289. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Sanders) to Robert L. Burns of the Executive Secretariat1


  • Conference on the Law of the Sea

As agreed over the telephone I enclose summaries of the discussions at the meeting with the Under Secretary on Monday, October 28, 1957.2 The summaries have been prepared by the persons participating in the discussions. I also attach a rough suggested outline indicating the sequence of the discussion.3 I do not suggest that all the material offered by the participants be included in your summary.

[Here follows a suggested distribution list.]


[Annex A]

Outline for Memorandum of Discussion Prepared by the Under Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Sanders)

The Under Secretary explained to the representatives of the Departments of Defense and Interior that the meeting had been called to consider two questions of policy concerning the positions to be taken at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Law of the Sea. These issues related to the procedure of arbitration [abstention?] and the possibility of the acceptance of a limited contiguous zone for [Page 582] fisheries, as an alternative to wide-spread claims to an extension of the territorial sea.

Disagreement within the Department of State had been provisionally resolved on these two questions as follows:

that with reference to abstention, pre-Conference negotiations be undertaken as a preliminary step in determining the final position of the Government at the Conference;
that on the question of contiguous zones for fisheries, guarded inquiries be undertaken to ascertain the attitude of key governments towards such a measure as a preliminary step in determining the final position of the US.


With regard to abstention, Interior agreed ….4 (insert paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 of Interior’s memorandum of October 30).

Representatives of the Department of Defense were of the view that abstention …. (first paragraph of Defense’s memorandum).

Mr. Herrington explained that …. (insert first paragraph of summary of Mr. Herrington’s remarks).

The Undersecretary was not sure just how abstention could be incorporated in the agreements of the Conference in the form of a rule of international law but he saw the advantages of the proposed diplomatic discussions as a practical step in determining the position the US should take on the matter.

Contiguous Zones for Fisheries

With regard to the re-examination of the US position on contiguous zones for fisheries, Interior pointed out …. (insert final two paragraphs of Interior’s summary of views).

The Defense representative stated that it was a claim to sovereignty …. (insert last paragraphs (two) of Defense summary).

Mr. Herrington said that Defense had expressed …. (insert final paragraph of summary of Mr. Herrington’s remarks).

The Under Secretary summarized the discussions and stated his understanding that there was no disagreement on the recommendations that pre-Conference diplomatic discussions be undertaken on these two questions. He proposed that the group meet again at the end of 1957 to review the results of the diplomatic discussions.

[Page 583]

[Annex C]

Defense’s Summary

At the meeting on the question of abstention which was held in the Office of Under Secretary Christian Herter, on 28 October 1957, and attended by representatives of State, Interior and Defense, Rear Admiral Chester Ward made the following comments.

That abstention was not a recognized principle of international law. Under the circumstances, it would be helpful to contact friendly nations and learn whether they would support such a principle before deciding whether it should be made a part of the U.S. position on the Law of the Sea.

He also stated that it was the claim to sovereignty over broad belts of the high seas that constituted a major threat to our national security interests and hence of concern to the Department of Defense. That it would be well, under the circumstances, to consider other means of meeting the demands of coastal states concerning fishing in coastal waters, such as the contiguous zone concept which has been suggested by the Canadians.

In connection with Interior’s desire that the security disadvantages of an extension of the territorial sea be weighed against the disadvantages to the fishing industry of the establishment of the 12 mile contiguous zone for fisheries, he was unable to see how such a weighing of disparate matters could be accomplished. The security interests of the US must outweigh all other considerations.

[Annex D]

Summary by Mr. HerringtonU/FW

With reference to abstention, Mr. Herrington explained that the procedure evolved from the rapid development of long range fishing operations which made high seas fisheries accessible to an increasing number of states. He indicated that the concept is a novel and somewhat complex procedure in the conservation field; that its presentation as a proposed general rule must be accompanied by a good deal of educational work with other countries both prior to and during the 1958 Conference before international support for the concept can be appraised.

Defense had expressed concern that “abstention” would impinge upon freedom of fishing, one of the freedoms of the seas, and might therefore open the door to limitations on freedom of navigation with [Page 584] detrimental effect on the security interests of the United States. Mr. Herrington pointed out that “abstention” had reference to stocks of fish and not to areas of the seas and said that he found it difficult to see how the concept offered any greater opportunity for the appropriation of high seas than the proposition of a contiguous zone for fisheries which Defense apparently was willing to support as a means of lessening pressures for extended territorial waters.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 399.731/11–157. Confidential.
  2. A memorandum of October 23 by Robert A. McKinnon of the Executive Secretariat reported that at the meeting on October 28, Admiral Chester Ward, Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Captain William Hearn of his office, would represent the Department of Defense; and Ross Leffler, Assistant Secretary for Fisheries and Wildlife, and William M. Terry of his office, would represent the Department of the Interior. McKinnon’s memorandum also indicated that Sanders, Herrington, and Becker were to be participants for the Department of State, and that Murphy was invited but unable to attend. (Ibid., 399.731/10–2157)
  3. The outline is Annex A, and the summaries are Annexes B, C, and D. Annex B is not printed.
  4. All ellipses are in the source text.