Policy Planning Staff Files: Lot 64 D 563

Paper Prepared by the Policy Planning Staff1



the problem

To formulate a U.S. policy regarding Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands which will eliminate international disputes over these areas, promote their scientific exploration and utilization for scientific purposes, and safeguard U.S. national interests.

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1. Nationals of several states have made discoveries, conducted explorations, established temporary and semipermanent bases, and made territorial claims for their respective countries in the Antarctic region. U.S. nationals acting privately or on behalf of the U.S. Government have played a leading role in these activities.

2. The United States Government has refrained from asserting any official territorial claim in the antarctic region. However, it has refused to recognize the claims of other countries and has reserved its own rights.

3. Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Norway and France all have made official claims of sovereignty over specific islands in the Antarctic region and over segments of the Antarctic Continent. Certain of these claims are in dispute. The Argentine claim overlaps almost entirely the British Falkland Islands Dependencies claim. The Chilean claim conflicts with Both British and Argentine claims to the Palmer Peninsula and Shetland Islands. The conflicting claims have produced tension in the relations between Great Britain on the one hand and Argentina and Chile on the other, which have led to the dispatch of armed vessels to the territories in dispute.

4. No nation has laid official claim to the large sector of Antarctica lying between 90° West Longitude and 150° West Longitude. However, the discoveries, explorations and claims of Byrd and Ellsworth in this area would justify a U.S. official claim to all of it, a claim unlikely to be contested by other governments.

5. In addition to the sector between 90° West Longitude and 150° West Longitude, the U.S. Government would have good grounds for claiming other areas discovered, explored and claimed for the United States by U.S. nationals but which are claimed by the governments of other powers in spite of the fact that in some cases these areas have not been seen by the nationals of the claiming power.

6. Control of territory in the Antarctic region is not considered essential to the security of the United States.

In the unlikely event that uranium ores in significant quantities are discovered, our interest would be served by insuring that they are not exploited by a potential enemy rather than in exploiting them ourselves, since our requirements can more easily be met from other more accessible sources.
The only area which, under certain conditions, could be of strategic concern to the United States is the Drake Passage between Tierra del Fuego on the north and the South Shetland group of islands on the south. In the event of the closing of the Panama Canal, this passage would become an important sea route and hostile naval or air units based on either side of it could interfere with the passage of U.S. naval or commercial shipping.…

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7. Since the Antarctic Continent is almost entirely covered by a thick ice sheet and since the sub-Antarctic islands have no significant resources, the economic value of the Antarctic region lies chiefly in its marine life, primarily whales. Whaling operations are now for the most part based on factory ships and hence do not require land bases in the Antarctic. The land areas of the Antarctic region are therefore not at present of economic interest to the U.S. nor are they likely to be in the future.

8. Antarctic waters provide the United States Navy with opportunity for gaining experience in ice operations and for testing equipment under severe conditions without attracting the kind of attention which would be likely to attend similar operations in the Arctic, However, no land bases in Antarctica are needed for such operations.

9. The interest of U.S. private and Government-sponsored expeditions has been primarily scientific—to extend knowledge of the Antarctic and its phenomena.

10. The dispute between Great Britain on the one side and Argentina and Chile on the other over conflicting claims in the Antarctic, while almost entirely a matter of prestige, is a source of embarrassment to the United States because of our close relation to Great Britain and our commitments in the Western Hemisphere, This embarrassment is susceptible of exploitation by the USSR to the further disadvantage of the United States. Our national interest therefore requires that a settlement of this dispute be reached which will be acceptable to the three countries involved.

11. An international administration for the Antarctic Continent and sub-Antarctic islands would best promote the further scientific exploration and investigation of Antarctic phenomena. Such an administration would also facilitate the correlation of meteorological observations which are of practical significance in making long range weather forecasts for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and southern South America. Extended observations may also confirm the belief that meteorological conditions in the Antarctic region affect weather even further to the north.

12. An international administration would also provide a solution to the dispute between Great Britain, Argentina and Chile. A surrender of sovereignty claims by all three disputants which did not give an advantage to any one of them would cause no loss of prestige.

13. Although U.S. economic interests in the Antarctic region are negligible, the possible strategic significance of the Drake Passage, the large expenditure of U.S. private and public funds in Antarctic exploration, and American popular interest in the region require that the U.S. have a voice in any international administration that may be established.

