Antarctic Treaty System

The Antarctic Treaty
French: Traité sur l'Antarctique
Russian: Договор об Антарктике
Spanish: Tratado Antártico
Antarctic Treaty System


Type Condominium
Signed December 1, 1959[1]
Location Washington, D.C., U.S.
Effective June 23, 1961
Condition Ratification of all 12 signatories
Signatories 12[2]
Parties 53[2]
Depositary Government of the United States of America[2]
Languages English, French, Russian, and Spanish
Antarctic Treaty at Wikisource
A satellite composite image of Antarctica.

The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth's only continent without a native human population. For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude. The treaty, entering into force in 1961 and having 53 parties as of 2016,[2] sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on that continent. The treaty was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat headquarters have been located in Buenos Aires, Argentina, since September 2004.[3]

The main treaty was opened for signature on December 1, 1959,[1] and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961.[4] The original signatories were the 12 countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957–58. The twelve countries that had significant interests in Antarctica at the time were: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.[1] These countries 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

The main objective of the ATS is to ensure in the interests of all humankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord. Pursuant to Article 1, the treaty forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel or equipment for the purposes of scientific research.

Other agreements

Disposal of waste by simply dumping it at the shoreline such as here at the Russian Bellingshausen Station base on King George Island in 1992 is no longer permitted by the Protocol on Environmental Protection

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 29 of the 53 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings, though the other 24 are still allowed to attend. The decision-making participants are the Consultative Parties and, in addition to the 12 original signatories, include 17 countries that have demonstrated their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there.[6]


As of 2015, there are 53 states party to the treaty,[2] 29 of which, including all 12 original signatories to the treaty, have consultative (voting) status.[7] Consultative members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory. The 46 non-claimant nations either do not recognize the claims of others, or have not stated their positions.

  Parties with consulting status making a claim to Antarctic territory
  Parties with consulting status reserving the right to make a territorial claim
  Other parties with consulting status
  Parties without consulting status
  Non-party UN member states and observers

Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the icon.

Country[8][9][10][11] Signature Ratification/Accession Consultative status[9][11] Notes
 Argentina (claim)* Dec 1, 1959 Jun 23, 1961 Jun 23, 1961
 Australia (claim) Dec 1, 1959 Jun 23, 1961 Jun 23, 1961
 Austria No Aug 25, 1987
 Belarus No Dec 27, 2006
 Belgium Dec 1, 1959 Jul 26, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 Brazil No May 16, 1975 Sep 27, 1983
 Bulgaria No Sep 11, 1978 Jun 5, 1998
 Canada No May 4, 1988
 Chile (claim)* Dec 1, 1959 Jun 23, 1961 Jun 23, 1961
 China No Jun 8, 1983 Oct 7, 1985
 Colombia No Jan 31, 1989
 Cuba No Aug 16, 1984
 Czech Republic No Jan 1, 1993 Apr 1, 2014 Succession from  Czechoslovakia, which acceded on June 14, 1962.[12]
 Denmark No May 20, 1965
 Ecuador No Sep 15, 1987 Nov 19, 1990
 Estonia No May 17, 2001
 Finland No May 15, 1984 Oct 20, 1989
 France (claim) Dec 1, 1959 Sep 16, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 Germany (claim) (rests since 1945) No Feb 5, 1979 Mar 3, 1981 Ratified as  West Germany.

 East Germany also acceded on November 19, 1974, and received consultative status on October 5, 1987, prior to its reunification with West Germany.[11][13]

 Greece No Jan 8, 1987
 Guatemala No Jul 31, 1991
 Hungary No Jan 27, 1984
 Iceland No Oct 13, 2015
 India No Aug 19, 1983 Sep 12, 1983
 Italy No Mar 18, 1981 Oct 5, 1987
 Japan Dec 1, 1959 Aug 4, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 Kazakhstan No Jan 27, 2015
 Malaysia No Oct 31, 2011
 Monaco No May 31, 2008
 Mongolia No Mar 23, 2015
 Netherlands No Mar 30, 1967 Nov 19, 1990
 New Zealand (claim) Dec 1, 1959 Nov 1, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 North Korea No Jan 21, 1987
 Norway (claim) Dec 1, 1959 Aug 24, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 Pakistan No Mar 1, 2012
 Papua New Guinea No Mar 16, 1981 Succession from  Australia. Effective from their independence on September 16, 1975.[14]
 Peru No Apr 10, 1981 Oct 9, 1989
 Poland No Jun 8, 1961 Jul 29, 1977
 Portugal No Jan 29, 2010
 Romania No Sep 15, 1971
 Russia** Dec 1, 1959 Nov 2, 1960 Jun 23, 1961 Ratified as the  Soviet Union.[15]
 Slovakia No January 1, 1993 Succession from  Czechoslovakia, which acceded on June 14, 1962.[16]
 South Africa[17] Dec 1, 1959 Jun 21, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 South Korea No Nov 28, 1986 Oct 9, 1989
 Spain No Mar 31, 1982 Sep 21, 1988
 Sweden No Apr 24, 1984 Sep 21, 1988
  Switzerland No Nov 15, 1990
 Turkey No Jan 24, 1996
 Ukraine No Oct 28, 1992 Jun 4, 2004
 United Kingdom (claim)* Dec 1, 1959 May 31, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 United States** Dec 1, 1959 Aug 18, 1960 Jun 23, 1961
 Uruguay No Jan 11, 1980 Oct 7, 1985
 Venezuela No May 24, 1999

