Antarctic Treaty


July 5, 2022

The Antarctic Treaty, signed on December 1, 1959 in Washington, D.C. in the United States and in force since June 23, 1961, regulates the relations between the signatory States with regard to Antarctica. The treaty applies to territories, including ice shelves, located south of the 60th parallel south. The original signatories (signatory countries) to the treaty were South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, United States, France, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, UK and USSR (taken over by Russia). However, any member of the United Nations or other State invited by all the signatories can join. Several States have thus acceded to the treaty since its signature.


During the International Geophysical Year, period from July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958, twelve countries interested in Antarctica carried out numerous geophysical observations by installing forty bases on the continent and twenty bases on the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands. . It very quickly became necessary to create a regulatory framework concerning the continent and the research taking place there.


The primary purpose of the treaty is to ensure in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica will continue to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and will not become the scene or the stake of international disputes. The treaty temporarily silences the signatories' territorial claims to Antarctica. In no way does the treaty signify the renunciation by any state of its rights or claims of sovereignty over the continent. Only peaceful activities are permitted in Antarctica. The treaty establishes a framework for the exchange of information, scientific personnel, observations and data concerning the activities carried out by the signatories on the continent. Any measure of a military and non-peaceful nature is prohibited. Thus, the use of bases for military purposes is prohibited. Conducting nuclear tests is prohibited, as is the “disposal” (deposition) of radioactive waste. There is an inspection system open to all parties to the treaty. Observers may visit any station or location in Antarctica (any land mass or glacial area south of 60 degrees south latitude) to verify that human activities are being conducted in accordance with the principles of the Antarctic Treaty ; however, this does not include areas of the high seas, not covered by the treaty, where states are permitted to exercise their authority under international law. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties meet annually. The meetings were biannual from 1961 to 1991, since then they have been annual. The last one took place in June 2021 in Paris, France. The next one is scheduled between May 23 and June 2, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.


From 1959 to 2019, fifty-four parties have ratified the Antarctic Treaty: the last signatory country was Slovenia on April 22, 2019. Not all of them enjoy the same status. Some are considered “Consultative Parties” and as such have the right to vote at meetings of the Consultative Parties (the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, ATCM). Others are considered as “non-consultative parties”: they do not have the right to vote at the ATCMs, but can be present there (right to speak, but no right to vote). The Group of Twenty-Nine Consultative Parties includes the twelve states that signed the Antarctic Treaty on December 1, 1959, and ratified it for entry into force on June 23, 1961. It also includes