The Antarctic Treaty is one of the most relevant international agreements. Since 1959, it preserves Antarctica for peace and science, and has become an example of international legislation and cooperation.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on December 1º 1959 and entered into force in June 23º 1961. It was first signed by the 12 countries that, during 1957 and 1958, had been part of the International Geophysical Year: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States.
The main objective of the Treaty is to preserve Antarctica. From the first article it establishes that “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only”. Thanks to this, today it is the only continent where there has never been war.
For the past hundred years, science has been the main activity that takes place in the continent. That is why in the second article, it states that “Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue”.
Today, 49 countries are part of the Antarctic Treaty System. 28 of them, the ones that have activity and research projects in the country, are consultative parties and 21 of them are Non-Consultative.
When the Treaty was signed, seven countries had sovereignty claims on the continent, some of the overlapped. To deal with this, in the fourth article, all countries agree to preserve the status quo: “No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting , supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica”.
As long as the Treaty continues to be in force: “No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted”.
In order to achieve everything that was agreed in the Antarctic Treaty, every year, the member countries get together in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. There, they exchange information and discuss new measures related to the use of Antarctic for peaceful purposes and on scientific and international cooperation.
As time went by, countries adopted new measures and signed new agreements which shaped the group of regulations that complement the Treaty and that are known as the Antarctic Treaty System.