Antarctic Treaty System

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The Antarctic Treaty
French: Traité sur l'Antarctique
Russian: Договор об Антарктике
Spanish: Tratado Antártico
Antarctic Treaty System
SignedDecember 1, 1959[1]
LocationWashington, D.C., U.S.
EffectiveJune 23, 1961
ConditionRatification of all 12 signatories
DepositaryGovernment of the United States of America[2]
LanguagesEnglish, French, Russian, and Spanish
Antarctic Treaty at Wikisource
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The Antarctic Treaty
French: Traité sur l'Antarctique
Russian: Договор об Антарктике
Spanish: Tratado Antártico
Antarctic Treaty System
SignedDecember 1, 1959[1]
LocationWashington, D.C., U.S.
EffectiveJune 23, 1961
ConditionRatification of all 12 signatories
DepositaryGovernment of the United States of America[2]
LanguagesEnglish, French, Russian, and Spanish
Antarctic Treaty at Wikisource
A satellite composite image of Antarctica.

The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth's only continent without a native human population. For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude. The treaty, entering into force in 1961 and as of 2015 having 51 parties,[2] sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on that continent. The treaty was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat headquarters have been located in Buenos Aires, Argentina, since September 2004.[3]

The main treaty was opened for signature on December 1, 1959,[1] and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961.[4] The original signatories were the 12 countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957–58. The twelve countries had significant interests in Antarctica at the time: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.[1] These countries had established over 50 Antarctic stations for the IGY. The treaty was a diplomatic expression of the operational and scientific cooperation that had been achieved "on the ice".

Articles of the Antarctic Treaty[edit]

The main objective of the ATS is to ensure in the interests of all humankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord. Pursuant to Article 1, the treaty forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel or equipment for the purposes of scientific research.

Other agreements[edit]

Disposal of waste by simply dumping it at the shoreline such as here at the Russian Bellingshausen Station base on King George Island is no longer permitted by the Protocol on Environmental Protection

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


The Antarctic Treaty System's yearly Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) are the international forum for the administration and management of the region. Only 29 of the 51 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings, though the other 21 are still allowed to attend. The decision-making participants are the Consultative Parties and, in addition to the 12 original signatories, include 17 countries that have demonstrated their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there.[6]


As of 2015, there are 51 states party to the treaty,[2] 29 of which, including all 12 original signatories to the treaty, have consultative (voting) status.[7] Consultative members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory. The 44 non-claimant nations either do not recognize the claims of others, or have not stated their positions.

  Parties with consulting status making a claim to Antarctic territory
  Parties with consulting status reserving the right to make a territorial claim
  Other parties with consulting status
  Parties without consulting status
  Non-party UN member states and observers

Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the Sort both.gif icon.

