268. Memorandum of Discussion at the 357th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 6, 19581

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. U.S. Policy on Antarctica (NSC Action No. 1738; NSC 5715/1; SNIE 11–3-58; NSC 5804; Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated March 5, 19582)

General Cutler briefed the Council in considerable detail on the contents of the proposed new policy on Antarctica (NSC 5804), pointing out at the outset, on a map,3 the different national claims to portions of Antarctica. He set forth the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which were in opposition to the proposed new policy because they wished to exclude the USSR from any voice in the administration of Antarctica and because they wished the United States, as soon as [Page 473] possible, to claim both the unclaimed sector of Antarctica and areas in sectors claimed by other nations in which we had rights and interests. (A copy of General Cutler’s briefing note is filed in the minutes of the meeting, and another copy is attached to this memorandum.)

Upon conclusion of General Cutler’s briefing he called upon Secretary Dulles. The latter observed that the State Department supported the policy set forth in NSC 5804. Indeed, this policy had largely been worked out by a representative of the Department of State (Ambassador Daniels) in consultation with the other interested U.S. Government agencies and in discussions with representatives of certain of the claimant countries. Secretary Dulles predicted that we would encounter our greatest difficulty in getting agreement to our proposed joint organization to administer Antarctica, from Chile and Argentina, who were emotionally aroused because their claims to Antarctica conflicted with the claim of the United Kingdom. For this reason it might prove necessary to exclude the tip of the Palmer Peninsula, where the Chilean, Argentine and U.K. claims were in conflict, from the rest of Antarctica which was to be administered jointly by the eight or ten claimant and interested states.

With respect to the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Dulles emphasized that he had a natural sympathy with their desire to exclude the USSR from the joint administrative organization and with their desire likewise to claim wide areas of the subcontinent forthwith for the United States. Indeed, this had been Secretary Dulles’ own personal position at the beginning of this exercise of rewriting existing policy. Before the conclusion of the exercise, however, he had come to feel that it would be impracticable to try to exclude the USSR from the joint organization, and that an attempt to do so would fail of majority support of the other countries involved. Beyond this, as General Cutler had said, Secretary Dulles saw no way to push the Soviet Union out of Antarctica without resort to force. For all these reasons he had come to feel that the legitimate objectives of the United States in Antarctica would be satisfied if a regime there could be set up which would demilitarize the entire area, because possible use of this area for military bases was a matter of great concern. The Australians were genuinely and legitimately worried about it, and the United States should likewise be concerned; not at what might be done in the immediate future, but what might occur with respect to the military uses of the area over the next twenty years or more.

Secretary Dulles added his view that assertion by the United States of a wide claim in the area would at once precipitate conflicting claims and probably would not advance us very far toward our objectives, although he originally had favored this proposal also. In effect, the procedure proposed in the policy now before the Council would constitute a UN trusteeship with the interested nations acting as trustees. [Page 474] This was different from a direct UN trusteeship and administration of the area, which Secretary Dulles said he did not favor because such a proposal would involve too many complications.

Secretary Dulles concluded by stating his view that if the Council accepted the general position set forth in the present proposal, there would follow a period of intensive negotiation with the other interested and claimant powers. Our negotiations with such powers so far have been very tentative and general because we ourselves lacked a fixed U.S. position. It would be difficult, Secretary Dulles predicted, to deal with the Chileans and the Argentines because of their nationalistic animosity against the United Kingdom.

At the conclusion of Secretary Dulles’ comments, General Cutler asked him whether he thought it would be advisable to include language in the new policy which would provide flexibility so as to exclude certain portions of Antarctica from the proposed joint administration. Secretary Dulles answered in the affirmative, and repeated that we might have trouble in the Palmer Peninsula area.

Thereafter General Cutler called on the Acting Secretary of Defense, but Secretary Quarles said that it would be advisable, first, to hear from Admiral Burke, who was Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Burke, in explanation of the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the proposed new policy, cited in the first instance the unhappy experience of the United States in its negotiations with the Russians. He next pointed out that the views of other countries having an interest in Antarctica may not coincide with our own views, as had been indicated by the British leak.4 The Chiefs, moreover, do not want the USSR as a member of the joint group to administer Antarctica. As far as propaganda is concerned, the Chiefs greatly feared that the USSR would be able to twist our proposal to its own advantage and might, indeed, suggest the application of this scheme of administration to other areas of the world. Admiral Burke predicted that we would lose our propaganda battle with the Soviet Union, whose claims were, incidentally, in the Admiral’s view, very weak indeed. Von Bellingshausen had merely circumnavigated the area in 1819–20. He had made no actual landings on the sub-continent.

