S/SNSC files, lot 63 D 351, NSC 5424 Series

Report to the National Security Council by the National Security Council Planning Board 1

NSC 5424

Note by the Executive Secretary to the National Security Council on Antarctica

  • Reference: NSC 21 Series2

The enclosed draft statement of policy on the subject, prepared by the NSC Planning Board, is transmitted herewith for consideration by the National Security Council at its meeting on July 15, 1954.

Attention is invited to the alternative paragraph 9 proposed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the statement of policy. Also enclosed for Council information are a financial appendix and an NSC staff study.

The enclosed statement of policy is intended, if adopted, to supersede the NSC 21 series.

It is recommended that, if the Council adopts the enclosed statement of policy, it be submitted to the President with the recommendation that he approve it; direct its implementation by all appropriate Executive departments and agencies of the United States Government; and designate the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency.

James S. Lay, Jr.
[Page 1744]


Draft Statement of Policy Proposed by the National Security Council



general considerations

1. Antarctica, comprising a vast continent and nearby islands, is not readily accessible even during the brief Antarctic “summer” and much of it has never been seen or explored. It has little or no present economic value and only remote strategic significance. However, it has considerable immediate importance for scientific purposes; our understanding of the physical structure of the world and its atmosphere will be materially advanced by data obtainable only in Antarctica. Moreover, Antarctica may have other potential values not now determinable, so that its importance could conceivably increase greatly with additional knowledge and new technical developments.

2. Formal claims to Antarctic territory have been made by the Governments of Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the U.K. The U.S. has not recognized any of these claims. It has made no such official claim but has reserved all its “rights”. The USSR has made no Antarctic claim but has asserted a right to participate in any territorial settlement.

3. The U.S. has potential claims to major areas in all of the explored parts of Antarctica, as the result of discovery and exploration, and unofficial claims made in behalf of the U.S. Sustained activities by other claimants now threaten to weaken potential U.S. claims in certain parts of the Antarctic which may be of considerable future importance to the U.S. Comparable activities (expeditions, bases, etc.) requiring continuing investment of funds by or in behalf of the U.S. will be necessary if our potential Antarctic “rights” are to be preserved.

4. In the absence of U.S. activities in all or certain portions of the region, the only feasible way of protecting our potential claims from relative deterioration would be a standstill agreement among the U.S. and the present claimants. Such an agreement might well be very difficult to negotiate.

[Page 1745]

5. Announcement of an official U.S. claim in a limited area of the Antarctic will, in any event, be desirable in the near future. However, such an announcement is almost certain to cause international difficulties, particularly with Argentina, Chile, the U.K. and New Zealand, because the area of the U.S. claim would conflict with parts of their claims. Decisions as to the nature and timing of a U.S. claim must therefore take into account the probability of objections by friendly governments, as well as propaganda from unfriendly quarters.


6. Orderly progress toward a solution of the territorial problem of Antarctica which would ensure maintenance of control by United States and friendly powers and exclude our most probable enemies.

7. Freedom of exploration and scientific investigation in the Antarctic for nationals of the United States and friendly powers and maximum interchange of Antarctic mapping and scientific data.

8. Access to natural resources which may be found to be useful.

courses of action

[Page 1746]
Majority Proposal CIA Proposal
9. At an appropriate time, simultaneously:
a. Announce an official claim to all U.S. “rights” in the general area in Antarctica comprising the Palmer Peninsula and nearby islands, south to at least the 82nd parallel and west to include Little America (located near 78° South and 163° West). a. Announce an official claim to all U. S. “rights” in the general area in Antarctica between 90° West and Little America (located near 78° South and 163° West) and south to at least the 82nd parallel.
b. Reserve all U. S. “rights” in the remainder of the Antarctic region as the basis for additional claims or negotiation. b. Indicate to Chile and Argentina a willingness to recognize the paramountcy of their claims to the area of the OAS security zone (24° West to 90° West) in return for their recognition of a U. S. claim to paramount rights in the area mentioned in 9–a above.
c. Indicate a willingness (1) to examine with other powers concerned the possibility of an early resolution of conflicting claims by amicable means; and (2) in general, to encourage and participate in international arrangements to promote the over-all scientific investigation of the Antarctic, the reduction of international friction, and the orderly solution of the territorial problem among friendly powers. c. Seek a general recognition by the seven powers (U. S., New Zealand, Australia, France, Norway, Argentina and Chile) of the paramountcy of their rights in their respective claims. Such an agreement should include a stipulation that each of the concerting powers grant long term reciprocal easements for the purpose of exploration and temporary establishment of observation and experimental stations. (For explanation of this proposal see CIA memorandum, pages 9–12 below)

