The Antarctic Treaty in detail

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty comprises the Preamble and fourteen Articles. In the Preamble, the twelve signatories for 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 emphasise that “it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord” and 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 […] accords with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind”.

Peaceful coexistence

The first three articles address peace, demilitarisation and scientific investigation in Antarctica. All military bases and fortifications and all military manoeuvres are prohibited. Military personnel may only provide scientific personnel with logistical support. Freedom of scientific investigation is guaranteed. Agreement is reached on comprehensive international cooperation in scientific investigation in order to facilitate the exchange of information regarding plans for scientific programmes, data and research results. In addition, scientific personnel from the Contracting Parties are to cooperate and be exchanged between research programmes.

Freezing of territorial claims

Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty is often described as its core element. It regulates relations between those states which at the time of signing of the Treaty had asserted claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica and those who had not recognised such claims. The article says that no Contracting Party that had previously asserted claims to territorial sovereignty is required by the Treaty to renounce its claims. At the same time, it is left up to the other Contracting Parties whether they recognise or deny claims to sovereignty. Under the Antarctic Treaty, the Contracting Parties undertake to accept the viewpoint of the other Contracting Parties without giving up their own position. Moreover, Article IV stipulates that no new claims to territorial sovereignty derive from acts or activities, nor do such acts and activities affect the claims of other states. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted while the Treaty is in force. Thus the significance of this article is often referred to as the “freezing” of territorial claims: the claims remain in place but the resulting rights are not enforced vis‑à‑vis third countries. Also worthy of note is Article V, which made Antarctica the world’s first nuclear‑weapon‑free zone. It prohibits nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste in Antarctica. Article VI stipulates that the Treaty shall apply to the area south of 60o South Latitude. The rules under international law with regard to the high seas remain unaffected.

Reports and mutual controls

Article VII says that each Contracting Party has far-reaching rights of inspection allowing them to inspect installations of other states. The Contracting Parties are also obliged to report regularly on their stations and activities in Antarctica. Since the adoption of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, states have also been obliged to report on what environmental protection measures they have taken.

Article VIII refers to jurisdiction in Antarctica. Nationals of the Contracting Parties who are in Antarctica are subject only to the jurisdiction of the Contracting Party of which they are nationals.

Regular meetings

Article IX refers to the meetings of the Contracting Parties, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM).

Article XI obliges Contracting Parties to settle disputes by peaceful means. According to Article XII, the Antarctic Treaty may be amended at any time by unanimous agreement of the Consultative States. Any modifications or amendments to the Treaty enter into force once all Consultative States have ratified them.

Article XIII regulates the form of ratification and the accession of states that are members of the United Nations. The depositary of the Treaty is the United States of America. Article XIV states that the Treaty is drawn up in the English, French, Russian and Spanish languages.