293. Instruction From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic Missions 1



  • International Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Law of the Sea


  • CA–4339, November 8, 1957

With further reference to the Department’s circular instruction of November 8, some additional material is provided with a view to obtaining the support of landlocked countries. It should be noted that the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly convoking the conference on the law of the sea refers specifically to the special problems of landlocked states and recommends”…2 that [Page 602] the conference should study the question of free access to the sea of landlocked countries, as established by international practice or treaties”.

At the present time, twelve landlocked countries have been invited to attend the Geneva Conference; they are Afghanistan, Austria, Bolivia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Laos, Luxembourg, Nepal, Paraguay, San Marino, Switzerland, and the Vatican City. The interest of these countries in the law of the sea has been chiefly centered on the problem of access to the high seas, and the problem of enjoyment of the freedom of the seas on an equal footing with the coastal states. A closely related problem, and one of considerable interest to landlocked countries, is the right to fly a maritime flag and to register vessels in a maritime register.

In the past, the problem of access to the sea for landlocked countries was solved mainly through the creation of port-facilities for the use of landlocked countries and the internationalization of waterways giving access to the sea. Examples of the former are Section XI of the Peace Treaty of Versailles which created the Free City of Danzig, thereby giving Poland the use of a port, and the 1947 Peace Treaty with Italy which provides for a customs free port in the Free Territory of Trieste with facilities available on equal terms for various countries including the landlocked states of Central Europe. With respect to access to the sea through waterways, Article 331 of the Versailles Treaty declared the Elbe, Oder, Niemen and Danube Rivers to be international. Also of interest to landlocked countries is the “Convention and Statute on the Regime of Navigable Waterways of International Concern” drawn up in Barcelona in 1921. In addition, Article 273 of the Treaty of Versailles recognized the right of landlocked countries to have a maritime flag and a maritime register for their vessels; the text of this Article was subsequently made the subject of the “Declaration Recognizing the Right to a Flag of States having no Seacoast,” opened for signature at Barcelona, April 20, 1921. The above are cited merely as examples of some arrangements which have been made to accommodate the interests of landlocked countries.

The United Nations International Law Commission in its articles concerning the law of the sea, in Article 27, states that the high seas are open to all nations and, in Article 28, that every state has the right to sail ships under its flag on the high seas.

A number of landlocked countries already have indicated their interest in the Commission’s drafts. Austria and Nepal have expressed general satisfaction with the Articles produced by the International Law Commission at its seventh session. Again in December of 1956, in the course of the meetings of the Sixth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, the representatives of the Governments [Page 603] of Afghanistan, Austria, Bolivia, Czechoslovakia, Nepal and Paraguay expressed the interest of their countries in the law of the sea and especially the problem of access to the sea.

It is considered desirable that the governments of selected landlocked countries be discreetly sounded out on their potential support of the views of the United States as set forth in the Department’s Circular Instruction of November 8. This might best be accomplished by inquiring whether these countries desire to place before the Conference any resolution of particular interest to them.

It should be pointed out to these governments that the views of the United States expressed in the Department’s Circular of November 8 are in keeping with the best interests of landlocked countries. A prime example is the United States position in support of the three-mile territorial sea which was based on numerous legal precedents and the general interest of maximum freedom of navigation and maritime trade. All of these considerations would appear to be equally valid from the point of view of landlocked countries since it behooves nations without a territorial sea to have coastal states restricted to as narrow a territorial sea as possible. In the discretion of the Embassy, the important security factors might also be mentioned.

The United States views on conservation, designed to promote the maximum sustainable yield of the living resources of the sea, should also appeal to landlocked states who can only benefit from such a policy.

There appears to be some tendency on the part of landlocked states to explore the possibility of acting in unison at the Conference. In this connection, the Afghan delegate to the United Nations has suggested to other landlocked states that they hold a pre-Conference meeting in Vienna from February 19–26, 1958.

In order to instill in this group an attitude favorable to our views, the Embassy should indicate, at its discretion, interest in their special problems when presenting the United States views set forth in CA–4339 of November 8, 1957, by inquiring whether they have any measures aimed at solving their special problems which they would like the United States to consider prior to the Conference.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 399.731/12–257. Confidential. Sent to Asunción, Bern, Florence, Kabul, Katmandu, La Paz, Luxembourg, Rome, Vienna, and Vientiane. Repeated to Budapest and Prague.
  2. Ellipsis in the source text.