10. Support a planned program of exploration, mapping and scientific investigation, based on government responsibility for financing the activities required by the national interest. Specifically:

Such a program should include periodic expeditions to the Antarctic and the maintenance of permanent stations in the area of the specific U. S. claim.
U. S. programs in Antarctica in connection with the International Geophysical Year should be designed in support of this policy.*
A unit should be established to plan and supervise the execution of the Antarctic program by or on behalf of the U. S., in cooperation with private interests and under the policy guidance of an inter-departmental committee.


Financial Appendix

Cost estimates in the Financial Appendix indicate order of magnitude.

Approval of the policy statement does not indicate approval of cost estimates in the Financial Appendix.

Appropriations and expenditures to finance the policy will be subject to determination in the regular budgetary process.

[Page 1747]

special notes

All estimates are subject to the assumptions, footnotes, and summary explanation shown below in this Financial Appendix.
In order to cover the lead time required in some programs, funds must be made available well in advance of expenditures.
Amounts programmed as funds available are subject to future Executive decisions to transfer funds from one program to another, and to Congressional decisions on current appropriation requests.


That no decision has been made whether this program will be financed by public or private funds, or a combination thereof.
That Antarctica expeditions are essential to validate potential U. S. claims in this area and to complete the reconnaissance of the Antarctic for mapping and survey purposes.
No U.S. government agency has funds appropriated to carry out this policy.

Estimated Cost of the Proposed Policy

Expenditures by Programs

FY 1955–FY 1957

Expeditions $10,000,000
Permanent Station Maintenance 2,000,000
Organization 150,000
Total $12,150,000

summary explanation


1. The $10,000,000 cost estimate for survey expeditions for the period FY 1955–FY 1957 should provide:

Satisfactory aerial reconnaissance and mapping within the Antarctica continent.
Satisfactory preliminary base maps.
Transportation to the Antarctic for parties to survey and map the area, and to establish permanent stations.

Permanent Stations

2. The $2,000,000 estimate includes cost for: [Page 1748]

Establishment of 3 permanent stations.
Salaries of personnel.
Equipment and supplies.

The above estimate does not include the cost of transportation to and from the Antarctic which would be included in the expedition cost.


3. The $50,000 estimate for organizational operating costs includes salaries for personnel, office rent, equipment, and supplies.

CIA Memorandum on Antarctica


(Note—The following paragraphs are submitted in support of the CIA proposal for paragraph 9. If the Council adopts CIA’s paragraph 9, it is suggested that paragraph 5 of the General Considerations be dropped and the following paragraphs be added.)

Announcement of an official U.S. claim in a limited area of the Antarctic will, in any event, be desirable in the near future. However, in view of the present difficult relations between the U.S. and many of the Latin American countries, any announcement of U.S. claims to “rights” in the area to which Chile and Argentina have claims (25° West to 90° West) would certainly cause further difficulties. On the other hand, U.S. support of Latin American claims would have a salutary effect on hemisphere solidarity.
Since the Argentine and Chilean claims conflict with the UK claim, U.S. support of the former would unquestionably cause difficulties with the UK. Furthermore it is believed that the other interested powers, namely, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and France recognize the UK claim (and each other’s). However it might be possible to achieve a formula whereby Argentina would recognize UK sovereignty in the Falkland Islands and UK “rights” in some of the other islands in return for UK recognition of their claims in Antarctica. It should be pointed out that the area of the Chilean and Argentine claims virtually coincide with the OAS security zone.
The U.S. has important potential claims in the one unclaimed sector of Antarctica (between 90° West and 150° West). Furthermore, it should be possible to seek an accommodation with New Zealand to enlarge this area to include Little America (78° South and 163° West). Decision as to the nature and timing of such a claim must take into account not only the objections by friendly governments, but propaganda from unfriendly quarters as well.
The best possible solution for the U.S. would be an agreement between the seven principal powers involved not including the UK, namely the U.S., Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, and France, eliminating any conflicts and stabilizing the situation. Such an agreement would present a united front of friendly powers against any potential enemy.


