The Antarctic Treaty

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The Antarctic Treaty


By: Governments of twelve nations

Date: December 1, 1959

Source: Governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. The Antarctic Treaty. United Nations, December 1, 1959.

About the Author: The Antarctic Treaty was composed and signed by representatives of twelve nations. The official document is currently stored in the archives of the U.S. Government.


The first known sighting of Antarctica took place in 1820; that year two separate expeditions claimed to have been the first to actually see the last continent on earth. The following year, the first known landings were made, not by explorers, but by seal hunters working in the area.

The first significant scientific expedition to Antarctica did not occur until more than 70 years later. In 1898, the Belgian ship Belgica embarked with an international crew of nineteen scientists. The expedition carried out an extensive program of research, including twenty-two separate trips ashore. The trip was fraught with danger, with the ship becoming trapped in the ice pack and nearly crushed. While trapped, the ship was carried along with the ice, covering approximately 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) in this manner. After her crew manually cut a 246-foot (75-meter) channel through the ice, the ship was freed and returned home, bringing hundreds of biological samples and extensive meteorological data for further study.

Many other expeditions to Antarctica followed. Some were undertaken simply for the challenge they afforded. In 1911, a team of Norwegians reached the South Pole, planting their national flag and spending three days at the tip of the world. In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven attempted an Antarctic crossing on foot. Their ship, the Endurance, was trapped by ice before they could reach the continent. As the shifting bergs crushed the wooden ship, Shackleton and his men found themselves marooned. They would wait more than twenty months for eventual rescue.

As the Cold War dawned in the late 1940's, the world's major powers began to look toward the South, asking what military value this harsh region might hold. Several nations established permanent bases on the continent, and in 1946, the U.S. Navy launched Operation Highjump, deploying 4700 troops along with helicopters, ships, and caterpillar tractors. The expedition surveyed large, previously unexplored sections of the continent, producing detailed maps of the region as it provided U.S. military planners with experience operating in subzero temperatures.

From July 1957 to December 1958, an unprecedented international cooperative effort to study the Earth and environment was launched. This event, called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) led to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and seismic rifts along the ocean floors, as well as an improved understanding of cosmic rays and the earth's magnetic field. As the largest international scientific effort ever undertaken, the IGY also produced an international agreement governing the use of Antarctica. This international treaty declared the Antarctic continent a permanent non-military zone, reserved for scientific efforts only.



The Governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America,

Recognizing that it is in the interest 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;

Acknowledging the substantial contributions to scientific knowledge resulting from international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica;

Convinced that the establishment of a firm foundation for the continuation and development of such cooperation on the basis of freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica as applied during the International Geophysical Year accords with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind;

Convinced also that a treaty ensuring the use of Antarctica for peaceful purposes only and the continuance of international harmony in Antarctica will further the purposes and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

Have agreed as follows:


[Antarctica for peaceful purposes only]

1. Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only. There shall be prohibited, inter alia, any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military maneuvers, as well as the testing of any type of weapons.

2. The present Treaty shall not prevent the use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes.


[freedom of scientific investigation to continue] Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end, as applied during the International Geophysical Year, shall continue, subject to the provisions of the present Treaty.


[plans and results to be exchanged]

1. In order to promote international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica, as provided for in Article II of the present Treaty, the Contracting Parties agree that, to the greatest extent feasible and practicable:

(a) information regarding plans for scientific programs in Antarctica shall be exchanged to permit maximum economy and efficiency of operations;

(b) scientific personnel shall be exchanged in Antarctica between expeditions and stations;

(c) scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available.

2. In implementing this Article, every encouragement shall be given to the establishment of cooperative working relations with those Specialized Agencies of the United Nations and other international organizations having a scientific or technical interest in Antarctica.


[territorial claims]

1. Nothing contained in the present Treaty shall be interpreted as:

(a) a renunciation by any Contracting Party of previously asserted rights of or claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica;

(b) a renunciation or diminution by any Contracting Party of any basis of claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica which it may have whether as a result of its activities or those of its nationals in Antarctica, or otherwise;

(c) prejudicing the position of any Contracting Party as regards its recognition or nonrecognition of any other State's right of or claim or basis of claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica.

2. No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force.


[nuclear explosions prohibited]

1. Any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material shall be prohibited.

2. In the event of the conclusion of international agreements concerning the use of nuclear energy, including nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste material, to which all of the Contracting Parties whose representatives are entitled to participate in the meetings provided for under Article IX are parties, the rules established under such agreements shall apply in Antarctica.


