What Is The Antarctic Treaty?

The Antarctic Treaty is something that you’ve probably heard of, but how much do you really know about it? This agreement is the most successful of its kind ever to be devised and has, for more than 50 years, ensured that peace and research are the main priorities on this vast and inhospitable continent.

Peace Before Its Time

McMurdo Research Station

The treaty itself was established in 1959, but the values and agreements that it upholds were in place before this. As the 20th century enabled more and more people to set foot on what was, and to some extent still is, unknown territory, tensions started to build between the various nations that had developed a presence.

Twelve countries in total had begun research in Antarctica, nine of which proclaimed ownership over the land surrounding their scientific stations. This threatened the vital work that was underway and so a decision was made to ensure that all political and legal differences were put aside for the benefit of science. The International Geophysical Year, as the period of time between July the 1st 1957 and December the 31st 1958 became known, was a program which put research first and paved the way for the Antarctic Treaty a year later.

Encouraging Cooperation


When the treaty was signed, on the 1st of December 1959, it cemented the fact that the continent would be a place that never sees conflict and that is protected by the cooperation of all nations involved. It included signatures from all the countries with a presence in Antarctica during the IGY (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States and USSR) and made a few simple, yet imperative, statements that are still adhered to today.

The agreement forbids the use of military weapons and the testing of nuclear devices as well as ensuring that radioactive waste is not disposed on the continent. Alongside this, it also states that any signatory is free to carry out scientific research and that all findings must be made available to everybody. Finally, no party has the right to expand on its original sovereignty claims and no existent claims will be universally recognised.

A Meaty Treaty

Antarctic Research Station

The Antarctic Treaty now has 52 members, 28 of whom are consultative signatories thanks to the research they carry out or the fact that they were part of the original agreement. New countries are regularly added, with both Kazakhstan and Mongolia joining in 2015. Nowadays, the countries meet every year to discuss issues and continue to develop the treaty. A number of additional documents have been added to form the Antarctic Treaty System and topics at these meetings range from fishing regulations to imposing a ban on all mining activities. The latter resulted in a movement that is known as the Madrid Protocol and which has been in place since 1998.

Whichever way you look at it, the Antarctic Treaty is a clear example that peace can be achieved when nations cooperate. Antarctica continues to be an important place of research and the freedom of scientific activities has led to discoveries like the depletion of the ozone layer above the continent. Although similar agreements haven’t been possible in other parts of the world, the fact that Antarctica remains a ‘natural reserve devoted to peace and science’ is testament to the Treaty and the nations who have signed it.

If you would like to see this pristine landscape for yourself, we can offer a range of amazing Antarctic cruises that are sure to stir the senses. Call us today or submit an online enquiry and we will get back to you to help arrange your adventure.

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