23 June, 2011

Exactly fifty years ago today (23 June 1961) the Antarctic Treaty came into force dedicating Antarctica for ‘peace and science’. The treaty regulates international relations for Antarctica – Earth’s only continent without a native human population.

The Antarctic Treaty was born out of the International Geophysical Year in 1957-8 (an international effort to understand the Polar Regions better) with the 12 countries who were active on the continent at the time being Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Treaty was a diplomatic expression of the operational and scientific cooperation that were achieved ‘on the ice’.

The Treaty covers the area south of 60°S latitude. Its objectives are simple yet unique. They are:

  • to demilitarise Antarctica, to establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;
  • to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica;
  • to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

The Treaty remains in force indefinitely and its continued success has been the growth in membership. Forty six countries, comprising around 80% of the world’s population, have acceded to it. Consultative (voting) status is open to all countries who have demonstrated their commitment to the Antarctic by conducting significant research.

The Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting, which is held yearly, is being held this week in Buenos Aires, home to the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat headquarters.

Find out more about the Antarctic Treaty.

Related link

British Antarctic Territory website