sole source of coal within Norwegian territory; (4) The new Treaty to be within the framework of the Charter and to take the form of a regional defense agreement under Article 43 of the Charter.2

For your general information, the 1920 Treaty was the culmination of many years of international negotiation over the sovereignty of Spitsbergen (in which the US had economic interest due to American ownership of a coal mine there). Previously, Spitsbergen had been generally considered terra nullius—the 1920 Treaty gave the sovereignty to Norway under the conditions laid down in the Treaty.

The conversations with Norway looking to special Russian privileges in Spitsbergen were initiated by Mr. Molotov in the autumn of 1944 and therefore antedated by some months any US initiative for long-term overseas bases with the exception of the 1940 destroyer-base arrangements with the United Kingdom.3

The Joint Chiefs of Staff about a year ago indicated that the US had no special military interest in Spitsbergen4 but I understand that the problem is to be re-studied in the light of our recent Iceland Agreement5 and the proposal which you recently made to the Foreign Minister of Denmark6 with regard to Greenland.

My suggestion would be that we refrain at this time from commenting on what Mr. Morgenstierne may communicate to you but that we make it clear to him that any Norwegian-Soviet negotiations regarding Spitsbergen should, of course, take into account the position of the US as a signatory of the 1920 Treaty.

The Soviet Union has ratified the 1920 Treaty.7

H. Freeman Matthews
  1. See supra.
  2. In his conversation with the Secretary, Ambassador Morgenstierne did discuss the subjects here indicated. He told about the two talks between the Norwegian Foreign Minister Halvard M. Lange and Foreign Minister Molotov at the New York sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations in November. Lange had informed Molotov that he would have to confer with his government and parliament on the proposals, and that no abrogation of the 1920 treaty could occur without the full consent of the signatories. The Department informed the Embassy in Norway of Morgenstierne’s visit in telegram 7 to Oslo, January 6, 1947, noon, not printed (861.24557H/1–647).
  3. Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, pp. 4977.
  4. For a more precise expression of the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with regard to Spitsbergen, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. v, pp. 9697.
  5. For the text of this agreement, “Termination of Defense Agreement July 1, 1941 and Provision for Interim Use of Keflavik Airport”, effected by exchange of notes signed at Reykjavik, October 7, 1946, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1566, or 61 Stat. (pt. 3) 2426.
  6. See footnote 3, p. 657.
  7. With respect to a note from the Soviet Government of February 16, 1924, to the Norwegian Government wherein it was stated that “from now on the Government of the Union recognizes the sovereignty of Norway over Spitzbergen, including Bear Island, and therefore will not hereafter make any objection with respect to the Spitzbergen Treaty of February 9, 1920,” see the note from the Norwegian Minister to the Secretary of State of March 20, 1924, in Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. i, p. 1. De jure adherence to the treaty by the Soviet Union came by the decree of February 27, 1935, and entered into force on May 7, 1935.