The Antarctic Treaty ensures Antarctica is used solely for peaceful purposes and prohibits military activities, and disposal of radioactive waste.
Opened for Signature
1 December 1959
Entered into Force
23 June 1961
53 states, of which 12 are original members and Consultative Parties, 29 Consultative Parties with voting status at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, and 24 Non-Consultative Parties with observer status.
The Antarctic Treaty originated in an extraordinary moment of Cold War-era cooperation. In the mid-1950s, a group of scientists convinced the United Nations to institute an event to promote cooperation in the sciences. To this end, the UN designated 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958 the “International Geophysical Year (IGY).” During the 18 month IGY, scientists from 12 nations worked together in Antarctica. At the conclusion of the project, all agreed that the IGY had been successful. The momentum of this symbolic event was followed by the drafting of the Antarctic Treaty in Washington in 1959.
The Treaty’s framers intended to guarantee 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 covers everything south of 60° South latitude, now known as the Antarctic Treaty Area (ATA). Among other things, the Treaty prohibits nuclear explosions, radioactive waste disposal, and military deployments in the ATA. (However, using military personnel to support scientists is specifically allowed, as well as “for any other peaceful purpose.”) The Treaty’s next most significant goal is the encouragement of continued international cooperation in scientific research.
By the time of the IGY, seven of the 12 original signatory countries (Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, France, Norway, Chile, and Argentina) had already laid territorial claims in Antarctica; several of these claims overlapped. These overlapping claims were a potential cause of the very “international discord” the Treaty sought to avoid. For this reason, the framers devised a plan to “freeze” these claims for the duration of the Treaty. Article IV clarifies that the Treaty does not repudiate any existing claim, but it prohibits their assertion as well as the establishment of new claims. To date, none of these seven states has renounced its claim, and the United States and Russia maintain the “right” to lay claims. Still, none has directly challenged Antarctica’s international status.
Currently, 48 nations have agreed to the Antarctic Treaty, but only 29 control the decision making process. These 29 are the “Consultative Parties” mentioned above, and they include the original 12 signatories. Only the Consultative Parties have votes at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM), and every decision requires a consensus. However, nations who conduct scientific research on the continent can apply to become Consultative Parties.
In 2015, the 29 Consultative Parties were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and United States.
The 24 Non-Consultative Parties were Austria, Belarus, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Kazakhstan, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Switzerland, Turkey, and Venezuela.
The Treaty obligates Parties to use Antarctica for peaceful purposes only. Any measures of a military nature, including testing of any type of weapons, are prohibited; any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material are prohibited.
The 14 Articles of the Treaty may be summarized as follows:
1. Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only; any military measures, with the exception of use of military assets for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose, are prohibited.
2. Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation as applied during IGY shall continue.
3. Plans for scientific programs and the observations and results thereof shall be freely exchanged; scientists may be exchanged between expeditions.
4. All national claims are held static from the date of signature. No future activity of any country during the life of the Treaty can affect the status quo on any rights or claims to territorial sovereignty.
5. Nuclear explosions and disposal of radioactive waste are prohibited in Antarctica.
6. The provision of the Treaty applies to the area south of 60° South latitude.
7/8. Any Contracting Party may appoint observers. They shall have complete freedom of access at any time to any area of Antarctica, with the right to inspect any other nation’s buildings, installations, equipment, ships, or aircraft or to carry out aerial observations.
9. Regular consultative meetings of the active signatory nations shall be held.
10. Contracting Parties shall ensure that no activity contrary to the Treaty is carried out.
11. Any disputes between Contracting Parties shall be resolved by peaceful negotiation, in the last resort by the International Court of Justice.
12. The Treaty shall remain in force for a minimum of 30 years.
13/14. These Articles provide the legal details of ratification and deposit.
Verification and Compliance
All areas of Antarctica, including all stations, installations, and equipment within those areas, and all ships and aircraft at points of discharging or embarking cargos or personnel in Antarctica are open at all times to inspection by observers designated by the Contracting Parties. Over 50 inspections have taken place between 1961 and 2015, the majority since 1980. Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia (USSR), South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States have conducted these inspections.