(Note—If CIA’s paragraph 9 is accepted, it is suggested that paragraphs 22 through 24 of the Staff Study be dropped and the following paragraphs be added in their place.)

An official U.S. claim should be announced at an appropriate time. We should claim “all U.S. rights” in the general area in Antarctica between 90° West and Little America (located between 78° South and 163° West) and south to at least the 82nd parallel. This area includes the one unclaimed sector of Antarctica and the U.S. has an important potential claim thereto. That portion between 150° West and Little America is included in the New Zealand claim, but we have been very active in the past in this region. It should be possible to make an accommodation with New Zealand. In the meantime the U.S. should inform Argentina and Chile that we will support Latin American claims to the OAS sector (24° West to 90° West). Such support of Latin American interests would have a salutary effect on hemisphere solidarity.
U.S. support for the Argentine and Chilean claims will unquestionably cause an unfavorable reaction in the UK, since the latter’s claims (Falkland Islands Dependencies) conflict with the Latin American claims. Furthermore there are strong indications that the four other interested powers (Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and France) tacitly recognize the UK claim, and each others’. Nevertheless it might be possible for the two Latin American countries to achieve a quid pro quo with the UK, the UK to recognize the Argentinian and Chilean claims to the mainland and some adjacent islands, in return for Argentinian and Chilean recognition of UK sovereignty in the Falkland Islands and possibly South Georgia and other islands.
Argentina and Chile have been disputing over their conflicting claims for many years. However, a possible solution would be to divide the OAS security zone between the two, the dividing line being an extension southward of the major portion of the Tierra del Fuego boundary (approximately 68° West). Thus we would seek a general agreement among the seven powers (U.S., Australia, New Zealand, France, Norway, Argentina and Chile) recognizing the paramountcy of each other’s claims.
We should also seek an agreement between the seven powers providing for long term reciprocal easements for the purpose of exploration and temporary establishment of observation and experimental stations.
The mutual recognition by the seven powers of each other’s claims would result in the stabilization of the situation. This general agreement would also provide for the preservation of U.S. rights to explore. Finally it should be noted that any increase in activity in Antarctica, particularly by the U.S., may result in the announcement of claims by the USSR. Therefore it is in the interest of the U.S. and the Free World to resolve any conflicting claims and present a united front to such an encroachment.