[area covered by treaty] The provisions of the present Treaty shall apply to the area south of 60° South latitude, including all ice shelves, but nothing in the present Treaty shall prejudice or in any way affect the rights, or the exercise of the rights, of any State under international law with regard to the high seas within that area.


[free access for observation and inspection]

1. In order to promote the objectives and ensure the observation of the provisions of the present Treaty, each Contracting Party whose representatives are entitled to participate in the meetings referred to in Article IX of the Treaty shall have the right to designate observers to carry out any inspection provided for by the present Article. Observers shall be nationals of the Contracting Parties which designate them. The names of the observers shall be communicated to every other Contracting Party having the right to designate observers, and like notice shall be given of the termination of their appointment.

2. Each observer designated in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article shall have complete freedom of access at any time to any or all areas of Antarctica.

3. All areas of Antarctica, including all stations, installations and equipment within those areas, and all ships and aircraft at points of discharging or embarking cargoes or personnel in Antarctica, shall be open at all times to inspection by any observers designated in accordance with paragraph 1 of this Article.

4. Aerial observation may be carried out at any time over any or all areas of Antarctica by any of the Contracting Parties having the right to designate observers.

5. Each Contracting Party shall, at the time when the present Treaty enters into force for it, inform the other Contracting Parties, and thereafter shall give them notice in advance, of

(a) all expeditions to and within Antarctica, on the part of its ships of nationals, and all expeditions to Antarctica organized in or proceeding from its territory;

(b) all stations in Antarctica occupied by its nationals; and

(c) any military personnel or equipment intended to be introduced by it into Antarctica subject to the conditions prescribed in paragraph 2 of Article I of the present Treaty.


[personnel under jurisdiction of their own states

1. In order to facilitate the exercise of their functions under the present Treaty, and without prejudice to the respective positions of the Contracting Parties relating to jurisdiction over all other persons in Antarctica, observers designated under paragraph 1 of Article VII and scientific personnel exchanged under subparagraph 1(b) of Article III of the Treaty, and members of the staffs accompanying any such persons, shall be subject only to the jurisdiction of the Contracting Party of which they are nationals in respect to all acts or omissions occurring while they are in Antarctica for the purpose of exercising their functions.

2. Without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article, and pending the adoption of measures in pursuance of subparagraph 1(e) of Article IX, the Contracting Parties concerned in any case of dispute with regard to the exercise of jurisdiction in Antarctica shall immediately consult together with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.


[Treaty states to meet periodically]

1. Representatives of the Contracting Parties named in the preamble to the present Treaty shall meet at the City of Canberra within two months after date of entry into force of the Treaty, and thereafter at suitable intervals and places, for the purpose of exchanging information, consulting together on matters of common interest pertaining to Antarctica, and formulating and considering, and recommending to their Governments, measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty including measures regarding:

(a) use of Antarctica for peaceful purposes only;

(b) facilitation of scientific research in Antarctica;

(c) facilitation of international scientific cooperation in Antarctica;

(d) facilitation of the exercise of the rights of inspection provided for in Article VII of the Treaty;

(e) questions relating to the exercise of jurisdiction in Antarctica;

(f) preservation and conservation of living resources in Antarctica….


The Antarctic Treaty made the Antarctic continent a politically unique region, free of national territorial claims. Further, the treaty specifically prohibited military use of the area, protecting it from some of the abuses suffered by other regions during the Cold War. However, given the unimaginably harsh conditions found near the South Pole, where temperatures often reach −100 °F (−73 °C), it seems likely that nations would have largely ignored this area even without the treaty.

Today, Antarctica is home to more than a dozen research stations, some manned throughout the months-long winter night. Current scientific efforts include a project to extract an ice core from the 2.3-mile-thick (3.7-kilometer-thick) ice sheet, along with a wide range of biological and climatological experiments.



Fox, William. Terra Antarctica: Looking into the Emptiest Continent. San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press, 2005.

McGonigal, David, and Lynn Woodworth. Antarctica: The Blue Continent. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2003.

Smith, Roff. Life on the Ice: No One Goes to Antarctica Alone. New York: National Geographic Society, 2005.


Gedamke, Jason. "Sounds of the 'Silent World.'" Australian Antarctic Magazine 9 (Spring 2005): 14-15.

Seigert, Martin. "Antarctica's Lake Vostok." American Scientist (November-December 1999).

Web sites

Antarctic Connection. "News & Info." 〈〉 (accessed January 20, 2006).

Australian Antarctic Division. "Mawson Station." 〈〉 (accessed January 20, 2006).

Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica. "Virtual Tour—McMurdo Station, Antarctica." 〈〉 (accessed January 20, 2006).