316. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of United Nations Political and Security Affairs (Adams) to the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Wilcox)1


  • Antarctica

It is the near unanimous consensus within the Department that we should oppose inscription of the Indian item on Antarctica. We have, therefore, revised our position paper to recommend that we oppose inscription and I have attached a status report on clearances obtained. We expect to have the opportunity to go over this paper with you when we review all of our position papers for the General Assembly.2


Position Paper Prepared in the Office of United Nations Political and Security Affairs

Status of Clearance:

The attached paper recommending the US oppose inscription of the Indian item has been approved in substance by ARA,EUR, and FE. NEA is willing to go along with this recommendation but would have preferred abstention on the ground that this is one instance in which we need not necessarily oppose an initiative by a member of the Asian-Arab-African group. L/UNA considers the question as to whether the US should abstain or vote against on the question of Antarctica to be a policy decision and one not involving a question of law. AEC concurs in IO’s recommendation and has expressed the hope that inscription can be avoided. A copy has been sent to Defense for its information.

USUN has strongly recommended to the Department that we support the Latin Americans on this issue on grounds that we will [Page 647] be needing their support badly on other matters at this General Assembly.




The Problem

The Indian government has proposed the inscription of the question of “the peaceful utilization of Antarctica” on the agenda of the 11th General Assembly. In its explanatory memorandum submitted by letter dated October 16, the Indian government suggests that the “General Assembly should call upon all States to agree to and affirm the peaceful utilization of Antarctica for the general welfare and in particular agree that the area shall not be used in any manner that would create or accentuate world tensions, or extend to this area the influence and effects of existing tensions”. The Indians have said that it is not their intention to embroil the UN in territorial claims and counterclaims. They reason generally that the Antarctic has considerable strategic, climatic, geophysical and economic significance for the world as a whole, and they wish to obtain international agreement on the peaceful use of the region now because they fear (1) that the manifest intensification of international interest in that region may lead to its becoming a source of East-West tension, and (2) that the area may possibly be used as a nuclear testing site. In response to an Indian request for our comments on their explanatory memorandum while still in draft, we told them that while the US position on inscription has not yet been determined, we see no need to raise Antarctica in the UN at this juncture and believe it politically unwise to do so and we would hope India would not press for inscription at this time.

The reaction of the seven friendly power claimants to territory in the Antarctic to the Indian initiative has been unfavorable. Chile and Argentina are opposed to inscription and we understand that the entire Latin American group has decided to support them. Norway has indicated that it will oppose inscription and that the other Scandinavian countries will likely follow suit. The UK, Australia and New Zealand have all deprecated the Indian initiative and have endeavored without success to persuade the Indians to withdraw the item. These countries have apparently not yet taken a final position on inscription but may oppose together with the older Commonwealth members. France may be expected to oppose as well as [Page 648] certain other Western European countries. After allowance for abstentions, it would appear that the vote on inscription may be close and that the United States position may be determining. Moreover, it is anticipated that the United States will be subjected to considerable pressure from friendly power claimants to oppose inscription, particularly Chile and Argentina on grounds of inter-American commitments and relationships.

We do not believe that discussion is precluded by Article 2(7) as argued by Chile and Argentina. Since the United States has consistently refused to recognize claims made by other countries to territory in the Antarctic, we would hardly support a negative position on inscription on grounds that this would constitute domestic intervention. The real problem posed for the United States is whether UN consideration of the Antarctica item within the limits envisaged by the Indians might adversely affect its national interest in the Antarctic region to an extent that would justify United States opposition to inscription and a further departure from the United States policy of endeavoring generally to favor inscription of items on the Assembly’s agenda, particularly those items which appear to be directed to some extent against the United States.

United States Position

In the event the Indians press for inscription, the United States should oppose on grounds that we can see no need to raise Antarctica in the UN at this time and we question the desirability of adding such an item to an agenda which already includes a number of important questions needing thorough consideration at this session.
The United States should not play a prominent role in the debate or consultations.
In the event the item is inscribed, the United States should try to obtain Indian agreement to postpone consideration of the item on the ground that there are a number of more important questions needing thorough consideration at this Session.
If the item is discussed and India presses for a vote on a resolution, the United States should attempt to secure the passage of a resolution acceptable to it and friendly powers along the following lines:

“The General Assembly (1) notes with satisfaction the extent to which member states are cooperating voluntarily in the Antarctic region with a view to furthering scientific knowledge in the interest of international peace and welfare; and,

“(2) expresses confidence that member states will continue to cooperate to this end and to conduct their activities in the Antarctic [Page 649] region in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”


Claims to sovereignty over areas of the Antarctic region, some of which are in conflict, have been advanced by several states, and it may be that further claims will be put forward by other states in the future, particularly within the unclaimed sector. Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK have all advanced claims to Antarctic territory. The United States, however, has made no official claims to territory in the Antarctic for itself to date and continues to follow the policy of reserving all rights that it or its citizens have in that area. The United States has consistently refused to recognize claims to Antarctic territory made by other countries. On occasion in the past, the United States has specifically rested its refusal to recognize a claim to sovereignty on the ground that discovery alone, unaccompanied by effective occupation of the area in question, cannot support a valid claim to sovereignty. In May, 1955 the UK instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice against Argentina and Chile, respectively, to secure a declaration by the Court of sovereignty over certain islands and lands in the Antarctic. However, because of the refusal of the Argentine and Chilean governments to accept the Court’s jurisdiction, the cases were dropped.

