800.014 Antarctic/4–1248

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


Dear Mr. Secretary: This letter is in reply to your memoranda dated 16 December 19471 and 14 January 1948,2 addressed to the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force on the subject of a proposed United States Antarctic policy, and to your letter to me of 17 March 1948 relating to the same subject.3

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the matter from a military point of view and are of the opinion that the Antarctic is of little apparent strategic value to the United States now. They add, however, that its future strategic value (including natural resources) to the [Page 972] United States or to our most probable enemies cannot be accurately predicted at this time in view of the dearth of information concerning this region and in view of possible long-term scientific developments. The present limited knowledge of the area indicates that the chief value of the Antarctic is in scientific and meteorological fields, both of which have very great military import now and might become critical in the future.

Under these circumstances, and from a military standpoint, two factors appear to be of paramount importance in determining United States policy with respect to the Antarctic.

First, because of the proximity to the Antarctic of Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, all potential allies of the United States in event of war, this region might be of considerable strategic value to our enemy should a major conflict occur. Specifically, enemy control in the area adjacent to South America could have very serious consequences if use of the Panama Canal were denied the United States, leaving the passage around Cape Horn as the shortest sea route between the east and west coasts of the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, it is imperative that sovereignty or active participation in control of the Antarctic, under trusteeship arrangement or otherwise, should be denied groups of nations which include our most probable enemies, and United States policy with respect to the disposition of this problem should be pointed toward this objective. Second, it is important that in the determination of our Antarctic policy, we should make certain that our possible future Arctic interests are in no wise weakened by any precedents established with respect to the Antarctic. Although no land has been discovered nearer to the North Pole than northern Greenland by any polar expedition nor by numerous recent Air Force polar flights, the possibility remains that there may be undiscovered land in the Arctic area. Such land, even if relatively minor in size, could well be of great strategic importance.

For the above reasons, in the interests of national security, United States claims or potential claims in the Antarctic should be relinquished only if and when this course should be justified by future determination that the Antarctic area has no strategic value to the United States.

Your several letters suggest various possible alternatives for disposing of the Antarctic question—(1) the establishment of a special trusteeship; (2) the conclusion of a condominium agreement of the interested states; or (3) the presentation of United States claims, followed by the submission of the entire problem for judicial settlement. Each of these alternatives has been considered from the standpoint of the considerations described in the preceding paragraphs.

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In our opinion it would appear impracticable, or in any event difficult, to guarantee against the active participation of our most probable enemies in the control of the Antarctic if trusteeship arrangements should be carried through to completion. For this reason we do not favor this alternative.

The advisability or inadvisability of a condominium appears less clear. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the view that while a condominium, as such, would not finally resolve the matter of individual claims to the areas of the Antarctic, its practical effect might be to protect the over-all interests of the United States in that region provided that (a) the condominium agreement would not in any way be regarded as a precedent for any United States Arctic policy that might prejudice our possible future Arctic interests, and (b) no nation included among our most probable enemies would be a party to such a condominium. Our misgivings as to this course arise from our doubts as to whether, for the reason hereinafter stated, this second safeguard can in fact be provided.

It is our understanding that a condominium involves a pooling of otherwise conflicting claims to sovereignty, thus establishing among the claimants a tacit recognition of the validity of each others’ claims without recourse to a judicial determination. If this understanding is correct, and if the Soviet Union should assert claims to Peter I Island and Alexander I Land, it might be difficult to maintain that such claims, no matter how invalid we might consider them, were not a justification, equal to that represented by the claims of other nations, for Soviet participation in the condominium. If this contingency could be guarded against, there would be no objection to a condominium agreement along the lines of the draft which you have submitted, provided, however, that the wording of Article VI is retained and the wording in alternate Article VI is deleted.4 It would not be in the military interest for Antarctica to be maintained as a demilitarized area. If the foregoing contingency cannot be guarded against, then the proposed condominium would appear to have no advantages, from a military standpoint, over the trusteeship solution.

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In view of the difficulties which we perceive in the two foregoing alternatives, it is our view that the preferable course at the present time from a military standpoint, would be to press United States claims to areas of Antarctica and to propose submission of the entire problem of Antarctica to judicial determination. This assumes, of course, that the State Department considers it essential to reach some solution to the problem of Antarctica at this time. If this assumption is not correct, we would suggest additional study of this matter by our several agencies and its submission to SANACC for joint consideration.

Sincerely yours,

  1. See footnote 2, p. 962.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Under cover of his letter of March 16 to Secretary Forrestal, not printed, the Secretary of State transmitted a rough working draft of a possible condominium agreement for Antarctica. The concluding paragraph of the Secretary of State’s letter read as follows:

    “It is desirable that the Department of State be in a position to discuss with the other Governments concerned (Britain, Norway, France, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile) the establishment of either a condominum or a trusteeship arrangement, whichever may upon full exchange of views prove preferable. It is expected that the problem of Antarctica will be raised in a difficult and possibly embarrassing manner in the Bogotá Conference at the end of March. The handling of the situation in Bogotá would be materially easier if prior to the conference we open discussion of the matter with the other Governments. I should therefore appreciate it if I could receive an indication, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have no objection to our attempting to settle the problem on the basis of either a trusteeship or condominium, whichever may be decided to offer the more practical solution.” (800.014 Antarctic/1–2348)

  4. Article VI of the rough working draft of an Antarctic condominium agreement, transmitted under cover of the Secretary of State’s letter of March 16, read as follows:

    “The parties hereto may, with the approval of the Commission [the proposed Antarctic Commission composed of representatives of the participating powers], carry out such measures in the area as from time to time may be necessary for the defense of the area and for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

    Alternate Article VI read as follows:

    “The parties hereto agree that no military establishments or fortifications shall be established within the area, and that it shall be maintained as a demilitarized area.”