The Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Forrestal)

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My Dear Mr. Secretary: I have received the letter of February 4, 1947 signed jointly by you and Secretary Patterson, together with the statement of the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the military implications of a change in the status of the Spitsbergen Archipelago as established by the Treaty of Paris of 1920.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff correctly state the facts regarding Soviet approach to the Norwegian Government looking to a change in the status of the Spitsbergen Archipelago with particular reference to Soviet participation, in some form not entirely clear, in the military use of the Islands. No change in status can however legally take place without the concurrence of the United States (and such concurrence would require action by the Senate), and of all non-enemy powers signatory to the 1920 Treaty. No proposal for a modification of the 1920 Treaty has been received from Norway or the Soviet Union or any other party to the Treaty.

I have noted the conclusions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Soviet Union can advance some plausible military arguments for a share in the defense of Spitsbergen, and that Spitsbergen “in the hands of an aggressive Soviet Russia, would have an offensive potential against the United States, but not sufficient from the purely military point of view to justify military action by the United States to prevent a measure of Soviet control”.

I have also noted the opinion expressed by you and Secretary Patterson that agreement to any substantial Soviet demands with respect to Bear Island and the Spitsbergen Archipelago would “seriously impair the overall security interests of the United States”, and your joint recommendation that the United States oppose any Soviet gains which could be interpreted as appeasement of the USSR. If and when any question involving such considerations with respect to Spitsbergen arises, I will, of course, discuss the question with you, the Secretary of War and the President.

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I realize that in determining the treatment of the Spitsbergen question we will have to keep in mind United States’ long-term objectives with respect to military rights in Greenland and Iceland. On the one hand, if the Soviet Union pursues its apparent objectives in Spitsbergen the possession of military rights in Greenland and Iceland will become correspondingly more essential to our national defense. On the other hand, if at this juncture we press ahead with negotiations for military rights in Greenland and Iceland, we might well stimulate the Soviet Union to take positive action in Spitsbergen which might otherwise be avoided or at least postponed.

In this latter connection, I think that two points merit serious consideration:

Now that Soviet objectives in Spitsbergen have come into the open, it is unlikely that either Denmark or Iceland would at this time be willing to grant us long-term military rights if, while asking for such rights, we oppose any change in the status of Spitsbergen;
Maintenance of the status quo (which the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend as the most desirable solution to the problem) would not preclude clandestine Soviet military activity in Spitsbergen under the guise of development of the extensive Soviet coal mine properties in the Islands.

In these circumstances, I take it that no action by the State Department is necessary at this time except to continue to follow the situation closely and to work on it in the closest possible touch with the War and Navy Departments as in the past.

I am addressing a similar letter to the Secretary of War.

Sincerely yours,

G. C. Marshall