The Treaty has a technical secretariat in Buenos Aires, but there is no administrative body to oversee its implementation. The methods of dispute resolution provided by the Antarctic Treaty are negotiation, arbitration, or, if all the parties to the dispute agree, adjudication by the International Court of Justice.
The Antarctic Treaty System
The Antarctic Treaty is the core of a number of related agreements forming the Antarctic Treaty System. The other agreements are the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid, 1991), the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS, London, 1972), and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, Canberra, 1980). The CCAS and CCAMLR are independent agreements, but they commit their members to essential provisions of the Antarctic Treaty such as Article IV, dealing with the legal status of territorial claims.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, signed on 4 October 1991 in Madrid and entered into force in 1998, designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science,” sets forth basic principles for human activities, and prohibits all activities related to mineral resources. The Environment Protocol established the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) as an expert advisory body to provide advice and formulate recommendations to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in connection with the implementation of the Environment Protocol. The CEP meets every year in conjunction with the ATCM.
The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established in 2004 and located in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Under the direction of the ATCM, the Secretariat supports the annual ATCM and CEP meetings, facilitates the exchange of information between state parties, and disseminates related information.
Point of Contact
The XLIII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) is currently scheduled for 14th to 24th of June 2021 in Paris, France. The yearly 2020 meeting did not take place due to Covid-19.
The XLII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) is scheduled for 1 – 11 July in Prague, Czech Republic.
From 13 – 18 May, the XLI Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. China officially presented its plan for constructing a fifth Antarctic research station in the Ross Sea, in what observers called an effort to increase its influence in Antarctic governance regimes. The ATCM produced a two volume final report.
From 22 May to 1 June, the XL Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) was held in Beijing, China. Topics of discussion included climate change, increased tourism, scientific exploration, and resource conservation.
Prior to the ATCM, China released a white paper on its expanding Antarctic activities. The document pledged more money for scientific research and reaffirmed China’s stance against commercial resource extraction in Antarctica. The United States and Australia have recently expressed concerns over China’s expanding presence on the continent and asserted that it is engaged in undeclared mineral resource exploration, as well as military activities. China plans to build its fifth Antarctic station by 2019.
From 16 to 27 October, the 36th meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) took place in Hobart, Australia.
In February, China announced the establishment of its first air squadron in Antarctica. China will also commission a second icebreaker ship later this year. The air squadron and icebreaker ship will support China’s scientific exploration on the continent.
From 23 May to 1 June, the XXXIX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) was held in Santiago, Chile. The ATCM adopted eight revised management plans. States parties discussed the immediate and long-term impacts of Climate Change and increased tourism activity on Antarctica. Venezuela formally submitted a request for Consultative status to the Treaty. It has been a Non-Consultative Party since 1999.
On 28 December, Member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed to the establishment of a 1.55 million km2 marine protected area (MPA) in the Ross Sea. Russia was the last Member State blocking consensus on the MPA before the 2016 CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Australia.
In 2014-15, China added one new base and revealed plans for another in Antarctica. The world at large showed apprehension about China’s true motives. It is assumed China is hoping to mine for resources under the guise of research. There is no clear consensus about when this mining would occur. Russia, India, and Iran have also shown interest in Antarctic resources.
In 2015, Kazakhstan and Mongolia joined the ATS. The Czech Republic moved from being a non-consultative party to a consultative party. Kazakhstan and Mongolia are non-consultative parties.
On 01-10 June, the XXXVIII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) was held in Sofia, Bulgaria. The ATCM adopted 18 management plans for Antarctic Specially Protected Areas. Climate change, biological prospecting, and mining persisted as topics of interest.
On 11 February, China announced their plan for a fourth Antarctic Research base, and plans for a fifth base next year. (Japan, Germany, and Italy have five and Great Britain and the United States have six). Some are questioning China’s motives: for now, mining is prohibited under the Antarctic Treaty, but the treaty will be up for review in 2048, and there is concern that the countries will then push for mining rights.
