297. Memorandum From the Executive Officer of the Operations Coordinating Board (Staats) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)1


  • Progress Report on NSC 5424/1 (Antarctica)2 (Policy Approved by the President, July 16, 1954)

There is attached the first Progress Report3 by the Operations Coordinating Board on NSC 5424/1, “Antarctica,” covering the period from July 16, 1954 through November 30, 1954. On February 9, 1955, the Operations Coordinating Board concurred in the Progress Report for transmittal to the National Security Council.

In considering the report it should be noted that the traditional policy of the United States has been to reserve its “rights” in the Antarctic (which do not necessarily carry with them sovereignty) instead of announcing “claims” which might be a basis of establishing sovereignty. The advantage of relying upon “rights,” as contrasted with “claims,” is that flexibility is maintained as our ultimate areas of claim while we learn more about the area through scientific and other work in any part of Antarctica, as could anyone else, and while we avoid or at least postpone open disputes over territorial claims by nations friendly to us. The disadvantages are that other countries, including those not now having claims, through exploration and the maintenance of stations in the area, may gradually establish stronger claims to sovereignty and confine the United States to an area not now claimed by any other country.

One of the principal problems now is to keep unfriendly nations, particularly the Soviet [Union], from establishing any claim whatsoever to any part of the region. All of the seven claimants (Argentina, Chile, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France and Norway) are friendly to the United States. Thus, if the Antarctic were divided among these claimants and sovereignty established by them, there would be none left unclaimed for the Soviet. If the principle of mere reservation of “rights” is maintained indefinitely, it is possible that the Soviets will benefit by the fact that new [Page 610] claimants are not excluded. They might establish a scientific station somewhere on the continent and make a claim. Even if they do not succeed in establishing a claim, their presence might be equally detrimental to our interests.

In its operations and activities in Antarctica, the United States should recognize that at some time it may be desirable to abandon the current U.S. policy of mere reservation of “rights.” The U.S. must be alert to recognize such a situation and should be ready at the appropriate moment to explore the desirability of agreements with the other seven claimants which would seek (a) to freeze out any further claimants, (b) to settle conflicting claims among the claimants, and (c) to permit the United States to carry out in all of Antarctica all of the mapping, scientific expeditions and other activities which would have been possible under reservation of “rights,” while not necessarily attempting to base claims on all such activities in all areas.

Elmer B. Staats
  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Antarctica—5424/1. Secret. In a memorandum of February 8, Merchant urged Hoover to concur in this report. (Ibid.)
  2. For text of NSC 5424/1, dated July 16, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. I, Part 2, p. 1760.
  3. Not printed. In a memorandum dated February 24, Staats informed the OCB that the Progress Report on NSC 5424/1 was noted by the National Security Council on February 17, in NSC Action No. 1334.