Antarctic Treaty

The protection of the Antarctic is founded on the Antarctic Treaty, which manifests the intention to use the Antarctic only for peaceful purposes for all time. It also lays the groundwork for important follow-up agreements.

The 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year, which was devoted to the Antarctic, gave scientists the impetus to engage in peaceful and purely scientific investigation of the continent in perpetual ice. After Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Norway put a 'freeze' on their territorial claims, twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the former Soviet Union, Union of South Africa, and the United States). The Treaty entered into force in Washington, DC in 1961. The Antarctic Treaty is the first international agreement which was reached after the Second World War, and it is extraordinary already for the fact that the Western and Eastern powers reached agreement in the middle of the Cold War on the peaceful use of an uninhabited continent and that seven of the twelve signatory states agreed not to assert their existing claims in the territory.

Signature of the Antarctic Treaty obligates the Parties among others to:

  • Peaceful use of the Antarctic
  • Freedom to engage in international research cooperation with unrestricted exchange of information
  • Deferment of individual countries' claims
  • Prohibition of military activities
  • Prohibition of the introduction and disposal of radioactive waste in The Antarctic  

The number of parties has since grown to 51, of which 29 are "Consultative Parties". These countries carry out research in the Antarctic and are entitled to vote. The Antarctic Treaty makes provisions for the Consultative Parties to convene at regular intervals in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM). The principles and objectives of the Treaty are reviewed and expanded at the annual meetings upon agreement according to the principle of unanimity.

The Antarctic Treaty itself was agreed for an indefinite period of time. Even if successor agreements are subject to renegotiation after a certain time, the Antarctic Treaty does not expire. The signatory states undertake to ensure the protection of the Antarctic environment and to use the area south of 60° South latitude for peaceful purposes.