The President pointed out to Admiral Burke that he had made no mention of Secretary Dulles’ point concerning the possibility that the Soviets would establish a base in the Antarctic. If they remained there, we would not be able to remove them from this base except by the use of force. Admiral Burke replied that he doubted the practicability of bases in the Antarctic area.

[Page 475]

Secretary Quarles commented that it seemed to him that in the matter, first, of preparing our claims, it would be advantageous to have them ready to proclaim even though we made no claim. Everybody seemed to agree on the wisdom of making this preparation. It also seemed to Secretary Quarles that everyone was in agreement that it would be fine if we could exclude the USSR from any voice in the administration of Antarctica, but we also agree that we can’t do it. So we will have to assume that we will work with the Soviets. In terms of procedure, the plan set forth in this paper seemed excellent—that is, we begin negotiations with friendly claimant powers and, after reaching agreement with them, we approach the Soviets. If this procedure was practical enough, Secretary Quarles doubted very much whether the terms that we would offer to the Soviets were realistic and likely to be accepted by them. If this is the case, we would find ourselves pretty well insulated from the fear of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Soviets would gain a voice in the administration of Antarctica. Nevertheless, Secretary Quarles counseled earnestly the wisdom of not seeking any agreement with the Soviets that was not an enforcible agreement. We must plan to enforce any agreement we enter into. This will prove expensive, and the expense will fall largely on the United States.

With respect to Secretary Quarles’ last point, Secretary Dulles observed that everyone agreed that there was no likelihood in the immediate future for the use of Antarctica for military purposes. But, as in the case of Alaska, which nobody thought of much advantage when we bought it, Antarctica may ultimately prove to have a considerable military usefulness. Accordingly, if we are to be involved in expenses in the area, such expenses will fall upon us perhaps 25 years from now, but certainly not in the near future.

General Cutler summarized for the Council the arguments which had arisen in the Planning Board with respect to the precise relation of the joint administrative body to the United Nations. He gave his own view that it would be highly advantageous, particularly from a propaganda angle, if the administration of Antarctica could be worked out in the UN and made subordinate to the UN. For this reason, the phraseology with respect to the relation between the joint administration and the UN has been made sufficiently flexible to apply to a number of possible situations.

Secretary Quarles commented that it seemed to him that the time to conclude the agreement was the time when we propose to enforce the agreement, not years before we propose to enforce the agreement.

The President observed that we would encounter a very tough inspection problem if and when the agreement was achieved and the joint administration set up.

[Page 476]

The National Security Council:5

a. Discussed the draft statement of policy in NSC 5804, subject to the following amendments:

(1) Page 13, paragraph 14–e, 2nd line: Place an asterisk after the word “Antarctica”, and insert the following footnote at the bottom of the page:

“* A certain portion or portions of Antarctica may, if deemed to be in the U.S. interest, be excluded from the area of Antarctica subject to ‘joint administration’ as contemplated in this policy.”

(2) Page 14: Delete the asterisk following the heading “Major Policy Guidance” and the footnote thereto; changing the subsequent double asterisk to a single asterisk.

Note: NSC 5804, as amended and adopted, subsequently approved by the President; circulated as NSC 5804/16 for implementation by all appropriate Executive departments and agencies of the U.S. Government; and referred to the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency designated by the President.

[Here follows discussion of the remaining agenda items. For text of the item on space exploration, see Document 437.]

S. Everett Gleason


Briefing Note for the NSC Meeting of March 6, 19587

Washington, undated.


1. (a) The first item this morning is consideration of a new policy on Antarctica, to supersede our present Antarctica policy adopted in June, 1957.

(b) I shall ask you first to look at the Map of Antarctica so as to be familiar with its claimed and unclaimed sectors. Seven countries which have thus far made formal claims to territory—New Zealand; Australia, which claims two sectors; France; Norway; the U.K.; Argentina; and Chile. The British claim encompasses the Argentine claim and part [Page 477] of the Chilean claim and the Argentine and Chilean claims also overlap each other. The unclaimed areas are the sectors in the upper left and the sector poleward of the Norwegian claim.

2. In addition to the seven claimant countries, five other countries—the United States, the USSR, Japan, South Africa and Belgium—have Antarctic interests of varying degrees. All five are engaged in some form of activity in connection with the IGY. The United States, of course, has had a long history of discovery, exploration, and other activities in the Antarctic, dating back to the early 1800’s.

3. The Soviets have engaged in widespread exploration beginning in late 1955. Current Soviet activities in the area are on a larger scale than those of any other country except the U.S. The USSR may have the basis for a colorable claim by reason of a naval expedition under Admiral von Bellingshausen in 1819–21. The Soviets made very clear, in a memorandum dated June 10, 1950 (Annex D8), that they could not recognize as legal any decision on the regime for the Antarctic taken without their participation.

