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The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System or ATS, regulate international relations with respect to Antarcticamarker, Earth's only continent without a native human population. For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude. The treaty has now been signed by 47 countries, and set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on that continent. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.

The Antarctic Treaty System

Research stations and territorial claims in Antarctica (2002).

The Main Antarctic Treaty

The main treaty was opened for signature on December 1, 1959, and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961. The original signatories were the 12 countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58 and willing to accept a US invitation to the conference at which the treaty was negotiated. These countries were the ones with significant interests in Antarctica at the time: Argentinamarker, Australia, Belgiummarker, Chilemarker, Francemarker, Japanmarker, New Zealandmarker, Norwaymarker, South Africa, the Soviet Unionmarker, the United Kingdommarker and the United Statesmarker. Among them, the signatories 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

  • Article 1 - area to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose;
  • Article 2 - freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue;
  • Article 3 - free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the United Nations and other international agencies;
  • Article 4 - the treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force;
  • Article 5 - prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes;
  • Article 6 - includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south;
  • Article 7 - treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given;
  • Article 8 - allows for jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states;
  • Article 9 - frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations;
  • Article 10 - treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty;
  • Article 11 - disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the International Court of Justicemarker;
  • Articles 12, 13, 14 - deal with upholding, interpreting, and amending the treaty among involved nations.

The main objective of the ATS is to ensure in the interests 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. The treaty forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel.

Other agreements

This 1959 cover commemorated the opening of the Wilkes post office in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
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 28 of the 46 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings, though the other 18 are still allowed to attend. The decision-making participants are the Consultative Parties and, in addition to the 12 original signatories, include 16 countries that have demonstrated their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there.


[[Image:Antarctic Treaty.png|400px|center|thumb|


Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the icon.
Country Original signatory Consultative Acceding
Argentinamarker * June 23, 1961
Australia June 23, 1961
Austria August 25, 1987
Belarusmarker December 27, 2006
Belgium July 26, 1960
Brazilmarker September 12, 1983 May 16, 1975
Bulgariamarker May 25, 1998 September 11, 1978
Canada May 4, 1988
Chilemarker * June 23, 1961
China October 7, 1985 June 8, 1983
Colombiamarker January 31, 1989
Cubamarker August 16, 1984
Czech Republic (as Czechoslovakiamarker) June 14, 1962
Denmark May 20, 1965
Ecuadormarker November 19, 1990 September 15, 1987
Estoniamarker May 17, 2001
Finland October 9, 1989 May 15, 1984
France marker September 16, 1960
East Germanymarker
March 3, 1981
October 5, 1987
February 5, 1979
November 19, 1974
Greece January 8, 1987
Guatemalamarker July 31, 1991
Hungary January 27, 1984
India September 12, 1983 August 19, 1983
Italy October 5, 1987 March 18, 1981
Japan August 4, 1960
Monacomarker May 30, 2008
Netherlands November 19, 1990 March 30, 1967
New Zealand November 1, 1960
North Koreamarker January 21, 1987
Norway August 24, 1960
Papua New Guineamarker March 16, 1981
Perumarker October 9, 1989 April 10, 1981
Poland July 29, 1977 June 8, 1961
Romaniamarker September 15, 1971
Russia (as Soviet Unionmarker)** November 2, 1960
Slovakiamarker (as Czechoslovakiamarker) June 14, 1962
South Africa June 21, 1960
South Korea October 9, 1989 November 28, 1986
Spain September 21, 1988 March 31, 1982
Sweden September 21, 1988 March 24, 1984
Switzerland November 15, 1990
Turkeymarker January 25, 1996
Ukrainemarker May 27, 2004 October 28, 1992
United Kingdom * May 31, 1960
United States** August 18, 1960
Uruguaymarker October 7, 1985 January 11, 1980
Venezuelamarker May 24, 1999

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

, there are 46 treaty member nations: 28 consultative and 18 acceding. Consultative (voting) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory. The 21 non-claimant nations either do not recognize the claims of others, or have not stated their positions.

Antarctic Treaty Secretariat

The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 2004 by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). Mr. Jan Huber (from the Netherlands) served as the first Executive Secretary for 5 years until August 31, 2009. He was succeeded on September 1, 2009 by Mr. Manfred Reinke (Germany), appointed for a 4 year term.

The tasks of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat can be divided into the following areas:
  • Supporting the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and the meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP).
  • Facilitating the exchange of information between the Parties required in the Treaty and the Environment Protocol.
  • Collecting, storing, arranging and publishing the documents of the ATCM.
  • Providing and disseminating public information about the Antarctic Treaty system and Antarctic activities.

There are 46 countries that own bases in Antarctica.

Legal system

Antarctica has no "permanent population" and hence no citizenship or government. All personnel present on Antarctica at any time are citizens or nationals of some sovereignty outside of 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 , is the only major land on Earth not claimed by any country.

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.


According to Argentine regulations, any crime committed within 50 kilometers of any Argentine base is to be judged in Ushuaiamarker (as capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, and South Atlantic Islandsmarker). In the part of Argentine Antarctica that is also claimed by Chile, the person to be judged can ask to be transferred there.


Since the designation of the Australian Antarctic Territory pre-dated the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, some of the complex suite of 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 Territorymarker (a non-contiguous part of the Australian Capital Territorymarker) 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.

United States

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.

Some U.S. laws directly apply to Antarctica. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. section 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for the following activities, unless authorized by regulation or statute:
  • the taking of native Antarctic mammals or birds
  • the introduction into Antarctica of non-indigenous plants and animals
  • entry into specially protected or scientific areas
  • the discharge or disposal of pollutants into Antarctica or Antarctic waters
  • the importation into the U.S. of certain items from Antarctica

Violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to US$10,000 in fines and one year in prison. The Departments of Treasurymarker, Commercemarker, Transportation, and Interiormarker share enforcement responsibilities.

Public Law 95-541, the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, requires expeditions from the U.S. to Antarctica to notify, in advance, the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs of the State Departmentmarker, which reports such plans to other nations as required by the Antarctic Treaty.

Further information is provided by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.

New Zealand

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 poisoning death of Rodney Marks at the South Polemarker base in May 2000. Dr. Marks died while wintering over at the American-run Amundsen-Scott South Pole Stationmarker (which is not on the geographic South Polemarker, but within the Ross Dependency claimed by New Zealand). 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 Christchurchmarker 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.

See also


  1. Antarctic Treaty Secretariat
  2. Wright, Minturn, "The Ownership of Antarctica, Its Living and Mineral Resources", Journal of Law and the Environment 4 (1987).
  3. Jennifer Frakes, The Common Heritage of Mankind Principle and the Deep Seabed, Outer Space, and Antarctica: Will Developed and Developing Nations Reach a Compromise? Wisconscin International Law Journal. 2003; 21:409
  4. Australian Antarctic Division - Australian environmental law and guidelines
  5. Marshals and Antarctica
  6. Hotere, Andrea. "South Pole death file still open". Sunday Star Times, December 17, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  7. Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "Death of Australian astrophysicist an Antarctic whodunnit"., December 14, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  8. 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.
  9. Booker, Jarrod. "South Pole scientist may have been poisoned". The New Zealand Herald, (December 14, 2006). Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  10. "South Pole Death Mystery - Who killed Rodney Marks?" Sunday Star Times (January 21, 2007)

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