Country[2][7][8][9]SignatureRatification/AccessionConsultative status[7][9]Notes
 Argentina (claim)*1 December 1959June 23, 1961June 23, 1961
 Australia (claim)1 December 1959June 23, 1961June 23, 1961
 AustriaNoAugust 25, 1987
 BelarusNoDecember 27, 2006
 Belgium1 December 1959July 26, 1960June 23, 1961
 BrazilNoMay 16, 1975September 27, 1983
 BulgariaNoSeptember 11, 1978June 5, 1998
 CanadaNoMay 4, 1988
 Chile (claim)*1 December 1959June 23, 1961June 23, 1961
 ChinaNoJune 8, 1983October 7, 1985
 ColombiaNoJanuary 31, 1989
 CubaNoAugust 16, 1984
 Czech RepublicNoJanuary 1, 1993April 1, 2014Succession from  Czechoslovakia, which acceded on June 14, 1962.[10]
 DenmarkNoMay 20, 1965
 EcuadorNoSeptember 15, 1987November 19, 1990
 EstoniaNoMay 17, 2001
 FinlandNoMay 15, 1984October 20, 1989
 France (claim)1 December 1959September 16, 1960June 23, 1961
 Germany (claim) (rests since 1945)NoFebruary 5, 1979March 3, 1981Ratified as  West Germany.
 East Germany also acceded on November 19, 1974 and received consultative status on October 5, 1987 prior to their reunification with West Germany.[9][11]
 GreeceNoJanuary 8, 1987
 GuatemalaNoJuly 31, 1991
 HungaryNoJanuary 27, 1984
 IndiaNoAugust 19, 1983September 12, 1983
 ItalyNoMarch 18, 1981October 5, 1987
 Japan1 December 1959August 4, 1960June 23, 1961
 KazakhstanNoJanuary 27, 2015
 MalaysiaNoOctober 31, 2011
 MonacoNoMay 31, 2008
 NetherlandsNoMarch 30, 1967November 19, 1990
 New Zealand (claim)1 December 1959November 1, 1960June 23, 1961
 North KoreaNoJanuary 21, 1987
 Norway (claim)1 December 1959August 24, 1960June 23, 1961
 PakistanNoMarch 1, 2012
 Papua New GuineaNoMarch 16, 1981Succession from  Australia. Effective from their independence on September 16, 1975.[12]
 PeruNoApril 10, 1981October 9, 1989
 PolandNoJune 8, 1961July 29, 1977
 PortugalNoJanuary 29, 2010
 RomaniaNoSeptember 15, 1971
 Russia**1 December 1959November 2, 1960June 23, 1961Ratified as the  Soviet Union.[13]
 SlovakiaNoJanuary 1, 1993Succession from  Czechoslovakia, which acceded on June 14, 1962.[14]
 South Africa[15]1 December 1959June 21, 1960June 23, 1961
 South KoreaNoNovember 28, 1986October 9, 1989
 SpainNoMarch 31, 1982September 21, 1988
 SwedenNoApril 24, 1984September 21, 1988
 SwitzerlandNoNovember 15, 1990
 TurkeyNoJanuary 24, 1996
 UkraineNoOctober 28, 1992June 4, 2004
 United Kingdom (claim)*1 December 1959May 31, 1960June 23, 1961
 United States**1 December 1959August 18, 1960June 23, 1961
 UruguayNoJanuary 11, 1980October 7, 1985
 VenezuelaNoMay 24, 1999

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

Antarctic Treaty Secretariat[edit]

The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 2004 by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). Jan Huber (Netherlands) served as the first Executive Secretary for five years until August 31, 2009. He was succeeded on September 1, 2009 by Manfred Reinke (Germany).

The tasks of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat can be divided into the following areas:

Legal system[edit]

Antarctica has no permanent population and therefore it has no citizenship nor government. All personnel present on Antarctica at any time are citizens or nationals of some sovereignty outside Antarctica, as there is no Antarctic sovereignty. The majority of Antarctica is claimed by one or more countries, but most countries do not explicitly recognize those claims. The area on the mainland between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west, combined with the interior of the Norwegian Sector (the extent of which has never been officially defined)[citation needed], is the only major land on Earth not claimed by any country.[16] The Treaty prohibits any nation from claiming this area.

Governments that are party to the Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol on Environmental Protection implement the articles of these agreements, and decisions taken under them, through national laws. These laws generally apply only to their own citizens, wherever they are in Antarctica, and serve to enforce the consensus decisions of the consultative parties: about which activities are acceptable, which areas require permits to enter, what processes of environmental impact assessment must precede activities, and so on. The Antarctic Treaty is often considered to represent an example of the Common heritage of mankind principle.[17]


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 and UK, the person to be judged can ask to be transferred there.[citation needed]


This 1959 cover commemorated the opening of the Wilkes post office in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Since the designation of the Australian Antarctic Territory pre-dated the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, Australian laws that relate to Antarctica date from more than two decades before the Antarctic Treaty era. In terms of criminal law, the laws that apply to the Jervis Bay Territory (which follows the laws of the Australian Capital Territory) apply to the Australian Antarctic Territory. Key Australian legislation applying Antarctic Treaty System decisions include the Antarctic Treaty Act 1960, the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 and the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981.[18]

