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Management and Conversation of Antarctica

Antarctic Treaty

The international cooperation and overall success of the IGY led the governments of the 12 nations to develop the Antarctic Treaty, an agreement to extend cooperation in Antarctica after the IGY ended. Concluded in 1959, the treaty asserts that Antarctica be used only for peaceful purposes; prohibits military measures, fortifications, and weapons testing; and requires freedom of scientific investigation and scientific cooperation to continue. It provides for exchanges of scientific personnel, plans for scientific programs, and scientific observations and results. It also provides for exchanges of observers, mutual inspection of stations and of ships and aircraft that are loading or discharging cargoes or personnel, and meetings of representatives to promote its objectives. The treaty prohibits nuclear explosions and disposal of nuclear waste in the treaty area (south of latitude 60° south).

The treaty addressed long-standing territorial conflicts of interest over Antarctica. It made no ruling on the validity of existing claims by seven nations (Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand, and Norway), and particularly on the overlapping claims of Argentina, Britain, and Chile. However, it forbids any new claims while the treaty is in effect and states that no member nations are required to recognize the claims of other nations. Although the United States and the USSR reserved the right to lodge future claims of their own, the indefinite freeze on territorial claims served to ease Cold War suspicions of each other’s activities in Antarctica.

Starting primarily as a tentative exercise in scientific cooperation, the treaty gradually assumed a larger management role. The nations that signed the treaty became Antarctica’s governing body, the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). Other interested nations have joined the ATS over the years. Those that take part in substantial scientific Antarctic research join the treaty administration as consultative parties, or full voting members. Other nations not engaged in substantial research but agreeing to abide by the treaty join as nonconsultative parties. More than 45 states have signed the treaty. Members of the ATS meet yearly to exchange information, discuss matters of common interest, and agree on measures to further the principles and objectives of the Antarctic Treaty.

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