Staff Study on Antarctica

Antarctica comprises a largely ice-covered continent and associated islands, devoid of all but the lower orders of vegetation and almost twice as large as the United States. The Antarctic, the larger region including vast and often ice-infested seas, is defined by the “Antarctic Convergence” (see Map I).
The only human “inhabitants” of Antarctica man island stations, mostly on an annual rotation basis, in the Palmer Peninsula area opposite South America. That area, the northern-most projection of the continent, also contains the most islands not firmly connected by shelf-ice to the continent.
The islands and some of the coastal areas of the continent have been explored and mapped. Of the vast interior of the continent, much has never been seen, still less explored, by man. No part of the continent is easy to reach, even during the warmest months. To explore the interior will require extraordinary efforts which are considered to be within the capabilities only of the U.S., the USSR, the UK, France and possibly combinations of small powers.
Seven countries have made official claims to territory in the Antarctic; all (except possibly Norway’s) are in the shape of sectors bounded by meridians from the coastline to the South Pole (see Map II). The claims of Norway, Australia, France and New Zealand are contiguous, while those of Argentina, Chile and the UK in the Palmer Peninsula area are in mutual conflict. The only area clearly not covered by claims is the sector between 90° and 150° West Longitude.
The U.S. has important potential claims in the “unclaimed” sector and within each of the other national claims, based on past American activities and claims made in its behalf. Some twenty American expeditions or voyages to the Antarctic in the past 150 years have had significance in the discovery and exploration of the [Page 1751] region. In the 1820’s and perhaps much earlier, New England sealers were active and numerous in the islands off Palmer Peninsula (named for one of them). Exploration, on the other hand, was the main purpose of an official U.S. Navy expedition to the opposite side of the continent in 1838–42 led by Charles Wilkes. From then until 1928 only five U.S. expeditions worthy of note went to the region. A period of more intensive American activity resumed with the first expedition of Admiral Byrd and between 1928–48 ten U.S. expeditions were sent plus two with U.S. participation. Making full use of aircraft they penetrated farther into the interior and explored vast areas hitherto unseen. Extensive claims for the U.S. were made by Byrd, Ellsworth and Ronne (note, for example, the American names Palmer Peninsula, Ellsworth Highland, Marie Byrd Land, Wilkes Land and American Highland on Annex B).3 Other claims were made at specific points by members of official expeditions in 1939–41, 1946–47 and 1947–48 but have not yet been publicized officially.
The U.S. has not recognized the claims of other countries but has reserved its own “rights” while withholding an official claim. Our orthodox position of requiring that claims, to be valid, must be accompanied by effective occupation or control, would be most nearly met in the Palmer Peninsula area where some semblance of control by other countries already exists. Our only present claim to “occupation” anywhere in the Antarctic would rest on the existence of usable bases, such as Little America. The time may be at hand when announcement of a U.S. claim will be necessary, at least in the Palmer Peninsula area, in order to protect our potential claims relative to those of more active claimants.
Other countries in addition to the eight mentioned above have some interests in the Antarctic, based either on past activities there (USSR, Belgium, Japan, Germany, etc.) or on their Southern Hemisphere location (South Africa). Japan relinquished its “rights” under the Treaty of Peace and it is expected that Germany will do the same. None of the other countries named has potential claims as strong as any of the countries that have made official claims.
Such potential Soviet claims as may exist in the Antarctic arose out of a Russian naval voyage commanded by Bellingshausen in the 1820’s. The expedition sighted certain islands in the Palmer Peninsula area, which have since been explored or mapped, and claimed, by other nations. The Soviet Union in June 1950 officially informed the powers principally concerned of its refusal to recognize [Page 1752] any solution of the territorial problem in which it did not participate. Its concern was explained in terms of meteorology and whaling. Antarctic whaling operates from floating factories and has been carried on by the Soviets since 1945. The USSR has not announced a territorial claim.
Whatever value the Antarctic now has results mainly from its being a source of scientific information unavailable anywhere else in the world. Among the geophysical sciences in which the region offers important fields for research are included (a) meteorology— for purposes of long-range weather forecasting in the northern as well as the southern hemisphere, (b) ionosphere studies—as an aid to long distance radio communication within the limited frequencies usable for that purpose, (c) aurora—in connection with interruptions to long distance radio communications and, possibly, new transmission paths in the future, (d) geomagnetism—related to the ionosphere and aurora, and (e) geology—to learn the structure of the region and sample minerals of possible economic value. Access to such information has not, in the past, demanded the exercise of sovereignty in the Antarctic.
As a territory, the Antarctic is of little or no known economic value, but its significance could increase greatly in the light of future technical developments and additional information on its resources and physical characteristics. The Palmer Peninsula area adjacent to Drake Passage has a remote strategic significance, at least in the event of damage to the Panama Canal. Accurate appraisal of the region’s full significance awaits the results of further exploration and scientific investigation.
U.S. interest in the Antarctic results largely from its potential resources. Although they cannot yet be appraised, it would be imprudent for the U.S. to relinquish potential claims attaching to so vast a region of unforeseen possibilities. Denial of possible control to probable enemies of the U.S. is also desirable. National prestige is a factor, reflected in continuing Congressional interest and arising mainly out of past American explorations giving us the right to a prominent voice in the future of the region.
It is essential for the U.S., therefore, to preserve its existing Antarctic “rights” while attempting to identify areas of possible net value in the future. This transitional status of the problem emphasizes the need for flexibility in U.S. policy respecting the region.
The protection of U.S. “rights” is partly a matter of clearly indicating our intentions. In the past we have attempted to meet this need by reservations of “rights”. Such reservations might continue to serve the purpose best in the future, if it were not for the increasing scale of activities by other countries, particularly in the [Page 1753] establishment of permanent bases in the Palmer Peninsula area. Such activities tend to undermine the potential claims of the U.S. Therefore, an announcement of U.S. claim in that area will be desirable in the near future.
A U.S. claim could take one of several forms. Delineation of a U.S. claim to full sovereignty, even if we could identify our major interests at this time, might prove to be an abortive effort because of the lack of internationally agreed rules for acquiring sovereignty in the Antarctic. It would also be a sharp break with our past policy of refusing to recognize claims to sovereignty when not accompanied by occupation. More important, the principles underlying any selection of the precise areas of superior U.S. “rights” would be applied elsewhere as a yardstick of comparison by other powers, possibly to our disadvantage. Inferior U.S. “rights” outside the area of a “sovereignty” claim would be impaired, at least by implication, even though they might eventually acquire significance as the result of further U.S. activities, or through default by other powers.
