311. National Security Council Report1

NSC 5528



  • A. NSC 5424/12
  • B. NSC Action No. 1437–b3

The enclosed draft statement of policy on the subject, prepared by the NSC Planning Board pursuant to NSC Action No. 1437–b, is transmitted herewith for consideration by the National Security Council at an early meeting.

Attention is invited to the three alternative courses of action set forth in the enclosed draft statement of policy. Whichever of these courses is adopted is intended to supersede NSC 5424/1.

A Financial Appendix covering Antarctica is also enclosed,4 and a map is being prepared for later circulation.

It is recommended that the enclosed statement of policy, in the form adopted by the Council, be submitted to the President with the recommendation that he approve it, direct its implementation by all appropriate Executive departments and agencies of the U.S. Government, and designate the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency.

James S. Lay, Jr. 5
[Page 633]



General Considerations

Antarctica is not readily accessible even during the brief Antarctic “summer” and much of it has never been seen or explored. In the past it has been thought to have little or no economic importance and only remote strategic significance. Antarctica has considerable immediate importance for scientific purposes; our understanding of the physical structure of the world and its atmosphere will be materially advanced by data obtainable only in Antarctica. Moreover, Antarctica may have other potential values not now determinable, so that its importance could conceivably increase greatly with additional knowledge and new technical developments. Furthermore, the recent Soviet decision to send expeditions to the Antarctic is evidence of the interest the Soviets have in the area and the importance they attach to it. This development is a cause for concern to the U.S. and its friends and allies in the Southern Hemisphere.
Formal claims to Antarctic territory have been made by the Governments of Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the U.K. The U.S. has neither recognized any of these claims nor made any official claim of its own, but has consistently sought to reserve all its “rights”. The USSR has made no Antarctic claims but has asserted a right to participate in any territorial settlement on the basis of the claimed discovery of the continent by Bellingshausen in 1820–21.
The U.S. has a basis for claims to major areas in all of Antarctica, as the result of discovery, exploration and unofficial claims made on behalf of the U.S. The areas in which the U.S. has been active lie with the U.K., Argentine, Chilean, Australian and New Zealand claims, as well as within an unclaimed sector (90°W–150°W). Formal claims and sustained activities by other claimants now threaten to weaken the basis for U.S. claims in almost all parts of Antarctica.
In view of the long history of U.S. activity, public interest, and the possibility that the Antarctic may later assume an importance which is not now apparent, it would be inadvisable to allow U.S. “rights” to deteriorate. The fact that other countries have long standing claims in the Antarctic while the U.S. has none will weaken any claim the U.S. may advance in the future. On the other hand we do not have sufficient knowledge about the continent to permit an informed choice of the best locations for U.S. claims now. Moreover, [Page 634] any decision to put forward U.S. claims must take into account (a) the possibility of objections by friendly governments, (b) possible adverse effects on scientific cooperation in connection with the International Geophysical Year, and (c) propaganda from unfriendly quarters.

Three practicable alternative courses of action are open to the U.S. with regard to the Antarctic:

  • Alternative A—Continue to reserve U.S “rights” without recognizing the claims of other countries.6
  • Alternative B—Claim no more than the unclaimed sector (90° to 150° W longitude) at this time.
  • Alternative C—Claim the unclaimed sector and all other areas which can appropriately be claimed by the U.S. on the basis of its activity therein.

The arguments for and against each of these alternatives are briefly suggested in the following paragraphs.7


Alternative A—Continue to reserve U.S. “rights” without recognizing the claims of others.

  • a. Arguments for Alternative A:
    It would permit freedom of action by the U.S. in all parts of Antarctica.
    It would not in itself increase the irritation of other countries with the U.S.
    Knowledge of the Antarctic is insufficient to permit an informed estimate as to whether a claim should ever be made or, if made, to determine which areas should be claimed. More complete knowledge may become available in the next few years.
    The basis for future U.S. claims would be improved by U.S. operations in the area, 1956–59.
    It might not involve as much expense as the maintenance of extensive claims.
  • b. Arguments against Alternative A:
    The present policy results in uncertainty and irritation to other friendly nations. These countries fear that the U.S. eventually intends to pursue a policy of ruthless self-interest. In this atmosphere the U.S. can do nothing towards a reduction of tensions and as activities increase in support of U.S. “rights”, irritations tend to increase.
    Of greater importance, perhaps, is the fact that existing U.S. rights tend to weaken unless investments in excess of those being made at the present time are made over wide areas on the continent. These costs may be larger than the price of supporting claims to selected areas.
    Waiting for a more favorable time to make a claim is apt to be an illusory policy, since in practice a politically opportune moment to make a claim tends never to arise.
    There is doubt as to whether exploration during the next few years will permit a more intelligent selection of U.S. claim areas.
    The U.S. is and will continue to be at a disadvantage with respect to the perfection of a claim to Antarctica, so long as we do not officially announce a claim, a step usually considered indispensable in the acquisition of territory by discovery or discovery and use.
    A “waiting” policy would not advance the objective of denying the area to the Soviets as adequately as a policy of making U.S. claims before the Soviets establish a basis for a claim.