United States[edit]

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.[19]

Some U.S. laws directly apply to Antarctica. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, Public Law 95-541, 16 U.S.C. § 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for the following activities, unless authorized by regulation or statute:

Violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to US$10,000 in fines and one year in prison. The Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, and the Interior share enforcement responsibilities.[citation needed] The Act 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.[citation needed] Further information is provided by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.[citation needed]

New Zealand[edit]

In 2006, the New Zealand police reported that jurisdictional issues prevented them issuing warrants for potential American witnesses who were reluctant to testify during the Christchurch Coroner's investigation into the death by poisoning of Australian astrophysicist Rodney Marks at the South Pole base in May 2000.[20][21] Dr. Marks died while wintering over at the United States' Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station located at the geographic South Pole. Prior to autopsy, the death was attributed to natural causes by the National Science Foundation and the contractor administering the base. However, an autopsy in New Zealand revealed that Dr. Marks died from methanol poisoning. The New Zealand Police launched an investigation. In 2006, frustrated by lack of progress, the Christchurch Coroner said that it was unlikely that Dr. Marks ingested the methanol knowingly, although there is no certainty that he died as the direct result of the act of another person. During media interviews, the police detective in charge of the investigation criticized the National Science Foundation and contractor Raytheon for failing to co-operate with the investigation.[22][23][24]

South Africa[edit]

South African law applies to all South African citizens in Antarctica, and they are subject to the jurisdiction of the magistrate's court in Cape Town.[25] In regard to violations of the Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, South Africa also asserts jurisdiction over South African residents and members of expeditions organised in South Africa.[26]

See also[edit]

Map of research stations and territorial claims in Antarctica (2002)


  1. ^ a b c "Antarctic Treaty" in The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, p. 439.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Antarctic Treaty". United States Department of State. 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Information about the Antarctic Treaty and how Antarctica is governed.". Polar Conservation Organisation. December 28, 2005. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Antarctic Treaty Secretariat
  7. ^ a b c "Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty: Parties". Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved May 23, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  9. ^ a b c "The Antarctic Treaty System: Introduction". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  10. ^ "Czech Republic: Succession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  11. ^ "Germany: Accession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  12. ^ "Papua New Guinea: Succession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  13. ^ "Russia: Ratification to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  14. ^ "Slovakia: Succession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  15. ^ "Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)". Department of International Relations and Cooperation. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  16. ^ Wright, Minturn, "The Ownership of Antarctica, Its Living and Mineral Resources", Journal of Law and the Environment 4 (1987).
  17. ^ Jennifer Frakes, The Common Heritage of Mankind Principle and the Deep Seabed, Outer Space, and Antarctica: Will Developed and Developing Nations Reach a Compromise? Wisconsin International Law Journal. 2003; 21:409
  18. ^ Australian Antarctic Division – Australian environmental law and guidelines
  19. ^ Marshals and Antarctica
  20. ^ Hotere, Andrea. "South Pole death file still open". Sunday Star Times, December 17, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  21. ^ Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "Death of Australian astrophysicist an Antarctic whodunnit"., December 14, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  22. ^ Chapman, Paul. "New Zealand Probes What May Be First South Pole Murder". The Daily Telegraph, (December 14, 2006), reprinted in The New York Sun (December 19, 2006). Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  23. ^ Booker, Jarrod. "South Pole scientist may have been poisoned". The New Zealand Herald, (December 14, 2006). Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  24. ^ "South Pole Death Mystery – Who killed Rodney Marks?" Sunday Star Times (January 21, 2007)
  25. ^ Section 2 of the South African Citizens in Antarctica Act, No. 55 of 1962, as amended by the Environmental Laws Rationalisation Act, No. 51 of 1997.
  26. ^ Antarctic Treaties Act, No. 60 of 1996.

External links[edit]