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The Antarctic Treaty is turning 60


The 1959 Antarctic Treaty celebrates its 60th anniversary on June 23rd 2021.


GS-II: International Relations (Important International Treaties, Important International Groupings and Agreements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Antarctic Treaty System
  2. About the Antarctic Treaty
  3. About the claims on Antarctica and the principle of the treaty
  4. India’s programmes in Antarctica

Antarctic Treaty System

  • 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 entered into force in 1961 and currently has 54 parties.
  • The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation, and bans military activity on the continent.
  • The treaty was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.
  • 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 54 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings, though the other 25 are still allowed to attend.
  • Major International Agreements of the Treaty System:
    1. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty.
    2. The 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.
    3. The 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
    4. The 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

About the Antarctic Treaty

  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed between 12 countries in Washington on 1st December 1959 for making the Antarctic Continent a demilitarized zone to be preserved for scientific research only.
  • The twelve original signatories are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the UK and the US.
  • Major Provisions of the Antarctic Treaty:
  • Promoting the freedom of scientific research.
  • Countries can use the continent only for peaceful purposes.
  • Prohibition of military activities, nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste.
  • Neutralising territorial sovereignty, this means a limit was placed on making any new claim or enlargement of an existing claim.
  • It put a freeze on any disputes between claimants over their territories on the continent.

How the treaty has expanded in its 60 years?

  • Though the compact has held for 60 years, there have been tensions from time to time. Argentina and the UK, for instance, have overlapping claims to territory on the continent. When combined with their ongoing dispute over the nearby Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, their Antarctic relationship remains frosty.
  • A key reason why the treaty has been able to survive has been its ability to evolve through a number of additional conventions and other legal protocols. These have dealt with the conservation of marine living resources, prohibitions on mining, and the adoption of comprehensive environmental protection mechanisms.
  • Membership of the treaty has grown in the intervening years, with 54 signatories today.
  • Building, operating and conducting scientific research programs are key to the success not only of the treaty, but also to the claimants’ credibility in Antarctica.

About the claims on Antarctica and the principle of the treaty

  • Antarctica currently has no permanent population and therefore it has no citizenship nor government.
  • Personnel present on Antarctica at any time are almost always 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.
  • 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.

India’s programmes in Antarctica

  • Indian Antarctic Programme: The Indian Antarctic Programme is a scientific research and exploration program under the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCPOR) that started in 1981 when the first Indian expedition to Antarctica was made.
  • Dakshin Gangotri: Dakshin Gangotri was the first Indian scientific research base station established in Antarctica, as a part of the Indian Antarctic Program. However, now it has weakened and become just a supply base.
  • Maitri: Maitri is India’s second permanent research station in Antarctica. It was built and finished in 1989 and is situated on the rocky mountainous region called Schirmacher Oasis.
  • Bharti: Bharti, India’s latest research station operation since 2012. It has been constructed to help researchers work in safety despite the harsh weather and it is India’s first committed research facility and is located about 3000 km east of Maitri.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

April 2024