The Department of State to the British Embassy



Reference is made to the Aide-Mémoire of the British Embassy dated September 15, 1952,1 regarding territorial waters. The Embassy inquires whether the United States Government is considering a modification of its traditional position concerning the delimitation of territorial waters in the light of the decision of the International Court of Justice in the Fisheries case, and whether the United States Government has considered in this connection the interim Report of the International Law Commission of April 4, 1952,2 regarding both the delimitation of territorial waters and their breadth.

When the issue was raised in the last Congress by the introduction of a bill proposing to redefine the limits of the territorial waters of the United States by application of the base line method sanctioned in the Fisheries case, the Department adopted the preliminary position that the decision in the Fisheries case did not require modification of its traditional policy. The position of the Department on that occasion was made known to Sir Eric Beckett, Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office, in a letter dated April 22, 1952.3 Anticipating the introduction in the next session of Congress of a similar bill, the Department is endeavoring to work out with the appropriate executive agencies a more definite position. It is the Department’s present thinking that efforts should be made to restrict the applicability of the decision in the Fisheries case to situations comparable to those existing in Norway on which the decision was based. The final position of the United States Government must await the outcome of the issue when it arises in Congress.

The Department is aware of the interdependence of the problems of the delimitation of territorial waters and the measurement of their breadth, as well as of the relevance of other questions such as contiguous zones. In this respect it realizes that the work of the International Law Commission and the submission of its various reports for comments by interested states will make it necessary for this Government to formulate in the near future a comprehensive position in the matter of territorial waters. The Department believes in maintaining in this matter a general policy of opposition [Page 1669] to encroachments on the high seas. But no agreement has yet been reached within the Government with respect to the actions or procedures likely to make this policy the most effective.

The Department agrees that the whole question of territorial waters deserves urgent consideration, and regrets that it is not in a position at this time to avail itself of the opportunity offered by the British Government to express its full views in the matter. The Department, however, is initiating a program of active consideration of all the relevant phases of the problem and hopes to reach in the near future conclusions concrete enough to propose to the British Government an informal exchange of views on the subject. The Department is particularly aware of the problems which may arise should wide support be given to the base line method of delimitation of territorial waters and to the urgent need of taking such steps as may be practicable to forestall or render ineffective such action as that of Iceland. In this connection the Department notes with satisfaction that the British Government is not applying the base line method to its coasts pending an exploration of the whole matter with the United States.

  1. Not printed.
  2. See ILC Yearbook, 1952, vol. ii, p. 25.
  3. Not printed. (641.576/2–1352)