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

Antarctic Treaty Secretariat

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

The tasks of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat can be divided into the following areas:

Legal system

Antarctica currently has no permanent population and therefore it has no citizenship nor government. All personnel present on Antarctica at any time are citizens or nationals of some sovereignty outside 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 is the only major land on Earth not claimed by any country.[18] Until 2015 the interior of the Norwegian Sector, the extent of which had never been officially defined,[19] was considered to be unclaimed. That year, Norway formally laid claim to the area between its Queen Maud Land and the South Pole.[20]

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.[21]


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


This 1959 cover commemorated the opening of the Wilkes post office in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Since the designation of the Australian Antarctic Territory pre-dated the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, 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 Territory (which follows the laws of the Australian Capital Territory) 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.[22]

United States

The law of the United States, including certain criminal offences 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.[23]

Some U.S. laws directly apply to Antarctica. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, Public Law 95-541, 16 U.S.C. § 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for the following activities, unless authorized by regulation or statute:

Violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to US$10,000 in fines and one year in prison. The Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, and the Interior share enforcement responsibilities. The Act requires expeditions from the U.S. to Antarctica to notify, in advance, the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs of the State Department, 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 death by poisoning of Australian astrophysicist Rodney Marks at the South Pole base in May 2000.[24][25] Dr. Marks died while wintering over at the United States' Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station located at the geographic South Pole. 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 Christchurch 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.[26][27][28]

South Africa

South African law applies to all South African citizens in Antarctica, and they are subject to the jurisdiction of the magistrate's court in Cape Town.[29] In regard to violations of the Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, South Africa also asserts jurisdiction over South African residents and members of expeditions organised in South Africa.[30]

See also

Map of research stations and territorial claims in Antarctica (2002)


  1. 1 2 3 "Antarctic Treaty" in The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, p. 439.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Antarctic Treaty" (PDF). United States Department of State. 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  4. "Information about the Antarctic Treaty and how Antarctica is governed.". Polar Conservation Organisation. December 28, 2005. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  6. Antarctic Treaty Secretariat
  7. "Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty: Parties". Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  8. "The Antarctic Treaty" (PDF). United States Department of State. 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  9. 1 2 "Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty: Parties". Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  10. "Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  11. 1 2 3 "The Antarctic Treaty System: Introduction" (PDF). United States Department of State. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  12. "Czech Republic: Succession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  13. "Germany: Accession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
  14. "Papua New Guinea: Succession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
  15. "Russia: Ratification to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
  16. "Slovakia: Succession to Antarctic Treaty". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
  17. "Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)". Department of International Relations and Cooperation. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  18. Wright, Minturn, "The Ownership of Antarctica, Its Living and Mineral Resources", Journal of Law and the Environment 4 (1987).
  19. "Dronning Maud Land". Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  20. Rapp, Ole Magnus (21 September 2015). "Norge utvider Dronning Maud Land helt frem til Sydpolen". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Oslo, Norway: Aftenposten. Retrieved 22 September 2015. …formålet med anneksjonen var å legge under seg det landet som til nå ligger herreløst og som ingen andre enn nordmenn har kartlagt og gransket. Norske myndigheter har derfor ikke motsatt seg at noen tolker det norske kravet slik at det går helt opp til og inkluderer polpunktet.
  21. Jennifer Frakes, The Common Heritage of Mankind Principle and the Deep Seabed, Outer Space, and Antarctica: Will Developed and Developing Nations Reach a Compromise? Wisconsin International Law Journal. 2003; 21:409
  22. Australian Antarctic Division – Australian environmental law and guidelines
  23. Marshals and Antarctica
  24. Hotere, Andrea. "South Pole death file still open". Sunday Star Times, December 17, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  25. Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "Death of Australian astrophysicist an Antarctic whodunnit"., December 14, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  26. 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.
  27. Booker, Jarrod. "South Pole scientist may have been poisoned". The New Zealand Herald, (December 14, 2006). Retrieved on December 19, 2006.
  28. "South Pole Death Mystery – Who killed Rodney Marks?" Sunday Star Times (January 21, 2007)
  29. Section 2 of the South African Citizens in Antarctica Act, No. 55 of 1962, as amended by the Environmental Laws Rationalisation Act, No. 51 of 1997.
  30. Antarctic Treaties Act, No. 60 of 1996.

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