320. Letter From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Murphy) to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Sprague)1

Dear Mr. Sprague: In accordance with the arrangement agreed upon at the OCB meeting held December 19, 1956, officers of the Department have been reviewing United States position on Antarctic claims and have discussed the matter with officers of Defense.

Meanwhile, the question has assumed a degree of urgency. Press and radio reports originating in Australia have publicized the information that the Australian Government is apprehensive about Soviet military activities in the Antarctic and has urged the United States to make a territorial claim and give up its policy of non-recognition of other countries’ claims. The Australian Government is expected to raise this question again in connection with the SEATO Conferences in Canberra.

A review of our policy consideration over the past few years shows that this Department has quite consistently been in favor of making a territorial claim or claims and entering into negotiations with other countries concerning their respective claims. In recent years a foremost consideration has been the exclusion from the Antarctic of countries whose interests are likely to be inimical to the United States.

In 1948 it was proposed that the Antarctic be placed under UN trusteeship. The British Government rightly pointed out that this would give the U.S.S.R. a voice in controlling it, so instead, the United States proposed a condominium composed of the seven claimant nations—UK, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile—plus the United States, which would also assert a claim. This suggestion was not received favorably by most of the other interested countries, and since that time we have given consideration to a number of alternative suggestions.

UN consideration of Antarctica was again proposed in 1956 when India sought to place the question on the agenda of the General Assembly. The United States was opposed to this, partly because it would stand in the way of a settlement of the territorial question among the nations conceded to have paramount interest, and partly because it could well be another wedge whereby the Soviets might gain a voice in the control of the continent.

[Page 657]

Fortunately the Indians decided to withdraw their proposal, but they may be expected to reintroduce it at a later date. In anticipation of this, it is felt that the foremost objective of our national policy on Antarctica, “to ensure maintenance of control by the U.S. and friendly powers and exclude our most probable enemies” (NSC 5424/1, Par. 6) makes it highly desirable that the United States be in a position to align itself with the other Free World countries that have made Antarctic claims and have been most active there.

Although NSC 5424/1 does not itself provide for making a territorial claim, it leaves the door open for such action at an opportune time, when it is determined that such a course will best serve basic objectives.

The Department is now of the opinion that a proposal which merits consideration is that the United States should become a claimant to the Unclaimed Sector of Antarctica between 90° and 150° W. Long. Implicit in this action would be the abandonment of the present policy of not recognizing the claims of other countries although such recognition would not be automatic. In any ensuing negotiations with other claimants the pattern of foreign claims recognition would emerge.

It is in our national interest to assure that the territory of the Antarctic is either in the hands of the United States or of other friendly countries. Five-sixths of the continent is already claimed by seven other countries, all friendly to the United States and on which it is felt we could rely for cooperation in almost any undertaking we might have there. It is true that American explorers have discovered and explored certain areas within other countries’ claims also, and that we could probably justify claims to some of them. We have never done so, however, and it is not felt that any present need would be served by so doing, although several countries have indicated that they would be willing to entertain any American suggestions of transfer based on possible conflict of claims.

Further delay in asserting claim to the Unclaimed Sector, which is not likely to be challenged by any other Antarctic claimant, will weaken our position and is an open invitation for others to step in and establish “squatters’ rights”.

As a claimant to a sector of Antarctica the United States would be on equal footing with other claimants in any joint effort to resist encroachment on the part of unfriendly powers anywhere in the Antarctic. As an official claimant, the United States would be in a better position to promote internationalization if this should again be deemed expedient. Furthermore, the possession of a stake as an official claimant in the continent would give us greater bargaining power in any future transfers or redistribution of territory.

[Page 658]

It is therefore the Department’s intention to continue to advocate the adoption of an affirmative claims policy by the National Security Council. Inasmuch as the present review was undertaken as a prelude to consideration of the matter by the OCB Working Group, an expression of the current Defense position, both on the assertion of a U.S. claim and on possible internationalization, in the light of current Soviet activities and the Australian approach, will be appreciated.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Murphy2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 702.022/3–557. Secret. Drafted by Robert Wilson on March 7. Cleared by ARA, S/P, L, FE, EUR, and IO. Copies were sent to the Embassies at Moscow, Canberra, Wellington, and London.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.