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In 1948 the United States first proposed that the Antarctic be ruled either by a United Nation's Trusteeship, or by an eight-nation organization, but neither of these ideas caught on. It took 60 secret meetings to finally bring together the nations concerned with the Antarctic at the time to Washington D.C., in talks aimed at having the continent set aside for peaceful scientific use only.
The Antarctic Treaty was finally signed on December 1, 1959 by twelve nations, and came into force on June 23, 1961, after it had been ratified by all parties. The treaty comprised some 14 Articles that the nations were prepared to agree upon for successful co-existence in the Antarctic.
Since then, 28 other nations have become signatories. Seven of the original 12 nations were claimant states, but under the Treaty all claims are held in abeyance and no new territorial claims can be submitted. The Treaty has now been in place for more than a half-century and in this time it has served as an unprecedented example of international cooperation.
The Treaty bans any military activity or nuclear testing, and limits national programs to scientific research. Its sphere of interest includes all land and iceshelves south of 60° S. (The high seas south of latitude 60° S are subject to International Law). The Treaty also ensures the free exchange of information and scientists between countries, and gives nations the right to inspect the operations of other countries.
The thirty-nine countries which have become signatories to the Antarctic Treaty represent over 80 per cent of the world's population, including the super powers as well as many developed and developing nations. There are several levels of membership of the Antarctic Treaty: currently there are 25 full "Consultative Parties", nations which are engaged in substantial scientific research activity. This is usually interpreted as maintaining a year round station on the continent. Among the Consultative Parties are the twelve original signatories: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Other nations which have since gained Consultative Party status include: Brazil, China, India, Italy, Poland, South Korea, Sweden, West Germany, East Germany, Uruguay and most recently Finland and Peru. There are an additional 14 non-voting nations or Non-consultative Parties which, though not conducting any substantial research, agree to ratify and abide by the terms of the Treaty. These nations include Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Romania and Spain.
The 14 Articles of the Treaty may be summarized as follows:
1. Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only; any military measures are prohibited.
2. Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and co-operation as applied during IGY (International Geophysical Year) shall continue.
3. Plans for scientific programs and the observations and results thereof shall be freely exchanged; scientists may be exchanged between expeditions.
4. All national claims are held static from the date of signature. No future activity of any country during the life of the treaty can affect the status quo on any rights or claims to territorial sovereignty.
5. Nuclear explosions and disposal of radioactive waste are prohibited in Antarctica.
6. The provision of the Treaty applies to the area south of 60°S.
7/8. Any contracting party may appoint observers. They shall have complete freedom of access at any time to any area of Antarctica, with the right to inspect any other nation's buildings, installations, equipment, ships or aircraft or to carry out aerial observations.
9. Regular consultative meetings of the active signatory nations shall be held.
10. Contracting parties shall ensure that no activity contrary to the Treaty is carried out.
11. Any disputes between contracting parties shall be resolved by peaceful negotiation, in the last resort by the International Court of Justice.
12. The Treaty shall remain in force for a minimum of 30 years.
13/14. These articles provide the legal details of ratification and deposit.
In the years since the signing of the Treaty, consultative meetings have reached agreement on more detailed measures, including the protection of wildlife and special areas of biological interest. Other subjects on which unanimous agreement can be reached are constantly under review. The inspections by national observers have been carried out in a spirit of friendly co-operation, and the flow of data and publication between all nations has been continuous and unrestricted.
The treaty does not apply to the high seas, nor to the subantarctic islands north of 60°S, though the latter are subject to national legislation, which, amongst other things, lays down regulations for the conservation of wildlife.
Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Flora and Fauna
Protection of the environment and conservation of the wildlife are addressed in the Agreed Measures for the conservation Antarctic Fauna and Flora, which is an annex to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. Citizens of any government that has ratified the Antarctic Treaty are legally bound by the following guidelines of conduct in the area below latitude 60°S.
Animals and plants native to Antarctica are protected under the following five instruments outlined in the Agreed Measures:
1. Protection of Native Fauna
Within the Treaty Area it is prohibited to kill, wound, capture or molest any native mammal or bird, or to attempt any such act, except in accordance with a permit.
2. Harmful Interference
Appropriate efforts will be taken to ensure that harmful interference is minimized in order that normal living conditions of any native mammal or bird are protected. Harmful interference includes any disturbance of bird and seal colonies during the breeding period by persistent attention from persons on foot.
3. Specially Protected Species
Special protection is accorded to Fur and Ross Seals.
4. Specially Protected Areas (SPAs)
Areas of outstanding scientific interest are preserved in order to protect their unique nature ecological system. Entry to these areas is allowed by permit only.
5. Introduction of Non-Indigenous Species, Parasites and Diseases
No species of animal or plant not indigenous to the Antarctic Treaty Area may be brought into the Area, except in accordance with a permit. All reasonable precautions have to be taken to prevent the accidental introduction of parasites and diseases to the Treaty Area.
Source: Virtual Antarctica History, © 1995 Terraquest All Rights Reserved.
Suggested resources: Francesco Francioni and Tullio Scovazzi (Editors), International Law for Antarctica (1997); Christopher C. Joyner, Governing the Frozen Commons: The Antarctic Regime and Environmental Protection (1998); Malcolm Templeton, A Wise Adventure: New Zealand and the Antarctic 1923-1960 (2001); M. J. Peterson, Managing the Frozen South: The Creation and Evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System (1988); Anthony Parsons (Editor), Antarctica: The Next Decade (1987); Olav S. Stokke and Davor Vidas (Editors), Governing the Antarctic: The Effectiveness and Legitimacy of the Antarctic Treaty System (1997); Arthur Watts, International Law and the Antarctic Treaty System (1992).
Images: Flag of signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, from British Antarctic Survey (image modified by DiscoverFrance.net editor).