The Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) to the Secretary of Defense (Lovett)


Dear Mr. Secretary: The Department of State would like to receive the views of the Department of Defense regarding waters adjacent to the shores of other countries, and the superjacent airspace, in which it is important that the rights of navigation of United States surface vessels and aircraft be unchallenged by the coastal nations. It has been intimated that some studies of these problems may have been made by the Maritime Administration or by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, or elsewhere in the Department of Commerce.

There is enclosed a copy of H.J. Resolution No. 373, which was introduced by Representative Samuel W. Yorty of California on February 11, 1952.1 It will be noted that the resolution, as now drafted, would provide that “the United States declares its exclusive right and jurisdiction, as against all other nations, with respect to all inland or internal waters within boundaries established as far seaward along the coasts of the continental United States (including Alaska) as is permissible under the rules of international law set forth in the judgment rendered by the International Court of Justice in the Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries Case on December 18, 1951.” Representative Yorty’s remarks relating to the bill (which may be found in the Congressional Record, February 11, 1952, at pages 981-983) make it clear that he would claim as inland waters the waters “between the mainland and the offshore islands which are part of the State of California”; thus islands from 11 to 21 nautical miles from the mainland would be joined from the outer limits of which the territorial sea of the United States would be measured.

The United States, however, has constantly maintained a claim to the territorial sea three nautical miles in width, drawn around individual islands wherever found. It has been felt that the interests of the United States are met in that general three-mile rule, supplemented by Proclamation No. 2667, issued September 28, 1945,2 claiming the “…3 natural resources of the subsoil and sea bed of the continental shelf beneath the high seas but contiguous to the coasts of the United States” by Proclamation No. 2668 of [Page 1659] the same date proclaiming the policy of the United States with respect to coastal fisheries in certain areas of the high seas; and in Executive Orders Nos. 9633 and 9634, also dated September 28, 1945. The texts of all of the above-named proclamations and executive orders may be found in the Federal Register, October 2, 1945, pp. 12,303 ff.

Claims to the territorial sea, and in some instances to contiguous zones for special purposes, differ widely among foreign countries. The United States, however, is interested in world-wide trade by both sea and air, and has therefore been unwilling to accept the broader claims of countries with less world-embracing contacts and interest, which would seriously constrict some important areas of high seas and the superjacent airspace in which surface ships and aircraft of the United States, both civil and military, may wish to navigate. For this reason the United States has made reservations to other nations on several occasions in recent years, when they have asserted claims that seemed excessive in relation to the territorial sea or to contiguous zones, and to the overlying airspace.

The varying claims of other countries are set forth in the enclosed reprint of an article entitled “National Claims in Adjacent Seas,” from the Geographical Review, April 1951. Methods of delimitation of the territorial sea and of any contiguous zones are discussed in the enclosed reprint of an article entitled “Delimitation of Seaward Areas Under National Jurisdiction” from the American Journal of International Law, also of April 1951.4

Because of the changing situations the Department of State would appreciate receiving a statement of the viewpoint of the Department of Defense as to the benefits and detriments that might result from the extension of the principle of asserting broad claims to the territorial sea and “inland waters” (within bays, etc., and between islands and mainland) along the coasts of various nations. In this connection the Department would appreciate knowing what benefits might be considered as being derived from the extension of the territorial waters of the United States as proposed in H.J. Resolution No. 373. It would also appreciate receiving comments on the detriment that might be suffered by the United States with regard to operations in waters adjacent to the territory of other nations if those nations enacted similar legislation. It would be especially helpful if you will indicate some of the specific water areas of other countries which you deem to be most important in this regard.5

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A similar letter is being addressed to the Secretary of Commerce.

Sincerely yours,

H. Freeman Matthews
  1. Enclosure not found with the source text.
  2. For discussion of this proclamation, see the press release issued by the White House on Sept. 28, 1945, printed in Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, p. 1528.
  3. Ellipsis in the source text.
  4. These articles were prepared by S. Whittemore Boggs, the Special Adviser on Geography in the Department of State.
  5. This communication was referred to the Department of the Navy for reply, which was made by Dan A. Kimball, Secretary of the Navy, in a letter of June 22 to the Secretary of State. The reply stated in part that:

    “No benefits would be obtained by the United States from the extension of its territorial waters as proposed by H.J. Res. 373. From a security standpoint there would be no advantage.… Also, as it is well recognized that a special jurisdiction may be asserted over areas of the high seas for specific purposes, such as fishery conservation and exploitation of the resources of the seabed and subsoil of the continental shelf, without extending sovereign waters, there would be no additional economic advantage resulting to the United States. Both from a military and commercial viewpoint, therefore, no benefits not otherwise obtainable would accrue to the United States were H.J. Res. 373 adopted.

    “Were the United States to extend its territorial waters as proposed by H.J. Res. 373, other nations could be expected to assert claims to large water areas off their coasts. Many nations have already asserted these claims and those nations could be expected to treat such action by the United States as a recognition of the validity of their own previously asserted claims. Any action by other nations which would restrict the range of warships and commercial vessels and military and commercial aircraft would be clearly disadvantageous to a great maritime power such as the United States. Any action which tends to restrict free navigation of the high seas by recognizing sovereignty over territorial waters in excess of three miles is contrary to United States security interest. At the present stage of international relations adoption of H.J. Res. 373 would, it is believed, serve no useful purpose not realizable by other means and could lead to embarrassing and burdensome consequences to the United States.”

    The reply stated further that a broad interpretation of the decision in the fisheries case might seriously affect free navigation in such areas as the Aegean Sea, the coast of Sumatra, the seas near the Netherlands East Indies, and the coast of Venezuela. (711.022/6–2252)