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Antarctic Treaty (1961)

Antarctic Treaty (1961)

The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1961, established an international administrative system for the continent. The impetus for the treaty was the International Geophysical Year, 19571958, which had brought scientists from many nations together to study Antarctica . The political situation in Antarctica was complex at the time, with seven nations having made sometimes overlapping territorial claims to the continent: Argentina, Australia , Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Several other nations, most notably the former USSR and the United States, had been active in Antarctic exploration and research and were concerned with how the continent would be administered.

Negotiations on the treaty began in June 1958 with Belgium, Japan, and South Africa joining the original nine countries. The treaty was signed in December 1959 and took effect in June 1961. It begins by "recognizing that it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes." The key to the treaty was the nations' agreement to disagree on territorial claims. Signatories of the treaty are not required to renounce existing claims, nations without claims shall have an equal voice as those with claims, and no new claims or claim enlargements can take place while the treaty is in force. This agreement defused the most controversial and complex issue regarding Antarctica, and in an unorthodox way. Among the other major provisions of the treaty are: the continent will be demilitarized; nuclear explosions and the storage of nuclear wastes are prohibited; the right of unilateral inspection of all facilities on the continent to ensure that the provisions of the treaty are being honored is guaranteed; and scientific research can continue throughout the continent.

The treaty runs indefinitely and can be amended, but only by the unanimous consent of the signatory nations. Provisions were also included for other nations to become parties to the treaty. These additional nations can either be "acceding parties," which do not conduct significant research activities but agree to abide by the terms of the treaty, or "consultative parties," which have acceded to the treaty and undertake substantial scientific research on the continent. Twelve nations have joined the original 12 in becoming consultative parties: Brazil, China, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Peru, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay.

Under the auspices of the treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was adopted in 1982. This regulatory regime is an effort to protect the Antarctic marine ecosystem from severe damage due to overfishing . Following this convention, negotiations began on an agreement for the management of Antarctic mineral resources. The Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities was concluded in June 1988, but in 1989 Australia and France rejected the convention, urging that Antarctica be declared an international wilderness closed to mineral development. In 1991 the Protocol on Environmental Protection, which included a 50-year ban on mining, was drafted. At first the United States refused to endorse this protocol, but it eventually joined the other treaty parties in signing the new convention in October 1991.

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Shapley, D. The Seventh Continent: Antarctica in a Resource Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press for Resources for the Future, 1985.

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