What is the Antarctic Treaty?

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 13, 2022, 13:29

The Antarctic Treaty System comprises the Antarctic Treaty and all related agreements that regulate the international relations of Antarctica. Antarctica is the only continent without any human population, and the Treaty was formulated during the Cold War to preserve and protect Antarctica from scientific investigation and military activity.

Here is everything you need to know about what is the Antarctic Treaty, which parties are involved, and what are its major provisions.

Antarctic Treaty - Overview

To understand what is the Antarctic Treaty, one must first understand the events leading up to it. Antarctica is the only continent on Earth with no human population. After the end of the Second World War, the United States of America sent military expeditionary forces to Antarctica, intending to establish a claim over it. Six other nations also joined the fight for a claim over Antarctica's sovereignty.

In 1957, twelve countries set up scientific bases to conduct investigations about the continent, thus heightening tensions surrounding Antarctica.

Antarctic Treaty History

Amidst growing tensions surrounding the claim of sovereignty over Antarctica, the presence of scientific bases of twelve countries on the continent, and the looming fear of an upcoming Cold War, an Antarctic Conference was convened by President Dwight Eisenhower (USA). After meeting and negotiating in two phases between 1958 and 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was formulated on 1st December 1959.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 provided that Antarctica could only be used for the peaceful purpose of scientific investigation. It seeks to preserve Antarctica forever by prohibiting military activity, nuclear explosions, and radioactive waste disposals.

The Antarctic Treaty is applicable to the area south of the 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves and islands. The Treaty entered into force in 1961 and is therefore also referred to as the Antarctic Treaty of 1961.

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Members of the Antarctic Treaty

  • The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was signed by twelve countries - Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK, and the US.
  • The Treaty has since been acceded to by many other nations, and the total number of Parties today stands at 54.
  • India became a party to the Treaty in 1983.
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Major Provisions of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959

  • Antarctica is to be demilitarised and used for peaceful purposes only. No military personnel can be stationed, and military weapons cannot be tested on the continent.
  • Scientific research and collaboration can be carried out, and the findings are to be made freely available to signatories of the Treaty.
  • Any territorial claims over Antarctic territory are put on hold while the Treaty remains in force.
  • No nuclear testing can be carried out in Antarctica or any radioactive waste dumped on it.
  • The Treaty only applies to ice shelves and land, not the sea.
  • All signatories must provide information about expeditions, ship movements, or military movements taken to Antarctica, and designated inspectors can carry out inspections regarding the same.
  • Mining of mineral resources except for the purpose of scientific research is prohibited.
  • The continent's environment, flora, and fauna are not to be harmed.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. It is an important Treaty in international law because it laid the foundation for a rules-based international order for a continent without a permanent population.

The Antarctic Treaty is gaining larger significance today, with global warming and the increasing scarcity of resources. It remains to be seen whether the member nations will continue to preserve the sanctity of Antarctica.

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FAQs on Antarctic Treaty

Q.1 What is the Antarctic Treaty?

Ans. The Antarctic Treaty is an agreement entered into between 12 nations to demilitarise Antarctica and preserve it for scientific research.

Q.2 When was the Antarctic Treaty entered?

Ans. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was entered into on 1st December 1959 and became enforceable in 1961.

Q.3 How many members have acceded to the Antarctic Treaty?

Ans. The Antarctic Treaty currently has 54 members.

Q.4 Who were the original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty of 1961?

Ans. The original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK, and the US.