On 28 April- 7 May, the XXXVII Atlantic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) was held in Brasilia, Brazil. Brazil recalled the proscription of nuclear testing in Antarctica and reaffirmed its commitment to a weapons free South Atlantic Region. There was a focus on increased coordination between states regarding their Antarctic activities, including sharing information. There was also a focus on climate change, mineral resource activities prohibition, and Antarctic inspection standards. China revealed its plans to build new bases, as did Belarus. Other states voiced their apprehension and wanted specifications on their fuel storage and handling plans, as well as the current environmental state at the proposed site and the type of research to be conducted there. The United States suggested using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a method of environmentally friendly, unobtrusive research. The ATCM adopted 16 management plans for Antarctic Specially Protected Areas, guidelines for visitors/non-governmental activity, and a CEP plan to ensure the protection of the ATS and the Antarctic environment.
On 20-29 May, the XXXVI Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and the XVI Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) met in Brussels, Belgium. At the ATCM, parties focused on the importance of international cooperation and the study of climate change, though tourism remained a topic of discussion. The ATCM adopted seventeen management plans for Antarctic protected areas, sixteen Site Guidelines for visitors, and a strategic work plan. This work plan aimed to ensure a robust and effective Antarctic Treaty system, strengthen the protection of the Antarctic environment, and effectively manage and regulate human activities in Antarctica. The CEP endorsed a site clean-up manual and decided to develop a prioritized climate change response work plan.
On 1 March Pakistan acceded to the Treaty.
On 11-20 June, the XXXV ATCM and the CEP were held in Hobart, Australia. Malaysia and Pakistan both attended for the first time. The meetings focused on the impact of climate change on Antarctica and adopted guidelines for ensuring that tourism activities are conducted safely and sustainably. The first study of the environmental impacts of tourism on Antarctica was reviewed. Participants shared information on major research activities and welcomed the report on joint inspections conducted by the United States and Russia since the previous meeting. They also agreed to develop by 2013 a manual on practical approaches to clean up sites of past activity from before the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol). The agreement specifically noted waste disposal sites and abandoned facilities, and the ATCM also agreed to work intersessionally on approaches to repair and remediate sites that may have been subject to environmental damage.
On 20 June-1 July, the XXXIV Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and CEP XIV took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The meetings focused on climate change, developing early warning systems for Antarctica for natural disasters, as well as enhancing tourism guidelines, as well as the adoption of milestones laid out in the Declaration of Buenos Aires.
On October 31, Malaysia became a Non-Consultative member of the treaty.
The next ATCM is scheduled for 11-21 May 2014 and will be held in Brasilia, Brazil.
On 29 January, Portugal became a Non-Consultative member of the treaty.
On 7-9 April, the Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts (ATME) was held in Norway to discuss issues of climate change in relation to Antarctica, research on the continent, and the need to establish monitoring, scenario planning and risk assessments. On 3-14 May, the XXXIII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and CEP XIII took place in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
The core issues discussed included:
- Climate change and Antarctic-based research on the topic;
- The establishment of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean (including the Ross Sea by 2012);
- The lack of adherence by some governments to reporting on instances of biological prospecting;
- Antarctic tourism
On 6-17 April, the XXXII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in Baltimore, USA, marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty. Among the issues discussed, the accomplishments of the International Polar Year (March 2007-March 2009) and the future of polar science priorities featured more prominently.
On 2-13 June, the XXXI Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) discussed climate change, non-native and specially protected species, marine acoustics, inspections reports, waste management and prevention of marine pollution, and cooperation between organizations. There were also working groups on tourism and non-governmental organization activities, legal and institutional issues, and operational matters.