A more desirable step might be to claim “all U.S. rights” without imputing relative value to them, either separately or in the aggregate. We would not assert that our “rights” necessarily add up to sovereignty now, nor would we deny that possibility. The difficulty with such a claim would be to explain accurately just what it would mean, between full sovereignty at one extreme and mere reservation of rights at the other. The general outline of this kind of claim on the part of the U.S. would have to include practically all coastal areas and islands of Antarctica within an area larger than the U.S. A third possibility would be an initial claim to “all U.S. rights” within a defined area, while reserving them everywhere else in the Antarctic. Because it would avoid certain of the difficulties outlined above, this is the preferred course.
An announcement of claim would not, of itself, suffice to preserve U.S. “rights” in the Antarctic. In the long run, we can maintain our position relative to that of other countries, only by matching or exceeding their activities (sending of expeditions, establishment of bases, etc.). In areas yet unexplored, such U.S. activities would of course extend our potential claims, while at the same time providing scientific information needed as the basis for appraisal of the utility of the Antarctic. Whatever the magnitude and nature of such activities, they will be most useful if organized into a sustained effort.
The U.S. Government lacks a specific organization to plan and supervise, in cooperation with private interests, the execution of Antarctic activities by or on behalf of the U.S. and the collection, analysis, protection and dissemination of information concerning [Page 1754] the Antarctic. Provision for such an organization and for adequate official financial support—either within an existing department or agency or as a quasi-governmental organization—would impart the continuity that is lacking from U.S. handling of Antarctic affairs. Coordination of the views of interested departments and agencies should continue to be handled by an inter-agency committee.
The international solution of conflicting Antarctic claims would be desirable as a means of eliminating friction among otherwise friendly powers and of consolidating control of the area as a whole in their hands. International scientific cooperation could help in obtaining the data needed for more accurate appraisal of the true worth of the region. In 1948 the U.S. attempted to initiate discussion of possible internationalization of the region (involving prior announcement of a U.S. claim), but the responses of the seven claimant powers were generally unfavorable.4 Reference to the 1948 proposal at the time of announcing a U.S. claim would help to deflect possible charges of “imperialistic” motives on the part of the U.S.
Chile replied to the 1948 proposal with a counter-suggestion for a standstill agreement to freeze the status of Antarctic “rights” among the signatories for a period of years. The Chilean proposal has been under desultory discussion since 1949, as a possible modus vivendi. U.S. thinking has involved the making of a U.S. claim, which need not be held up awaiting the formal proposal of a modus vivendi. In the absence of U.S. activities comparable to those of other parties, a modus vivendi could help to prevent the relative deterioration of potential U.S. claims in the area to which it might be applied. On the other hand, wherever the U.S. intends to undertake during the period of such a modus vivendi a program of activities, the modus vivendi would deny us the benefit (in relation to other signatories) of “rights” arising therefrom. Thus a modus vivendi can be regarded largely as a possible alternative, depending upon its territorial scope, to a program of sustained U.S. activity in all of certain parts of the Antarctic. Such an agreement might well be very difficult to negotiate.
The prospect for general resolution of conflicting claims by international judicial settlement is not bright. Argentina and Chile have consistently refused in the past to submit their claims to judicial settlement. The U.S. might risk losing its “rights” in certain areas if disputes with reference thereto were submitted to judicial settlement on an “all or nothing” basis. However, even though [Page 1755] some countries might be amenable to a course which would result in division of the disputed areas, the U.S. is not now in a position to make a wise choice of areas to include the localities best suited to our possible needs.
If the U.S. is to protect its potential claims in the Antarctic, however, certain minimum actions are necessary in the near future. Prominent among them are (a) announcement of some kind of official claim and (b) carrying out a sustained program of U.S. activities, possibly coupled with (c) efforts to negotiate a standstill agreement (modus vivendi) covering areas where such activities are not contemplated in the near future.
An official U.S. claim should be announced as soon as possible. While continuing to reserve “all U.S. rights” in the remainder of the Antarctic region, and expressly without derogating from any of them, we should specifically claim “all U.S. rights” initially only in the general area comprising the Palmer Peninsula and nearby islands, south to at least the 82nd parallel and west to include Little America (located near 78° south and 163° west). The specific areas of initial claim should be selected with a view to compactness and should include significant areas (a) where lack of an official claim in the near future would mean serious risk of losing U.S. “rights”, (b) where extensive U.S. “rights” are uncontested or obviously superior to those of other powers, (c) where potential U.S. requirements have been identified, or (d) where early 19th Century Russian activities and subsequent Soviet interests would appear to make a Soviet claim most probable. Limiting the initial areas of claim would have the advantage of maintaining sufficient flexibility to permit a decision later on “additional” claims, based on existing “rights” plus those still to be acquired.
Decision as to a claim must recognize the reactions that a claim announcement would call forth. Announcement of a U.S. claim would be likely to spur other powers, including the USSR, to increased activities in the region. Under existing unsettled conditions there, such expanded national activities would tend to increase friction among a number of countries, including several with which we have the closest of ties arising out of broader relationships. Following announcement of a U.S. claim, if not before, the Soviet Union might advance a claim of its own in an effort to justify a voice in control of the region. From the standpoint of propaganda, attempts certainly would be made to use our claim against us, for example, by pointing to our lack of relative need for additional territory and resources.
General foreign policy considerations require that announcement of a U.S. claim, even of limited extent, be calculated to minimize the undesirable consequences discussed above. To reduce the [Page 1756] possibility of causing additional friction in the area, a U.S. claim should preferably be announced in connection with some move toward international cooperation in the region, but this should not be permitted to delay the announcement. Our previous willingness to consider internationalization of the region should be recalled in any case, together with our desire for international cooperation among the powers principally concerned, in the exploration and scientific investigation of the region and in maximum interchange of Antarctic information.