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14. So long as the U.S. has made no official claims to Antarctic territory, it would have to base a claim for participation in an international administration exclusively on the discoveries and explorations of its nationals. While no other country has contributed as much to the discovery and exploration of Antarctica, as has the United States, international law regarding sovereignty over uninhabited areas is so vague that other countries as yet having no official territorial claims, but whose citizens have also made discoveries and conducted explorations, could likewise claim participation in an international administration.

15. The USSR probably would not make claims on the grounds of discoveries made by the Imperial Russian Expedition of 1819–1820 under von Bellingshausen. A territorial claim by the Russians on the basis of prior discovery would leave them open to similar claims by other countries to islands in the Arctic which the Russians consider Soviet territory. And participation in an international control over Antarctica would leave them open to demands for a similar regime in the Arctic which would be entirely contrary to their long maintained sector principle of sovereignty in that area. However, there is nothing to prevent the Russians from sending an expedition to the unclaimed sector of the Antarctic continent between 90° and 150° West Longitude, establishing a permanent base there, conducting explorations and laying official claim to territory on the basis of these activities.

16. Making official United States claim, on the basis of discovery and exploration by American citizens, to the unclaimed sector is thus desirable-on two grounds: (1) to forestall any Soviet attempt to become a territorial claimant by activities in this sector, and (2) prevent the USSR and other non-claimant powers from claiming a right to participate in discussions for an international regime on the ground that the U.S. is not a claimant power.

17. Such action on our part would also serve to safeguard our position and rights should the proposal for internationalization prove unacceptable to the other countries concerned. It is with that possibility in mind that we should claim all areas in Antarctica to which we have the best right by virtue of discovery and exploration on the part of our nationals, even though some of the areas thus claimed are also claimed by other powers.

18. The continuation of the present situation with annual recurrences of tension would perhaps best suit the USSR. The friction and contention attendant upon an effort to partition Antarctica among the various claimants by the long and uncertain process of court settlement would likewise serve their purposes well. An international arrangement not connected with the United Nations would give them factual grounds for a charge (which would be heard sympathetically by some [Page 981] nations outside the Soviet orbit) that the United States and the other nations concerned were by-passing and weakening the United Nations. It is important to our general international position that we maintain our full support of the United Nations and that any onus of weakening and disrupting the United Nations remain exclusively upon the USSR. Although the Soviet Union and its satellites could enter an objection to any agreement for internationalizing Antarctica which is submitted to the United Nations for approval and could subject the administration set up under it to annual criticism, such action on the part of the Soviet Union or its satellites would be generally recognized for what it was, a mere attempt to cause friction.

19. While the trusteeship system of the United Nations was established primarily “for the development of peoples, not penguins”, there is nothing in the Charter excluding the application of a trusteeship to uninhabited areas. In fact the establishment of a trusteeship over Antarctica would appear to be justified by the first of the four basic objectives of the system as stated under Article 76, viz., “to further international peace and security”. While it seems unlikely that war could break out over disputed claims in Antarctica, it cannot be denied that wars in the past have grown out of disputes of even more trivial nature.

20. In view of the number of claimant powers and the strong position taken by some of them, a trusteeship would have to be of a joint nature under the authority of the UN Trusteeship Council. While a joint trusteeship would present serious administrative problems in areas with permanent indigenous populations or significant exploitable economic resources, the absence of these in Antarctica should simplify matters. The fact that primary interest in the region, aside from national prestige, is scientific, suggests that the administration of the trusteeship should have to do primarily with coordinating scientific investigations, the maintenance and operation of permanent scientific stations, certifying expeditions and the like. Since scientists in general subscribe to the doctrine that “science knows no boundaries”, and since the bulk of the “population” in Antarctica at any one time would be composed of members of scientific expeditions or stations, national frictions should be reduced to a minimum.

21. Since a principal scientific interest in the Antarctic region is meteorological observation for the purpose of making long range weather forecasts for the Southern Hemisphere, and since meteorological stations on certain uninhabited islands not included in the Antarctic region as here defined would improve the accuracy of such forecasts, the proposed international administration should be empowered to accept these islands from the owning states if the latter wish to assign them.

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22. It may be desirable at some future time to admit to participation in the international administration of Antarctica other nations which may have a legitimate interest in that area and which may be able to make a significant contribution to scientific developments in that area. Thus, although the Union of South Africa has carried on no explorations in Antarctica and has made no claims to territory in that region, its ports have served as bases for operations in Antarctic waters and it claims certain islands in sub-Antarctic waters which it might be desirable to include in the area under international administration in order to better coordinate meteorological observations and improve long range weather forecasts for the Southern Hemisphere. Because of its geographical position in the Southern Hemisphere, the Union is likely to have an interest in such forecasts. However, any provision for subsequent admission to the international regime of states not participating in the original convention should be so worded as to exclude the possibility of admitting the Soviet Union or any of the states in its orbit.