4. The U.S. Antarctic policy adopted last June contemplated diplomatic conversations with Free World claimants followed by (1) a U.S. claim to the unclaimed sectors; (2) further U.S. claims, as mutually agreed upon with interested claimant countries, to certain other areas in which the U.S. has rights derived from discovery or exploration; and (3) reservation of U.S. rights in the rest of Antarctica. The U.S. would refrain from announcing claims or reservations: (1) until IGY considerations are no longer a major factor, and (2) until after further review by the National Security Council of the areas to be claimed; unless a claim by the USSR or other developments made the taking of immediate steps necessary or desirable.

5. Antarctica may be said to have assumed some strategic importance in the light of recent technological advances and increased Soviet activity. However, [7 words not declassified] there is no evidence of current Soviet military interest in the Antarctic beyond the potential military value of the scientific data obtained; that it is unlikely (despite alleged Australian concern) that the USSR would use the Antarctic for missile testing, submarine or air bases.

6. It has been thought that assertion of U.S. claims might lead to disagreeable controversies with some friendly claimant countries. As far as the USSR is concerned, assertion of U.S. claims could lead to frustration, irritation, and to extending the cold war to a new area. There is no way to compel the Soviet Union to observe U.S. rights or to deny Antarctica to the Soviets, short of force or agreement.

7. [paragraph (8 lines of source text) not declassified]

8. The objectives of the proposed new policy are the following:

[Page 478]

(Read Paragraph 14, p. 13)

9. In essence, the proposed new policy contemplates an Antarctic Organization composed of at least nine nations—the seven claimant countries plus the U.S. and the USSR (the only Communist state)— and possibly Belgium, Japan, and the Union of South Africa. States belonging to the Organization would neither renounce their claims nor recognize any other state’s claim. They would turn over administrative jurisdiction and control to the Organization, but the legal status quo of claims and rights would be frozen for the duration of the Organization and changes in existing claims or the assertion of new claims would be prohibited. The Policy Guidance provides:

(Read Paragraphs 15–17, pp. 14–15)

10. As indicated in Paragraph 14–f, the policy is sufficiently broad to permit the creation of an Antarctic organization as I have described, set up outside of the United Nations but informing the UN through reports, or the creation of an Antarctic organization within the UN. A decision on which way to proceed will depend upon the attitude of the claimant countries, unless the U.S. should move independently. In neither type of approach would it be necessary for the participating powers to surrender their territorial claims and rights, although necessarily in the creation of a UN trusteeship some relinquishment of certain attributes of sovereignty is inevitably involved.

11. Another important consideration is the effect of a recent leak to the press of certain alleged British proposals to internationalize Antarctica, but which were said to involve surrender of claims. That leak may have robbed the U.S. of the propaganda value the proposed new policy would otherwise have had. It also suggests that the USSR—or ourselves—might gain propaganda value by moving first in—rather than outside of—the UN.

12. The new paper contains the following contingency clause in Paragraph 19:

(Read Paragraph 19, p. 15)

13. Up until now, I have been talking about territorial claims and administrative organization. Another feature of the proposed policy is the level of U.S. activity in the post-IGY period. The new paper continues existing policy in that regard.

(Read Paragraph 21–a, p. 16)

A program agreed upon by the OCB is already being implemented to deactivate three stations at the end of the IGY, thereby reducing the number of U.S. stations from seven to four, as indicated in the Financial Appendix on Page 17. The estimated cost of operating the remaining four stations is $14.9 million a year.

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14. (Read Paragraph 21–b, p. 16)

15. At the Planning Board discussions the Chiefs reserved their position on the entire paper (Footnote—Page 14). In their written views circulated on March 5, they have advised the Secretary of Defense that the proposed policy “does not support or advance actions which they consider to be in the best security interests of the United States.” Their stated views are in conflict with Paragraph 15 for they recommend organizational arrangements for Antarctica which exclude the USSR, and in conflict with Paragraph 17 for they recommend that the U.S. should take expeditious action to claim all areas of Antarctica in which the U.S. has rights.

Secretary Dulles
Secretary McElroy
General Twining9
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Prepared by Gleason on March 7.
  2. For NSC 5715/1, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. xi, p. 693; copy of NSC Action 1738 is in Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95; SNIE 11–3–58 was not declassified. For text of NSC 5804, see NSC 5804/1, infra, and footnotes thereto; a copy of the March 5 memorandum, which transmitted the views of the JCS on Antarctica, is in Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, Antarctica Subject File.
  3. Not found.
  4. See footnote 2, supra.
  5. Paragraph a and the Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1869. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95)
  6. Infra.
  7. Secret.
  8. Reference is to Annex D to NSC 5804, not printed.
  9. Printed from a copy that bears these typed signatures.