The United States proposed for consideration the establishment of a UN trusteeship over the Antarctic in 1948, and discussed such an arrangement with the UK, Argentina and Chile. Since this proposal met with some opposition from the British and was not well received in either Argentina or Chile, the United States then suggested for consideration and transmitted to the Argentine, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK in early August 1948 a draft agreement proposing an international administration (condominium) for the Antarctic whereby the parties would merge and join their claims to and interests in the area in a special regime which would cooperate with appropriate organs and specialized agencies of the UN. Only the UK and New Zealand accepted the proposal as a basis for discussion.

Present United States policy objectives in Antarctica call for (1) orderly progress toward a solution of the territorial problem which would ensure control to the United States and friendly powers and exclude its most probable enemies; (2) freedom of exploration and scientific investigation for nationals of the United States and of friendly powers; and (3) access to useful natural resources. The courses of action recommended envisage the reassertion of United States “rights” in the Antarctic while simultaneously seeking an [Page 650] agreement with the free world claimants to Antarctic territory which will reserve their respective rights pending a future solution of the territorial problems, reduce international friction among them, and permit freedom of exploration and scientific investigation in the Antarctic by free world nationals. Although consideration has been given to the eventual assertion of reasonable claims in the Antarctic as offering the most effective way of protecting existing and potential United States “rights”, no decision to this effect has yet been taken.

The passage of a resolution along the lines of that suggested in paragraph 4 of the United States Position would not appear to conflict with, or require any fundamental modification in, present United States policy objectives on Antarctica. However, while the United States may have no objection to affirming its peaceful purposes and intentions in Antarctica in terms of the conduct of its activities in that area in the future, it would consider undesirable the passage of a resolution along the lines proposed by the Indians calling for the peaceful utilization of the Antarctic land mass as such or forbidding the use of Antarctica in a way that will contribute to an increase in world tensions.

While there is some disagreement among the principal territorial claimants to Antarctic territory, it is not of such a serious nature to require UN action. There has been complete freedom of exploration and scientific investigation in the Antarctic as indicated by the high degree of cooperation manifested between the countries participating in IGY activities there. While it is possible that UN consideration of the Antarctica item might tend to exert pressure on friendly powers to resolve their conflicting territorial claims, we think it more likely that it could lead to an airing of differences between free world claimants to the advantage of the USSR, as well as provide the latter with an additional opportunity to try to hinder free world freedom of action in that area. While the USSR has advanced no Antarctic claims as yet, it has asserted its right (1950) to participate in any Antarctic settlement. This does not mean, however, that the USSR might not one day decide to try to assert claims to Antarctic territory, particularly in the unclaimed sector on the basis of Bellingshausen’s expeditions (1819/21) and current Soviet activities in connection with the IGY, especially if the United States were to do so.

There appears to be little doubt that in the light of present United States policy objectives in the Antarctic and until the future course of United States action in that area has been more precisely defined, the United States should endeavor for the present to limit, to the extent possible,UN consideration of Antarctica in order to maintain the maximum degree of freedom of action for the United [Page 651] States and friendly power claimants to territory in that area. It is recognized that UN consideration and the adoption of a peaceful uses resolution on Antarctica could lead in due course to UN consideration of other aspects of the Antarctic problem including the question of sovereignty. This in turn might stimulate pressure for internationalization of the Antarctic under some sort of UN administration. Such a development, moreover, could tend to make it increasingly difficult for the United States to depart from its present reserved position and begin the implementation of a national claims policy in the event the United States were to decide to do so.

It should also be recognized that United States support for inscription of the Indian item, however explained, would tend to be regarded as having more than procedural significance and as implying that the United States is prepared to acknowledge a present UN interest in the Antarctic and that it is perhaps disposed to consider the question of Antarctica within the UN framework. United States advocacy of the policy of internationalization of the Antarctic in 1948 would tend to support this implication.

In considering our national interest in this question, we believe that we should give considerable weight to the fact that our failure to support the Latin American bloc on this issue would probably be received unfavorably by it and particularly by Chile and Argentina. USUN has strongly recommended that we support the Latin Americans on this issue on grounds that we will be needing their support badly on other matters at this General Assembly.

The type resolution apparently sought by the Indians would likely be interpreted as precluding the use of Antarctica as a nuclear testing site and perhaps the establishment of military bases as well. The United States has taken the position that it has no present intent or plan to use the Antarctic as a nuclear testing site and has so indicated this to the Indians. It is doubted, however, whether United States assurances as regards its present intentions in this respect will suffice to deter the Indian initiative. On the other hand, it is possible that a United States vote against inscription may tend to weaken our present position on nuclear testing in the Antarctic, lend credence to the Indian concern that we may be contemplating the use of Antarctica for nuclear testing later on, and stimulate further and more determined Indian efforts in this regard.

The Indian argument that nuclear testing in the Antarctic region may be criticized as inimical to international welfare through a possible dislocation of the ice cap, etc., is not supported by known scientific evidence. At any rate, we are not aware of any plans to test nuclear weapons there. Neither we nor the other countries involved could accept an understanding that a resolution such as that sought by India, if adopted, would preclude the establishment [Page 652] of military bases in the Antarctic region within the area of national claims since it could be cited as a precedent for other areas of the world. As for any resolution of the type sought by India on the Antarctica being cited as a precedent UN action precluding nuclear testing in the UN trust territories, it is not considered that the two situations are sufficiently analogous to constitute a major threat to the United States position in this regard, although it would probably tend to weaken that position.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 702.022/11–656. Confidential. Drafted by David Bane.
  2. The enclosed Position Paper is the last draft found and apparently was the official policy statement on this topic used by the U.S. Delegation at the Eleventh General Assembly.