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Antarctic Treaty

Topics Covered: Conservation related issues.

Antarctic Treaty:


23 June 2021- 60th anniversary of the entry into force of the Antarctic Treaty (23 June 1961).

Significance of the treaty:

  1. Negotiated during the middle of the Cold War by 12 countries with Antarctic interests, it remains the only example of a single treaty that governs a whole continent.
  2. It is also the foundation of a rules-based international order for a continent without a permanent population.

But, the treaty was negotiated in a very different era and is it still relevant today?

While the Antarctic Treaty has been able to successfully respond to a range of challenges, circumstances are radically different in the 2020s compared to the 1950s.

  1. Antarctica is much more accessible, partly due to technology but also climate change.
  2. More countries now have substantive interests in the continent than the original 12.
  3. Some global resources are becoming scarce, especially oil.
  4. There is also uncertainty as to China’s intentions in Antarctica. China joined the treaty in 1983 and became a consultative party in 1985.
  5. This will inevitably result in increased attention being given to the potential for Antarctic mining to take place sometime in the future.

Therefore, Calls to revisit the prohibition on Antarctic mining would seem inevitable.

About the Antarctic Treaty:

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.
  • The treaty entered into force in 1961 and currently has 54 parties.
  • Headquarters: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude.


  1. Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only(Art. I).
  2. Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end shall continue(Art. II).
  3. Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available(Art. III).
  4. Article IV effectively seeks to neutralise territorial sovereignty in Antarctica.
  5. The treaty also put a freeze on any disputes between claimants over their territories on the continent.

Antarctic Treaty System:

As disputes have arisen over the years, many have been addressed through the expansion of the treaty framework with these agreements. This framework is now referred to as the “Antarctic Treaty System”.

The Antarctic Treaty system is made up of four major international agreements:

  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.


Insta Curious: 

Do you know about India’s two operational research Stations- Maitri & Bharati in Antarctica? Read Here



Prelims Link:

  1. About Antarctic Treaty.
  2. About Antarctic Treaty System.
  3. India’s missions in Arctic and Antarctic.

Mains Link:

Discuss the objectives of Antarctic Treaty. Is it relevant still today? Discuss.

Sources: Down to Earth.