On 30 April-11 May, the XXX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) was held in New Delhi, India. Issues discussed at the meeting included environmental protection, tourism and non-governmental activities, scientific cooperation and facilitation, educational issues, and the International Polar Year 2007-2008. The final report of the 30th ATCM discussed issues on the agenda, measures, decisions and resolutions, as well as opening and closing remarks, reports and additional documents.
On 9 November, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Antarctica in order to highlight the effects of global climate change. Ban Ki-moon was the first United Nations Secretary-General to visit Antarctica.
On 12-23 June, the United Kingdom hosted the XXIX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) in Edinburgh. The final report focused on raising public awareness of environmental issues specific to Antarctica. In addition, several resolutions were adopted that created management plans for specially protected areas of Antarctica.
On 6-17 June, the XXVIII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in Stockholm, Sweden. After almost 13 years of negotiations, parties agreed on liability rules in the event of an environmental emergency in Antarctica. The agreement requires states that operate in the Antarctica to take measures to avoid, minimize, or contain the impact of an environmental emergency. The meeting also adopted guidelines for developing and implementing environmental monitoring programs. The guidelines present practical advice for states but are not binding on member states and guidelines for environmental impact assessments in Antarctica to achieve transparency and effectiveness in assessing environmental impacts during the planning stages of possible activities in Antarctica.
On 23 May to 4 June, the XXVII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in Cape Town, South Africa. The meeting adopted several resolutions related to environmental protection measures in Antarctica. The meeting also adopted a resolution on the establishment of an intersessional contact group to improve information exchange among states. On 1 September, the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established and based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
On 9-20 June, the XXVI Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in Madrid, Spain. The meeting adopted resolutions on the Antarctic protected area system and management plans for Antarctic specially protected areas.
On 10-20 September, the XXV Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in Warsaw, Poland. Outcomes achieved include progress on the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat and improvements to the operation and structure of treaty meetings.
On 9-20 July, the XXIV Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Parties achieved a long-awaited breakthrough with a decision to establish the first Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty System in Argentina, 40 years after the Treaty entered into force. The breakthrough came when Britain announced to the meeting that it would join the consensus.
On 11-15 September, the XII Special Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (SATCM) took place in The Hague, Netherlands. The main purpose of the meeting was to receive the report of the Third Meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP III). The informal meeting of legal experts continued its discussions on an annex or annexes to environmental liability in the Protocol. Legal experts also discussed aspects of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat.
In January, the States Parties held a so-called “Ministerial on Ice” in Antarctica. The “Ministerial-on-Ice” at Scott Base (New Zealand) and McMurdo Station (US) involved representatives from the 27 Consultative Parties. The purpose of the program on the ice intended to give participants an understanding of the global importance of Antarctica and of the significance of the achievements of the Antarctic Treaty System on the eve of the new millennium. Site visits and specialist briefings and presentations achieved this goal. One particular area of focus during the visit included: “Peace and security ― the success of the Antarctic Treaty over the past forty years.”
On 25 May-7 June, the XXII annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in Tromso, Norway. Delegates of the 27 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties, 17 Antarctic Treaty Non-Consultative Parties, and non-governmental organizations attended. This meeting provided the forum for formal discussions and negotiations in relation to the Antarctic Treaty.
In May, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Jim Bolger, announced at the XX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in Christchurch that New Zealand would offer Ministers from Antarctic Treaty countries an opportunity to visit Antarctica. The visit aimed to demonstrate the extraordinary importance of the continent and the success of the Antarctic Treaty System.
On 24 May-4 June, the XXIII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) took place in Lima, Peru. Poland, expected to host ATCM XXIV in 2000, announced that budgetary reasons would prevent it from doing so. Poland instead offered to host an ATCM in 2001. With no alternative resolved at the conclusion of the meeting, the United States, as Depository Government for the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, undertook an investigation of alternatives through diplomatic channels. Apparently, Australia, Chile, and the Netherlands each indicated that they could host a simplified ATCM in 2000. A representative of the US Department of State verified in April that an official diplomatic invitation issued by the Netherlands stated plans to hold the annual Antarctic Treaty meeting during the week of 11 September 2000.