History of the Antarctic Treaty

Context: The 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting began on
May 20 in Kochi, Kerala.

Historical Background: How did the Antarctic Treaty come into

• Antarctica was first spotted by British, American, and
Russian ships in the 1820s.
• The race to reach the South Pole intensified in the early
• Captain Robert Scott (UK) and Roald Amundsen (Norway)
competed. Amundsen reached the South Pole first on
December 15, 1911.

Territorial Claims

• By the 1950s, seven countries made formal claims: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway,
and the UK. Some claims overlapped, leading to conflicts.
• The US, Soviet Union, Belgium, Japan, and South Africa explored but did not claim territory.
• Only Australia, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the UK recognized each other’s claims.
• Argentina, Chile, and the UK had conflicting claims. Between 1947 and 1955, Argentina and Chile rejected
the UK’s proposal to resolve claims at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Resolution Attempts
• Several attempts were made to create an international agreement on Antarctica. For instance, in 1956, India
requested the United Nations to include ‘the question of Antarctica’ on the agenda.
• However, the proposal failed due to opposition from Argentina and Chile and no support from the US and
Soviet Union.

India’s goals were:

• Ensure peaceful development of Antarctica’s resources.
• Demilitarise the area.
• Ban nuclear weapons testing.
• Refer future disputes to the International Court.

Major Breakthrough

• During the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year (IGY), 12 countries agreed to cooperate in scientific
research in Antarctica.
• These countries were Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, the US, the Soviet
Union, Belgium, Japan, and South Africa.
• They allowed scientific stations to be placed anywhere on the continent.

Treaty Formation

• The success of IGY led to momentum for an international agreement. On May 2, 1958, the US proposed a
treaty to preserve Antarctica for scientific research and peaceful purposes.
• The Antarctic Treaty was signed by all 12 IGY participants and came into force in 1961.

Current Status

• 56 countries are now part of the treaty.
• 29 countries, including the 12 original signatories, are Consultative Parties.
• India joined the treaty in 1983 and is a Consultative Party.

Reasons Behind the Treaty’s Success

• The treaty strikes a balance between specificity and vagueness.
• It promotes compromise rather than conflict.
• It gives a sense of exclusivity to consultative parties but invites all nations to join.
• The treaty has evolved to address new challenges over time. For example, issues such as marine
conservation, prohibition of mining, and environmental protection.

Challenges Ahead

• Climate change has caused record-high temperatures, and ice coverage has hit its lowest levels.
• Increase in tourism-related activities.

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