800.014 Antarctic/2–1848

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

Participants: The Secretary;
The British Ambassador;
Mr. Hickerson, EUR1

The British Ambassador, Lord Inverchapel, came in to see me at 2:30 this afternoon at his request.

Lord Inverchapel said that he had been instructed by his Government to discuss with me the Antarctic situation. Lie said that the British Government was concerned at the activities of the Chilean and Argentine Governments in that area. In particular, he said the British Government was concerned over the President of Chile having gone to one of the disputed islands in the last few days and raised the Chilean flag.2 The Ambassador also mentioned a press report to the effect that an Argentine fleet was to be sent to the disputed area.3

In all these circumstances the Ambassador said the British Government had decided to send a British cruiser to the Falkland Islands and the Falkland Islands dependencies.4 He added that he had been instructed by his Government to discuss the whole matter informally with me and pointed out that the British Government on security grounds attaches a considerable importance to this matter. He showed me a map at this point and said that the British Government feels that on strategic grounds it would not be desirable that countries like Argentina and Chile, in the light of their record in World War 2, control islands which could dominate the open water passage south of Cape Horn.

The Ambassador said that the British Government had proposed to the Argentine and Chilean Governments that the territorial claims [Page 964] of the three countries in the Antarctic be referred to the Permanent Court of Justice for adjudication but that those Governments had refused this proposal.

Lord Inverchapel said that he had been instructed by his Government to ask me the following questions:

Has the United States Government asserted claims to territory in the Antarctic and if not, does it intend to do so? I asked Mr. Hickerson if he could answer this question and he replied that the United States has not itself asserted claims to territory in the Antarctic nor has it recognized the claims of any other countries in that area. Mr. Hickerson added that the United States Government would like to see some satisfactory international solution of this matter but failing this, the United States Government will probably feel compelled to assert territorial claims in the Antarctic.
The British Government very much hopes that Antarctic claims will not be discussed at the forthcoming Bogotá Conference5 and the Ambassador inquired about the attitude of the United States Government in this respect. I replied that the United States Government will oppose a discussion of Antarctic questions at the Bogotá Conference.6 I recalled to the Ambassador that at the Rio Conference last year7 when the Conference established certain territorial limits for the application of the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro, the United States announced publicly its view that this was wholly without reference to territorial claims in the Antarctic.
The Ambassador inquired what the United States attitude would be to a Conference to consider Antarctic claims. I replied that our feeling at the present is that the matter could be handled more satisfactorily by intergovernmental negotiations between the interested governments and that a Conference, if called, should be a culmination of such negotiations, its function being to formalize an agreement already reached.
The Ambassador inquired whether in view of the strategic importance of this area the United States would be agreeable to an exchange of views with the United Kingdom Government. I stated that [Page 965] our officers had been studying the Antarctic problem for some time and that we hoped in the near future to be in a position to discuss it in greater detail with the British Government. We have noted the British objection to a trusteeship arrangement directly under the United Nations and we are thinking also of possible alternatives. We recognized the importance of exchanging views with the British on the basic approach to this problem but we will have to be very circumspect and avoid possible criticism from other Governments in view of the claims of Argentina, Chile, Australia and New Zealand in this area. In these circumstances I said that I thought that the Ambassador would probably agree that it might well be desirable to open discussions with the other countries concerned at the time detailed discussions are taken up with the British.
The Ambassador inquired whether I did not think it might be a good idea for one or two of the officers of his Embassy to talk these matters over quietly with officers of the Department of State. I told him that I would consider this matter and let him know later but that it would probably be arrangeable.

I told Lord Inverchapel that speaking off the record, I had been somewhat puzzled at the action of the British Government in sending a cruiser to the area and that I had been wondering just what the cruiser would do when it got there. In view of spectacular action, of Chilean President and dramatic departure of so-called Argentine fleet, I wondered if the British cruiser decision did not put them in an undignified position. I stressed the fact that in saying this I was speaking entirely as an individual and not as Secretary of State.

  1. John D. Hickerson, Director, Office of European Affairs.
  2. In mid-February 1948, Chilean President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla visited the South Shetland Islands and the Palmer Peninsula of Antarctica and formally established bases there.
  3. It was subsequently announced that a task force of the Argentine fleet was on maneuvers in Antarctic waters.
  4. On February 16 the British Embassy presented to the Department of State an aide-mémoire stating that in view of the Argentine and Chilean activities in the Falkland Island Dependencies (a British definition for its Antarctic claims including the South Shetland Islands, the South Orkney Islands, and the Palmer Peninsula), the British Government was sending the cruiser Nigeria to join the sloop Snipe currently stationed in the area (800.014 Antarctic/2–1648). On February 16, British Minister of State Hector McNeil made a statement in the House of Commons regarding the recent actions by the Argentine and Chilean Governments in the disputed Antarctic areas and the determination of the United Kingdom to resist alleged “acts of trespass” against the Falkland Island Dependencies. For the text of McNeil’s statement, see Margaret Carlyle (ed.), Documents on International Affairs 1947–1948, issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 814.
  5. The Ninth International Conference of American States, held at Bogotá, Colombia, from March 30 to May 2, 1948. For documentation, see vol. ix, pp. 1 ff.
  6. In a letter of February 24, to the Secretary of State, the British Ambassador observed that there were indications that several Latin American countries were prepared to support a resolution at the forthcoming Bogotá Conference declaring all colonial possessions in the Western Hemisphere to be a danger to the peace and security of the Hemisphere. Lord Inverchapel expressed the hope that the United States Government would be able to persuade the deletion of such a resolution from the agenda of the Conference or would otherwise find some way to neutralize efforts to encourage Argentine pretensions to British territory (800.014 Antarctic/2–2448). In his reply dated March 4, not printed, the Secretary of State repeated the intention of the United States Delegation to the Bogotá Conference to oppose the discussion of Antarctic questions. The United States Government would, furthermore, not favor any action by the Conference which was intended to strengthen the claims of any one party in a territorial dispute and would make that position clear at the Conference (800.014 Antarctic/2–2448).
  7. The Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security, held at Petropolis (near Rio de Janeiro), Brazil, from August 15 to September 2, 1947. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. iii, pp. 1 ff.