The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System or 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 land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude parallel. The treaty has now been signed by 46 countries, including the now-defunct Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on that continent. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.
The main objective of the ATS is to ensure in the interests of all mankind 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 forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel per se. It avoided addressing the question of existing territorial claims asserted by some nations and not recognized by others. According to article 25, the treaty may be modified or amended in any way after having been in force for fifty years (in 2011). Such changes will have to get a 3/4 majority vote.
Other agreements - some 200 recommendations adopted at treaty consultative meetings and ratified by governments - include:
|Czech Republic (as Czechoslovakia)||1962-06-14|
claim (rests since 1945) East Germany
|New Zealand claim||1960-11-01|
|Papua New Guinea||1981-03-16|
|Russia (as Soviet Union)**||1960-11-02|
|Slovakia (as Czechoslovakia)||1962-06-14|
|United Kingdom claim*||1960-05-31|
* Claims overlap.
** Reserved the right to claim areas.
Currently, there are 46 treaty member nations: 28 consultative and 18 acceding. Consultative (voting) members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory. The 21 non-claimant nations either do not recognize the claims of others, or have not stated their positions.
The tasks of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat can be divided into the following areas:
There are 46 countries that own bases in Antarctica.
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 proceed activities, and so on.
Some U.S. laws directly apply to Antarctica. For example, the Antarctic Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. section 2401 et seq., provides civil and criminal penalties for the following activities, unless authorized by regulation or statute:
Violation of the Antarctic Conservation Act carries penalties of up to US$10,000 in fines and one year in prison. The Departments of Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, and Interior share enforcement responsibilities.
Public Law 95-541, the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, requires expeditions from the U.S. to Antarctica to notify, in advance, the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs of the State Department, which reports such plans to other nations as required by the Antarctic Treaty.
A dispute which may test the criminal jurisdiction is presently in progress as a result of the death of Australian national Dr Rodney Marks in May 2000. Dr Marks died while wintering over at the American-run Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (which is not on the geographic South Pole, but within the Ross Dependency claimed by New Zealand). Prior to autopsy, the death was attributed to natural causes by the National Science Foundation and the contractor administering the base. However, an autopsy in New Zealand revealed that Dr Marks died from methanol poisoning. The New Zealand Police launched an investigation. In 2006, frustrated by lack of progress, the Christchurch Coroner said that it was unlikely that Dr Marks ingested the methanol knowingly, although there is no certainty that he died as the direct result of the act of another person. During media interviews, the police detective in charge of the investigation criticized the National Science Foundation and contractor Raytheon for failing to co-operate with the investigation.