Alternative B—Claim only the unclaimed sector (90° to 150° W longitude) at this time.

  • a. Arguments for Alternative B:
    It would be the ideal solution from the view point of minimizing friction with other claimant countries.
    It would permit the U.S. to make constructive proposals for the settlement of over-all differences among the claimants.
    It would concentrate U.S. Antarctic activities in one sector and would avoid dissipation of effort indiscriminately everywhere on the continent.
    The cost of maintaining such a claim would be less than a more extensive claim and perhaps less expensive than present policy.
  • b. Arguments against Alternative B:
    A limited claim would eventually exclude the U.S. from other areas which are found to be of value and where the U.S. has had activity.
    There is no way of knowing whether or not this area is or will be of value.
    Such a claim would still make it impossible to work out a satisfactory arrangement with other countries unless there were a willingness to negotiate out other areas of U.S. interest.
    Soviet plans for the International Geophysical Year involve the establishment of bases only in the sector claimed by Australia. Since there will be no Soviet bases in the sector lying between 90° and 150° W longitude upon which to base a Soviet claim, there appears to be no urgency requiring immediate establishment of a U.S. claim.
    A claim by the U.S. in the near future might stimulate the USSR to make a claim and thus convert the Antarctic into an area of U.S.–USSR tension.

Alternative C—Claim the unclaimed sector and all other areas which can appropriately be claimed by the U.S. on the basis of its activity therein.

  • a. Arguments for Alternative C:
    It would perfect existing U.S. “rights” most effectively in the absence of an intention to make larger investments than at the present time.
    It would permit the U.S. to concentrate its efforts on more limited areas rather than dissipate them indiscriminately on the continent.
    While the initial reaction of other claimants would be one of irritation, a claim would provide a basis for negotiations leading to a reduction of controversy.
    Regardless of value, the U.S. can justify claims only where it has had activity. During the next few years activity will continue to be concentrated in areas of activity in the past.
  • b. Arguments against Alternative C:
    It would initially, at least, cause greater irritation to other claimants than does present U.S. policy or policy of claiming the unclaimed sector only.
    Knowledge of the Antarctic is at present inadequate to permit an informed decision as to the best areas to be claimed.
    Maintaining such claims might be more expensive than the cost of maintaining “rights”.
    A claim by the U.S. in the near future might stimulate the USSR to make a claim and thus convert the Antarctic into an area of the U.S.–USSR tension.
    It would adversely affect international scientific cooperation in connection with the International Geophysical Year.
It may be of future strategic importance to the free world that the Soviet bloc have no control over any portion of Antarctica. From the standpoint of countering Soviet activities and future claims, either of the two courses of action involving U.S. claims (Alternative B or C) would be superior to the continued reservation of U.S. “rights” (Alternative A). It must be recognized that, however the U.S. acts, the Soviets are likely to make future claims based on activity (including conceivably IGY activity), and cannot be prevented from doing so or, in the near future at least, physically barred from the subcontinent. However, a U.S. claim before the Soviets establish a basis for claim, would set up a legal position opposed to that of the Soviets and would permit the U.S. to work in the direction of a common front of claimants. Hence, when the issue of sovereignty finally comes to a head—either in the International [Page 637] Court, through arbitration or otherwise—the U.S. would then be in a stronger position to prevent a successful Soviet claim and to establish a structure wholly composed of free world nations. From this standpoint, as between Alternative B and Alternative C, B would be slightly superior, in that U.S. claims in conflict with the existing claims of others would tend to weaken our opposition to later Soviet claims likewise conflicting and likewise based on activity.
It should be noted that adoption of either Alternative B or C involving the advancement of formal U.S. claims might conceivably be the first step in embarking the U.S. upon a course of defending vast and remote areas which would be identified as U.S. territory and accepted at home and abroad as requiring protection from trespass or adverse occupation or use by the power and prestige of the U.S. The future consequences of such a course cannot now be clearly foreseen.


Orderly progress toward solution of the territorial problem of Antarctica in such a way as to minimize friction with and among our allies.
Maintenance of control over the Antarctic by the U.S. and friendly powers and denial of the area to the USSR.
Preservation so far as possible of U.S. freedom of action to utilize in U.S. and free world interests such strategic potentials as the Antarctic may turn out to have.
Freedom of exploration, of scientific investigation and of access to such resources as may be discovered in the Antarctic for nationals of the U.S. and friendly powers; and maximum interchange of Antarctic mapping and scientific data.

[Here follow five pages that present in tabular form the three courses of action presented in the body of the draft statement on policy.]

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5424 Series. Secret. Considered by the NSC at its meeting on January 12; see Document 313.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. I, Part 2, p. 1760.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 303.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  6. Alternative A was advanced by the representative of the Office of Defense Mobilization and the adviser of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  7. Alternative C was advanced by the representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, and the Treasury. In a memorandum of December 30, 1955, to Assistant Secretary of State Merchant, Horsey argued against Alternative C and in favor of Alternative A. A note on the margin of that memorandum in Horsey’s hand and dated January 12, 1956, reads: “After considering this LJM said he thought we should go along with alternative C.” (Department of State, Central Files, 702.022/12–3055)