300. Memorandum From the Acting Executive Officer of the Operations Coordinating Board (Satterthwaite) to the Members of the Board 1


  • Location of U.S. Antarctic Interests

For the Board’s consideration May 4,2 there are enclosed two memoranda dealing with the problem of the pros and cons of “rights” vs. “claims” in the Antarctic.

The first memorandum contains the views of the State Department, agreed to by the other agencies concerned except Defense, and requesting permission to initiate bilateral negotiations which if successful would eventually have the effect of shifting our policy from that of “rights” to one of “claims.”

The second memorandum contains the Defense Department’s views of why the U.S. should maintain its present position of “rights” rather than “claims.”

For the Board’s information there is enclosed as Attachment 3 a copy of the transmittal memo to the NSC of February 10 on this subject3 which further describes the opposing points of view.

The Board is asked to decide: (a) whether the NSC should be asked to amend NSC 5424/1 to enable State to initiate negotiations; (b) whether State already has this capability under NSC 5424/1; or (c) whether State should be instructed not to initiate negotiations at this time.4

Livingston Satterthwaite

Attachment 1


Approval is requested for the initiation of bilateral negotiations with the present Antarctic claimants (Argentina, Chile, Australia, [Page 616] New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France and Norway) to obtain their recognition of superior U.S. rights in certain areas (see map attached to Memorandum to Board Assistants dated March 10, 19555) in return for U.S. agreement not to contest their rights in the remaining areas. The State Department believes that these negotiations should be opened in the near future and is prepared to do so.
The proposed negotiations represent a positive step toward the goals of “an early resolution of conflicting claims by amicable means” and “international arrangements to promote the over-all reduction of international friction, and the orderly solution of the territorial problem among friendly powers” (Paragraph 9 b., NSC 5424/1). The U.S. would attempt to remove itself from the most strongly contested areas without, at this time, trying to settle disputes among Argentina, Chile and the United Kingdom. Successful negotiations along the lines proposed would also “reassert U.S. ‘rights’ in the Antarctic” (Paragraph 9 a.) in selected areas more effectively than is possible by other means, and at the same time move toward the establishment of specific claims. In the remaining areas U.S. rights would be yielded in favor of friendly claimants, without abandoning them as regards present non-claimants, thus helping to “exclude our most probable enemies” (Paragraph 6). Decisions relating to an eventual U.S. claim must await the outcome of the proposed negotiations. To the degree they are successful, however, the negotiations will set the limits of any future U.S. claim in competition with present claimants.6

Attachment 2


The United States should maintain its present policy of reserving all rights in the Antarctic area until such time as an intelligent analysis can be made to determine the areas of potential value. To arbitrarily relinquish our claims to certain areas in return [Page 617] for their recognition of superior United States rights in other areas is taking a gamble that is considered unwarranted because:
At the present time little is known of the potential value of any part of the Antarctic continent. Large areas have never been seen. To claim certain portions now and relinquish rights to others without knowledge of topography, geology, mineral deposits, and many other considerations which bear materially upon relative values in the Antarctic would be unwise and at best an unnecessary gamble.
The proposed U.S. claims outlined in the paper include large areas difficult of access in exchange for large coastal areas relatively free of access,
The report of the National Academy of Sciences on “Antarctic Research—Elements of a Coordinated Program”, dated 2 May 1949, states as follows:
“Every square mile of unexplored territory must be assumed to have potential value at some time in the future, if not now”.
“A continent-wide scientific program in Antarctica cannot be fully developed until we have at least a reconnaissance map embracing the entire area. It is necessary to know what are the areas of ice-free rocks, what are the approximate elevations of all parts of the continent, and where the ice surface will permit operations by different types of surface and air transport.”
The immediate task ahead for the U.S. in Antarctica would appear to be one of utilizing all feasible means to learn as much about the continent as possible so as to place this country in an enlightened and favorable position when it ultimately enters into discussions with foreign powers for the purpose of finally delineating the respective rights of each. At that time we will be in a position to know the value of what we acquire and what we are giving up. The United States is now preparing to conduct extensive operations in the Antarctic, the results of which may be to supply valuable information relative to the potential value of various sectors of the continent and also to strengthen our claims in disputed areas.
  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Antarctica—5424/1. Secret.
  2. No record has been found of an OCB discussion relative to U.S. Antarctic interests on May 4 or at any other meeting during this period.
  3. Reference is to Document 297.
  4. The list of attachments to this memorandum also includes the OCB Staff Study of March 29, supra.
  5. No map was attached to the source text. Regarding the March 10 memorandum to the Board Assistants, see footnote 1, supra.
  6. In a memorandum dated April 29, to Barbour and Merchant, Raynor recommended that Hoover be briefed on the importance of the Department proposal for bilateral negotiations on Antarctic interests. Raynor pointed out the likelihood of Department of Defense opposition to the proposals and the undesirability of accepting the Defense position, which no one else in the Antarctic Working Group supported. (Department of State, Central Files, 702.022/4-2955)