312. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson)1


  • Antarctica (NSC 5528)
The Joint Chiefs of Staff submit herewith their comments and recommendations regarding a draft statement of policy prepared by the NSC planning Board entitled, “Antarctica”—NSC 5528.2
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are in general agreement, from the military point of view, with the objectives proposed and with the courses of action common to the three alternatives set forth in the draft statement of policy. The basic divergency reflected in the alternative courses of action centers upon the question as to whether the United States should now announce its claims in Antarctica and, if so, to what areas or territories:
  • Alternative A—Make no claim at this time, but continue to reserve U.S. “rights” without recognizing the claims of other countries.
  • 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 military importance of Antarctica, aside from the geographic, might well lie in its hidden scientific secrets and its yet undiscovered strategic materials. Unrestricted and continuing scientific investigation, exploration, and mapping in the Antarctic is essential to arrive at a dependable appraisal of its military worth. Now as in the past, the United States is exercising the right of conducting such activities in areas of its own choice in Antarctica, notwithstanding the “claims” of other nations. An announcement of United States claims to specific areas might well result in a curtailment of this freedom of action. In this connection, United States participation in the International Geophysical Year (IGY) includes the establishment over a widespread area. In contrast, nations which have laid formal claims are establishing their stations in Antarctica, in support of the IGY, within the areas of their respective claims. It is to be noted, however, that: (a) the USSR is establishing stations in [Page 639] the Antarctic without regard to claims of other nations, and (b) the USSR has advanced no formal claims to areas in the Antarctic. Thus, the USSR and the United States are following similar practices in these respects.
The sizable operations scheduled by the United States and other nations for the next three years (1956–1959), should add considerably to our present inadequate knowledge of Antarctica. The information thus gained, when evaluated, will place the United States in a better position to determine the areas of value to which claim could appropriately be made. A formal claim at this time to areas claimed by other countries, as proposed in Alternative “C”, could lead to international disputes with respect to areas of little or no value to the United States, whereas a further delay might operate to weaken future claims to areas desired. As regards the action proposed in Alternative “B”, it could be misinterpreted as tacit approval of other nations’ claims to the remainder of Antarctica, to the detriment of possible future United States action.
After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that, on balance and for the present, the course of action under Alternative “A” best serves United States military interests. They consider, however, that the statement of policy specifying this course of action should be modified as set forth in the Appendix hereto3 to provide that the United States be alert and fully prepared to announce and to justify a broad claim at the time circumstances made such action necessary to our national interest in advance of final determination of those areas in the Antarctic to which the United States will lay formal claim.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the foregoing constitute, in substance, the Department of Defense position with respect to the draft statement of United States policy on Antarctica—NSC 5528.
The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not participate in the action of the Joint Chiefs of Staff outlined in this memorandum.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

N.F. Twining4
Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5424 Series. Secret.NSC Executive Secretary Lay circulated this memorandum to the members of the NSC under cover of a brief memorandum dated January 10, 1956. (Ibid.)
  2. Supra.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.