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Antarctica - International Relations

Antarctica has been reserved for peace as a result of international cooperation stimulated in part by a 1948 US international initiative, by US leadership during the 19571958 International Geophysical Year, and by the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 by 12 nations in Washington, DC.

Seven states have asserted claims to pie-shaped sectors of Antarctica bounded by longitudinal lines: Great Britain (claim made formally in 1926), New Zealand (1923), Australia (1936), Norway (1939), Chile (1940), Argentina (no formal date), and France (1924). The initial claims were based on discovery, adjacency, or decree, and all but one of the claims extend from north of the coast to the South Pole. Three claims overlap. One sector is unclaimed.

The claims occasionally have led to conflict; on 2 February 1952 the Argentine navy fired on the British when they tried to land at Hope Bay. Conflicts over other remote areas have not been unknown, including the UK/Argentina war over the Falklands as recently as 1982. Other nations have acted to make claims, but not asserted them; for example, Germany sent an expedition for this purpose in 1938, and in 1939 Lincoln Ellsworth, heading his second Antarctic expedition (the first was a transantarctic flight in 1935), dropped from his plane a brass cylinder containing a note claiming territories for the US so far as this act allows.

Other than the claimant states, most states do not recognize Antarctic claims. US non-recognition, a cornerstone of American Antarctic policy, dates to 1924, when Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes wrote that discovery of lands unknown to civilization does not support a valid claim of sovereignty unless the discovery is followed by an actual settlement of the discovered country. In 1934 the Assistant Secretary of State added: I reserve all rights which the US or its citizens may have with respect to this matter. President Franklin D. Roosevelt reaffirmed the U. S. stance in 1939: The US has never recognized any claims of sovereignty over territory in the Antarctic regions asserted by any foreign state. In 1947 Dean Acheson, then Under Secretary of State, wrote that the US has not recognized any claims of any other nations in the area and has reserved all rights which it may have in the area.

Despite the Antarctic Treaty provision that no acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting, or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica, some signatories have taken what appear to be assertive steps. For example, both Argentina and Chile publish their claimed Antarctic sectors on their official national maps, and both have established hotels and post offices. Chile has placed whole families in residence at its Antarctic stations, with schools, banks, and other evidence of effective occupation, including the birth of a child. An Argentinian child was born at Argentinas Esperanza Station in the late 1970s.

International cooperation in the IGY stimulated the Antarctic Treaty, signed by the 12 Antarctic IGY nations at Washington, DC, in 1959 and entered into force in 1961. The treaty establishes a legal framework for the area south of 60S, which includes all of Antarctica. There are two types of Antarctic Treaty parties. Consultative nations, 26 in number by 1997, are empowered to meet periodically and to influence operation of the treaty. Acceding nations, of which there were 17 by 1997, agree to abide by the treaty, but, not being among the original signatories and not having substantial programs in Antarctica, do not participate in the consultative process.

The treaty provides that Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only; it prohibits military operations except in support of peaceful activities. It provides that freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue and that nations shall exchange program plans, personnel, observations, and results. The treaty seeks to resolve the issue of territorial claims by simply not recognizing, disputing, or establishing claims; and it prohibits assertion of new claims. It prohibits nuclear explosions and disposal of radioactive waste. It guarantees access by any treaty nation to inspect others stations and equipment.

The consultative meetings provided for by the treaty have generated a series of recommendations, most of which have been formally adopted by the treaty nations, that provide rules for operating on and around the continent.

