Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Northern European Affairs (Cumming)

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Mr. Middleton1 called on me this afternoon to say that the British Embassy had received, with instructions to communicate the contents to the Department for information, a copy of a telegram sent by the Foreign Office to the British Embassy in Oslo.

The British Ambassador in Oslo had been instructed to apprise the Norwegian Government that the legal position of the British Government remains as in the past, namely, that any legal change in the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty can only take place with the consent of all the signatories except Japan; that whether or not the consent of Italy would be required is uncertain, but that the British Government inclines to the view that Italian consent would have to be obtained. The [Page 1015] Ambassador was also instructed to express the hope that in any discussions that may take place between the Norwegian Government and the Soviet Government the Norwegians will reserve their position in accordance with the foregoing, and will not “spring anything” on the British Government unexpectedly. He was further instructed to inform the Norwegians that the British Government is keeping in touch with Canada and the United States with regard to the Spitsbergen question.

Mr. Middleton also told me that the Embassy had received an expression of the views of the British Joint Chiefs of Staff which, in summary, were that a modification of the Spitsbergen Treaty to permit of legal Soviet military activity in Spitsbergen would have no direct influence on the security of the United Kingdom but would directly affect the defense interests of Canada and the United States.2 Mr. Middleton added that it was his understanding that the British Joint Chiefs would get in touch with the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff with regard to the matter if they had not already done so.

H[ugh] S. C[umming, Jr.]
  1. George Humphrey Middleton, first secretary of the British Embassy.
  2. In a communication of March 20, 1947, to Mr. John D. Hickerson, the Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs, the Canadian Ambassador, Mr. Hume Wrong, conveyed the viewpoint of the Canadian Chiefs of Staff: “They consider that this might constitute a threat to the security of North America, with the employment of new weapons of increased range and power. In consequence, they have recommended that every effort should be made by diplomatic means to secure the maintenance of the conditions laid down in the Treaty of 1920, to which Canada is a party, which provided that the establishment of military fortifications or bases on Spitzbergen and Bear Island should not be permitted.” (861.24557H/3–2047) This information was sent in letters to Vice Adm. F. P. Sherman, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations), Department of the Navy, and to Maj. Gen. Lauris Norstad, Director of Plans and Operations, War Department General Staff.