267. Memorandum by the Representative to the Council of the Organization of American States (Dreier)2


  • Problems of Territorial Waters and Continental Shelf in Inter-American Relations

[Here follow a general introduction and sections dealing with the interests of the United States and of Latin American countries concerning these subjects and with the status of international discussion.]

United States Position

The U.S. position on the entire subject must be considered with close reference to the chain of events indicated above which cannot insofar as it now seems possible be avoided, and which will have an important influence on the final resolution of the problem if any international agreement is to be reached.

Heretofore the United States has, insofar as Latin America is concerned, largely confined its position on this subject to protesting acts or declarations by other governments asserting claims to areas of the high sea in excess of three miles, and to indicating its willingness to enter into conversation agreements where U.S. fishing interests were directly concerned. It is generally recognized that the protests have had little effect on the tendency of these countries to continue to advance, and attempt to enforce, their claims. Nor have projected conservation agreements made much progress.

It has been suggested that the United States should take a firmer position, and perhaps even exert economic or political pressure on other states to induce them to change their position and [Page 514] withdraw from excessive claims. Anyone familiar with Latin American psychology will recognize that overt attempts by the United States to force other states to back down from claims of sovereignty could only have the effect of inflaming public opinion against the United States and making it impossible for the Latin American governments affected so much as to consider any deviation from their claims.

A course of action more likely to be effective is to seek international agreement on the problem of territorial waters, continental shelf and fisheries, with a view to accommodating the genuine interests of other countries while at the same time protecting our interests as fully as possible. A firm insistence on our own rights and expressions of serious concern over the explosive potentialities of conflicts arising over the freedom of the high seas would have a part in the negotiation of such agreement. To accomplish any constructive results, however, the United States would have to develop a position which would gain substantial support from other American republics. The main elements in such a position would probably have to include the following:

We must be prepared ultimately to accept a limit of territorial waters to the extent of six or nine miles in place of the three-mile limit which we have traditionally observed. It seems clear that only a small minority of the Latin American countries would accept confirmation of the three-mile limit, and viewing the world-wide situation, it is equally clear that only a minority of nations would support us to the end on this issue. The timing of any statement of our willingness to abandon the three-mile limit would, of course, be determined from the standpoint of tactful [tactical?] advantage.
Recognition would have to be given to some kind of contiguous zone in which the littoral state would have special jurisdiction, particularly if it were possible to limit territorial waters to six miles.
Of special importance would be the development of clear and convincing methods and proposals for achieving the conversation of fishery resources by international agreement so that the necessity for exercising sovereignty over adjacent high seas could not be effectively argued.
The economic interest of the coastal state in adjacent high seas and its resources should be recognized. For example, the coastal state might be granted a right to participate in any conservation agreements affecting waters within a given distance from its shores, whether or not the coastal state engages in extensive fishing. It might also be necessary to grant to a state, which did not actively participate in fishing activities, the right to collect fees, in an agreed amount, from fishermen of other nationalities as a means of translating their economic interest into tangible return. Such a right might be eliminated in the event the fishing activities of the coastal state reached a predetermined minimum level.
Full support should be given to the claims of coastal states to the resources of the continental shelf along the lines of the ILC [Page 515] articles.3 We have already, of course, adopted this position.
The effect of a policy along the lines suggested above upon our security should be reviewed with the Department of Defense. If a fundamental conflict is encountered, ways and means might be devised of protecting our security interests by special inter-American agreements based upon the fundamental obligation of continental defense in the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance.

If the general approach indicated above is adopted, our specific policy on the various points mentioned should be formulated with careful consideration as to their effect upon the political support we might hope to get from other Latin American countries. This would very likely require special consultations on this subject with individual countries beginning early in 1955. At the same time as clear a statement as possible should be prepared of just what our maximum and minimum objectives should be at each of the international deliberations listed on page 6, so that tactics as well as substance could form the basis of consultation with others.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 720.022/1–355. Confidential. Transmitted to four officers in IO by Dreier under cover of a memorandum of January 3, 1955.
  2. For text of the Provisional Articles on the Regime of the Territorial Sea prepared by the International Law Commission, see United Nations, Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1954, vol. II, Documents of the Sixth Session including the Report of the Commission to the General Assembly, pp. 153–162.
  3. This memorandum was revised on January 6, according to a memorandum of February 3, by Marjorie M. Whiteman, Assistant Legal Adviser for Inter-American Affairs. (Department of State, Central Files, 720.022/2–1055) No copy of the revised paper was found.