Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Marshall)1


Subject: Defense Planning for Antarctica

1. This memorandum is in response to your memorandum, dated 10 August 1951,2 in which the views and recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were requested on the above subject, together with a statement of the present importance of the area to the defense of the United States and of the Western Hemisphere.

2. After a review of their previous estimate, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterate the views in their memorandum to the Secretary of Defense, dated 20 March 19483 that:

The Antarctic is of little apparent strategic value to the United States now. Its future strategic value to the United States, however, or to our most probable enemy, 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 chief value of the Antarctic lies in scientific and meteorological fields, both of which have very great import now and might become critical in the future; and
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.

3. The Argentine and Chilean Delegations to the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) recently indicated their intention of bringing [Page 1733] up the subject of the preparation of defense plans for that portion of Antarctica defined by the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty)4 as falling within the Western Hemisphere for defense purposes. This area is one in which the United States does not recognize any foreign claims of sovereignty although it is one in which the claims of Great Britain, Argentina, and Chile overlap and conflict.

4. As indicated in subparagraph 2 c above, the Drake Passage around Cape Horn appears to be the one area in the Antarctic which might be of military interest to the United States. This passage is bounded by Tierra del Fuego on the north and by the South Shetland Islands on the south. The likelihood of direct attack against this area is remote and its defense, primarily from Tierra del Fuego, is well within the capabilities of Argentina and Chile. Moreover, should the IADB undertake planning for the defense of one area in the Antarctic, the Organization of American States could conceivably be called upon to act to resist the claims of Great Britain to those portions of the area that are in dispute.

5. In view of the foregoing considerations, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that there is no need at this time for multilateral planning by the IADB for the defense of Antarctica and nearby areas such as the Falkland Islands. They are further of the opinion that should such planning be initiated, it could prove detrimental to the relationship of the United States with certain of its allies pledged to defend areas of far greater interest to the security of the United States.

6. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff concur in the position recommended by the Department of State that should plans presented to the IADB for approval include defense of the Antarctic, the position of the United States Delegation to the IADB be expressed along the following lines:

  • “In view of existing conflicting claims by some States and possible claims by other States, including States not represented on the IADB, to areas of the Antarctic, and the fact that the United States has reserved its right to assert claims in that area, the United States Delegation reserves its position on plans for the defense of the Antarctic subject to the possible desirability of prior consultation with other friendly governments which may be concerned.”

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Omar N. Bradley

Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. The memorandum was sent to the Department of State with a covering letter from Frank C. Nash, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, to Matthews, September 21, not printed. A memorandum from Lovett to the U.S. Delegation, Inter-American Defense Board, September 19, not printed, in which Lovett concurred in the JCS estimate and in the U.S. position recommended by the Department of State, was also enclosed with the letter from Nash to Matthews (702.5/9–2151).
  2. Not found in the Department of State files.
  3. The memorandum under reference, not found in the Department of State files, was evidently the source of Forrestal’s statement of the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his letter to Marshall of April 12, 1948, cited in footnote 5, supra.
  4. For the text of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, Rio de Janeiro, September 2, 1947, see TIAS 1838 or 62 Stat. (pt. 2) 1681. Related documentation may he found in Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. viii, pp. 193.