1. It is recommended that the United States support in principle the establishment of an international status for Antarctica, in the form of a United Nations trusteeship or in other suitable form, the terms of which should be agreed on by the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, France, and Norway before submission to the United Nations General Assembly for approval. A trusteeship would be administered by the above powers. A draft for a trusteeship agreement, to be submitted to the other seven powers as a basis for discussion, is attached hereto.

2. The United States should at an appropriate time make official claim to areas in Antarctica to which it has the best rights by virtue of discovery and exploration on the part of its nationals. This action is necessary in order to place the United States on an equal footing with the other seven powers, all of which have made official claims to Antarctic territory. A geographic definition of the areas to be claimed by the United States will be provided by Mr. Boggs, R/GE.

The announcement of United States claims should not be made until after agreement to negotiate an international settlement has been obtained from the other seven powers and it should be explained to these powers, prior to the announcement of our claims, that they are being made in order to place the United States on an equal juridical footing with them and that they would be suspended on the coming into effect of a satisfactory international statute.

3. It is recommended that the proposed international area include the Antarctic Continent and all islands south of 60° South Latitude except, at least initially, the South Shetland and South Orkney groups [Page 983] regarding which the British believe they may be able to work out a settlement with Argentina and Chile. (The British, and possibly also Argentina and Chile, might be-informed during the preliminary negotiations looking toward the setting up of an international area that in the event of their failure to reach a satisfactory settlement regarding the South Shetlands and the South Orkneys, we would favor their inclusion in the international area.)

4. Our proposal for establishing an international area should be presented to the British, Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, French, Argentine and Chilean Governments. In view of discussions already held with the British, it is recommended that the British representative here be informed of our proposals before they are submitted to the representatives of the other powers. It is also recommended that, in compliance with our commitment to the Chilean Government, a competent representative of the Department be sent to Santiago to present our proposals and discuss them in detail with the appropriate Chilean authorities. The same repesentative of the Department might well proceed also to Buenos Aires for a similar purpose.

5. Upon the attainment of substantial agreement through diplomatic conversations, a conference should be convoked to put the agreement in final form and to formalize it. (The locus of the conference may be left for decision on the basis of developments as negotiations proceed.)

6. Every effort should be made to secure substantial agreement in diplomatic negotiations, if not the signing of a convention, before the beginning of the next navigation season in Antarctic waters.

7. The convention should be ratified as promptly as possible by the governments of the several countries and submitted to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

8. It is recommended that responsibility for handling this matter on the operational level be assigned to ——— (to be named by the Under Secretary) who will be assisted, in the capacity of Executive Secretary, by Mr. Caspar Green of NOE. Mr. ——— should be at liberty to draw on the interested offices of the Department for assistance and advice, but he should have the power, at his own discretion, to make decisions which arise currently in the process of consultations and negotiations, subject to the final authority of the Secretary in matters of particular importance.

It will be understood that the recommendations set forth above represent only an initial indication of the direction in which the Department should endeavor to make progress. They will naturally be subject to modification in the light of the views of other nations. However, no decision should be taken which would represent a fundamental departure from this pattern, unless the matter has been re-examined as a long-term policy question.

  1. The paper printed here was prepared in the light of the considerations and discussions described in the editorial note, supra. The source text indicates that Under Secretary of State Robert A. Lovett gave his approval on June 14. On June 15 the Secretary of State transmitted a copy of this paper to Secretary of Defense Forrestal under cover of a brief letter. In his letter Secretary Marshall observed that unless there was an objection to the paper on military grounds, the Department of State proposed to proceed at once with its implementation. Should there be an objection by the Military Establishment, the Secretary of State was prepared to submit the paper to the National Security Council for study and decision (800.014 Antarctic/4–1248).

    In response to Secretary Forrestal’s letter of July 1 (p. 989), the Secretary of State submitted this paper to the National Security Council on July 9 for the information of the members of the Council (800.014 Antarctic/7–148). The paper was subsequently circulated in the National Security Council as document NSC 21, July 13. (S/SNSC Files: Lot 64D351: NSC 21 Series)