About thirty states are conducting Antarctic research programs. The activities range from summer-only seaborne expeditions that focus on particular science questions to year-round operations that span the research disciplines relevant to the Antarctic. In 1995 there were 37 year-round stations in operation: Argentina 6, Australia 3, Brazil 1, Chile 3, China 2, France 1, Germany 1, India 1, Japan 2, South Korea 1, New Zealand 1, Poland 1, Russia 5, South Africa 1, United Kingdom 4, United States 3, and Uruguay 1. Many of these states, and other states, operated additional summer stations and camps for research field work that is feasible only in summer.

the Antarctic region is governed by a system known as the Antarctic Treaty System; the system includes: 1. the Antarctic Treaty, signed on 1 December 1959 and entered into force on 23 June 1961, which establishes the legal framework for the management of Antarctica, 2. Recommendations and Measures adopted at meetings of Antarctic Treaty countries, 3. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972), 4. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980), and 5. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991); the 38th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in Sofia, Bulgaria in May 2015; at these annual meetings, decisions are made by consensus (not by vote) of all consultative member nations; by January 2016, there were 53 treaty member nations: 29 consultative and 24 non-consultative; consultative (decision-making) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory (some claims overlap) and 21 non-claimant nations; the US and Russia have reserved the right to make claims; the US does not recognize the claims of others.

Antarctica is administered through meetings of the consultative member nations; decisions from these meetings are carried out by these member nations (with respect to their own nationals and operations) in accordance with their own national laws; the years in parentheses indicate when a consultative member-nation acceded to the Treaty and when it was accepted as a consultative member, while no date indicates the country was an original 1959 treaty signatory; claimant nations are - Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, NZ, Norway, and the UK; nonclaimant consultative nations are - Belgium, Brazil (1975/1983), Bulgaria (1978/1998), China (1983/1985), Czech Republic (1962/2017), Ecuador (1987/1990), Finland (1984/1989), Germany (1979/1981), India (1983/1983), Italy (1981/1987), Japan, South Korea (1986/1989), Netherlands (1967/1990), Peru (1981/1989), Poland (1961/1977), Russia, South Africa, Spain (1982/1988), Sweden (1984/1988), Ukraine (1992/2004), Uruguay (1980/1985), and the US; non-consultative members, with year of accession in parentheses, are - Austria (1987), Belarus (2006), Canada (1988), Colombia (1989), Cuba (1984), Denmark (1965), Estonia (2001), Greece (1987), Guatemala (1991), Hungary (1984), Iceland (2015), Kazakhstan (2015), North Korea (1987), Malaysia (2011), Monaco (2008), Mongolia (2015), Pakistan (2012), Papua New Guinea (1981), Portugal (2010), Romania (1971), Slovakia (1962/1993), Switzerland (1990), Turkey (1996), and Venezuela (1999); note - Czechoslovakia acceded to the Treaty in 1962 and separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

Article 1 - area to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose; Article 2 - freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue; Article 3 - free exchange of information and personnel, cooperation with the UN and other international agencies; Article 4 - does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims and no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force; Article 5 - prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes; Article 6 - includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south and reserves high seas rights;

Article 7 - treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all expeditions and of the introduction of military personnel must be given; Article 8 - allows for jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states; Article 9 - frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations; Article 10 - treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty; Article 11 - disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the ICJ; Articles 12, 13, 14 - deal with upholding, interpreting, and amending the treaty among involved nations.

Some 200 recommendations adopted at treaty consultative meetings and ratified by governments; a mineral resources agreement was signed in 1988 but remains unratified; the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed 4 October 1991 and entered into force 14 January 1998; this agreement provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment through six specific annexes: 1) environmental impact assessment, 2) conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, 3) waste disposal and waste management, 4) prevention of marine pollution, 5) area protection and management and 6) liability arising from environmental emergencies; it prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific research; a permanent Antarctic Treaty Secretariat was established in 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Antarctica is administered through annual meetings - known as Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings - which include consultative member nations, non-consultative member nations, observer organizations, and expert organizations; decisions from these meetings are carried out by these member nations (with respect to their own nationals and operations) in accordance with their own national laws; more generally, access to the Antarctic Treaty area, that is to all areas between 60 and 90 degrees south latitude, is subject to a number of relevant legal instruments and authorization procedures adopted by the states party to the Antarctic Treaty.

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Page last modified: 10-06-2017 18:28:32 ZULU