Antarctic Treaty System

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Antarctica

International Ownership Treaties
Antarctic Treaty System
Law of the Sea
Outer Space Treaty
Moon Treaty
International waters
Extraterrestrial real estate

The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System or ATS, regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth's only uninhabited continent. For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all land and ice shelves south of the southern 60th parallel. The treaty has now been signed by 45 countries , including the Soviet Union (now defunct) and the United States, and set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on that continent. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.

The Antarctic Treaty System

Research stations and territorial claims in Antarctica (2002).
Research stations and territorial claims in Antarctica (2002).

The (Main) Antarctic Treaty

The main treaty was opened for signature on December 1, 1959, and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961. The original signatories were the 12 countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 and willing to accept a US invitation to the conference at which the treaty was negotiated. These countries were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States (which opened the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for the International Geophysical Year).

Articles of the Antarctic Treaty

  • Article 1 - area to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose;
  • Article 2 - freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue;
  • Article 3 - free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the United Nations and other international agencies;
  • Article 4 - does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims and no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force;
  • Article 5 - prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes;
  • Article 6 - includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south;
  • Article 7 - treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given;
  • Article 8 - allows for jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states;
  • Article 9 - frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations;
  • Article 10 - treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty;
  • Article 11 - disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the International Court of Justice;
  • Articles 12, 13, 14 - deal with upholding, interpreting, and amending the treaty among involved nations.

The main objective of the ATS is to ensure in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord. The treaty forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel per se. It avoided addressing the question of existing territorial claims asserted by some nations and not recognized by others.

Other agreements

Other agreements - some 200 recommendations adopted at treaty consultative meetings and ratified by governments - include:

  • Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (1964) (entered into force in 1982)
  • The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972)
  • The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980)
  • The Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (1988) (although it was signed in 1988, it was subsequently rejected and never entered into force)
  • The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed 4 October 1991 and entered into force 14 January 1998; this agreement prevents development and provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment through five specific annexes on marine pollution, fauna, and flora, environmental impact assessments, waste management, and protected areas. It prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific.


The Antarctic Treaty System's yearly Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) are the international forum for the administration and management of the region. Only 28 of the 45 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in these meetings. These parties are the Consultative Parties and, in addition to the 12 original signatories, include 16 countries that have demonstrated their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there.


 ██ signatory, consulting, territorial claim ██ signatory, consulting, reserved right for territorial claim ██ signatory, consulting ██ signatory, acceding status ██ non-signatory
██ signatory, consulting, territorial claim ██ signatory, consulting, reserved right for territorial claim ██ signatory, consulting ██ signatory, acceding status ██ non-signatory

Country Original signatory Consultative Acceding
Argentina claim* 1961- 06-26
Australia claim 1961- 06-23
Austria 1987- 08-25
Belgium 1960- 07-26
Brazil 1983- 09-12 1975- 05-16
Bulgaria 1998- 05-25 1978- 09-11
Canada 1988- 05-04
Chile claim* 1961- 06-23
China 1985- 10-07 1983- 06-08
Colombia 1989- 01-31
Cuba 1984- 08-16
Czech Republic (as Czechoslovakia) 1962- 06-14
Denmark 1965- 05-20
Ecuador 1990- 11-19 1987- 09-15
Estonia 2001- 05-17
Finland 1989- 10-09 1984- 05-15
France claim 1960- 09-16

East Germany

1981- 03-03

1987- 10-05

1979- 02-05

1974- 11-19

Greece 1987- 01-08
Guatemala 1991- 07-31
Hungary 1984- 01-27
India 1983- 09-12 1983- 08-19
Italy 1987- 10-05 1981- 03-18
Japan 1960- 08-04
Netherlands 1990- 11-19 1967- 03-30
New Zealand claim 1960- 11-01
North Korea 1987- 01-21
Norway claim 1960- 08-24
Papua New Guinea 1981- 03-16
Peru 1989- 10-09 1981- 04-10
Poland 1977- 07-29 1961- 06-08
Romania 1971- 09-15
Russia (Soviet Union)** 1960- 11-02
Slovakia (as Czechoslovakia) 1962- 06-14
South Africa 1960- 06-21
South Korea 1989- 10-09 1986- 11-28
Spain 1988- 09-21 1982- 03-31
Sweden 1988- 09-21 1984- 03-24
Switzerland 1990- 11-15
Turkey 1996- 01-25
Ukraine 2004- 05-27 1992- 10-28
United Kingdom claim* 1960- 05-31
United States** 1960- 08-18
Uruguay 1985- 10-07 1980- 01-11
Venezuela 1999- 05-24

* Claims overlap.
** Reserved the right to claim areas.

At the end of 2004, there were 45 treaty member nations: 28 consultative and 17 acceding. Consultative (voting) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory. The 21 nonclaimant nations do not recognize the claims of others.

Legal system

Antarctica has no "permanent population" and hence no citizenship or government. All personnel present on Antarctica at any time are citizens or nationals of some sovereignty, as there is no Antarctic sovereignty. Various countries claim most areas of it, with some areas claimed by several nations, but most countries do not recognize those claims. The area on the mainland between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west is the only land on Earth not claimed by any country.

Argentina and Chile

According to Argentine regulations, any crime committed within 50 kilometers of any Argentine base is to be judged in Ushuaia (as capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, and South Atlantic Islands). In the part of Argentine Antarctica that is also claimed by Chile, the person to be judged can ask to be transferred there.

United States

The law of the United States, including certain criminal offenses by or against U.S. nationals, such as murder, may apply to areas not under jurisdiction of other countries. To this end, the United States now stations special deputy U. S. Marshals in Antarctica to provide a law enforcement presence.

Some U.S. laws directly apply to Antarctica. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. section 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for the following activities, unless authorized by regulation of statute:

  • the taking of native Antarctic mammals or birds;
  • the introduction into Antarctica of nonindigenous plants and animals;
  • entry into specially protected or scientific areas;
  • the discharge or disposal of pollutants into Antarctica or Antarctic waters;
  • the importation into the U.S. of certain items from Antarctica.

Violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to $10,000 in fines and one year in prison. The Departments of Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, and Interior share enforcement responsibilities.

Public Law 95-541, the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, requires expeditions from the U.S. to Antarctica to notify, in advance, the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs of the State Department, which reports such plans to other nations as required by the Antarctic Treaty.

Further information is provided by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.

Retrieved from ""