[Here follows a map, not reproduced, entitled “Definition of the Antarctic Convergence.” A footnote in the source text indicates that the map is taken from “Deacon, G.E.R. (1937) ‘The Hydrology of the Southern Ocean’—‘Discovery Reports’ 15: 1–124 Cambridge University Press”.]

  1. Copies were sent to the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Commerce, to the Directors of the Budget and of Central Intelligence, and to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  2. For the text of NSC 21, see PPS 31, dated June 9, 1948, Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 977.
  3. The National Science Foundation has prepared plans for U.S. participation in the program for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The IGY programs are based on establishing various stations in Antarctica for the purpose of conducting scientific research from January 1957 through January 1959. [Footnote in the source text. Documentation on preliminary planning for a United States Antarctic expedition during the International Geophysical Year and the Department of State’s general approval of such plans (which would involve use of military support facilities) is in file 900.729.]
  4. It is not possible to determine accurately the annual expenditure cost of expeditions and permanent station maintenance. The annual organization cost, however, is estimated at $50,000. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. The cost of each expedition varies from $250,000 to $1,000,000, depending upon government operation or government contribution to civilian organizations undertaking the expedition on a contract basis. [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. Reference is presumably to the map attached to NSC 5424, not printed, which set forth the proposed U.S. claims in Antarctica as suggested in that portion of NSC 5424 designated “CIA Memorandum on Antarctica”, Part II.
  7. For documentation on the 1948 U.S. initiative toward internationalization of Antarctica, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, pp. 9621016.