S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351: NSC 21 Series

The Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) to the Secretary of State 1


Dear Mr. Secretary: I have given careful consideration to your letter of 15 June 1948 concerning Antarctica and to the enclosed paper [Page 990] which, outlined a proposed future course of policy in that area.2 In addition, your letter and the accompanying papers have been considered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I enclose a copy of their comments.

My earlier letter3 was addressed to the question of whether, from a military standpoint, it was preferable to seek a solution to the problem of Antarctica through (1) the establishment of a trusteeship, (2) the conclusion of a condominium agreement, or (3) juridical settlement. I there expressed the view that the assertion of American claims, followed by the submission of the entire question to an international tribunal, appeared to be the course which was best adapted to accommodate military requirements. This conclusion was founded on our doubts as to whether it would be possible, in establishing either condominium or trusteeship, to meet the following two conditions which are considered of military importance: (1) That participation in the control of all or any areas in Antarctica should be denied to our most probable enemies, and (2) that the arrangement should in no wise constitute a precedent which might prejudice future interests of the United States in the Arctic. In reaching these conclusions, we naturally did not take into account pertinent factors of a purely political character which fall wholly within the province of the Department of State.

Assuming that the foregoing conditions can in fact be met, we would have no objections from a military standpoint to the course of action which you propose. Whether this can be done is a question which the State Department is better qualified to answer than the National Military Establishment. Consequently, if you conclude that there is every reasonable prospect that these conditions can be fulfilled, then we are agreeable to your proceeding at once with the implementation of your proposals. On the other hand, if you have doubts in this regard, then I would prefer, as you suggest, to have the question submitted to the National Security Council. Under such circumstances, the Council would, in my opinion, be the appropriate agency in which to weigh the various military and political considerations involved.

Sincerely yours,

[Page 991]

Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Secretary of Defense (Forrestal)


Subject: United States Antarctic Policy.

In accordance with the request contained in the memorandum from your office dated 16 June 1948,4 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the policy proposal referred to in the enclosed letter from the Secretary of State and set forth in detail in the Department of State paper attached thereto.5

The Joint Chiefs of Staff note that the advice now requested is not as to a choice among trusteeship, condominium, or juridical settlement as was the case when this matter was previously referred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; rather, it is whether there is objection on military grounds to the Department of State’s proposal that:

The United States support the establishment of an international status for Antarctica in the form of United Nations trusteeship or in other suitable form, and
That the United States at an appropriate time make official claims to areas in Antarctica to which it has best rights.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that United States security interests demand that participation in the control of all or any areas in Antarctica be denied our most probable enemies. In order that the United States Government may be recognized as a party of interest in Antarctica, it must make and press its claims in that area.

It is not within the province of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to determine whether or not the method now proposed for settlement of the Antarctica problem will be satisfactory from the political viewpoint nor to pass upon the degree to which this method will assure:

Control of the Antarctica area by friendly powers, and
Exclusion from possession of any part of the Antarctica area and from participation in any form of international control thereof by probable enemies of the United States.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend, however, that as a matter of national security, no step be taken nor commitment made that will make it impracticable for the United States Government to maintain these two essential points. With this proviso, the Joint Chiefs of Staff perceive no objection on military grounds to the proposed course of action.

In addition, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would reaffirm their view that settlement of the Antarctica problem should not be regarded as a [Page 992] precedent for any United States Arctic policy that might weaken our future Arctic interests.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
William D. Leahy

Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
  1. The source text is included in document NSC 21, July 13, 1948; regarding NSC 21, see footnote 1 to document PPS 31, June 9, p. 977.
  2. The reference here is to the Secretary of State’s letter of June 15, not printed, which transmitted to Secretary Forrestal a copy of document PPS 31, p. 977. Regarding Secretary Marshall’s letter, see footnote 1 to PPS 31.
  3. Secretary Forrestal’s letter of April 12 to Secretary Marshall, p. 971.
  4. Not printed.
  5. See document PPS 31 and footnote 1 thereto, p. 977.