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Most notably, the Antarctic Treaty calls for the peaceful uses of the 'area south of 60° south latitude' 1959 Antarctic Treaty, Article VI while promoting scientific cooperation and discovery between states with conflicting claims to the territory. In addition, it served as a model to settle international disputes preemptively, before arms were introduced to Antarctica, making the treaty fit better under the definition of a conflict-avoidance mechanism rather than a disarmament treaty. B.P. Abbink, ‘Origins of the Antarctic Treaty System’, in Antarctic Policymaking and Science in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (1957-1990), Barkhuis, 2009, p 21.
The turn of the 20th century saw an increase in territorial claims to Antarctica from a range of states. The United Kingdom claimed imperial interests on the continent, while states like Argentina and Chile argued for geographical and historical privileges. B.P. Abbink, ‘Origins of the Antarctic Treaty System’, in Antarctic Policymaking and Science in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (1957-1990), Barkhuis, 2009, p 22. US Secretary of State Charles Hughes announced in 1924 that the only valid claim to Antarctica would be solidified via occupation. E. Glasberg, 'Antarctica as a Cultural Critique: The Gendered Politics of Scientific Exploration & Climate Change', Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. This colonial attitude is illustrated in a 1939 edition of The Science Newsletter published by the Society for Science and the Public:
'Housewives will appreciate the problem of the U.S. Antarctic Expedition setting sail for the other end of the earth: Shopping for supplies for more than a year for two little communities, two base camps, plus exploring parties on the trail—1200 tons of everything well-ordered pioneering households will need, including the houses. 'Scientists Shop and Pack for Year in Antarctic' , 36 The Science News Letter 20 (1939) 310.
This trend towards occupation mixed with American naval strength led to the US to dominate Antarctic claims in the 1940s. In 1946, Admiral Richard Byrd launched Operation Highjump, which 'dwarfed the scope of all previous Antarctic expeditions' and included 'more than 4,700 men, 13 ships, and 9 aircraft.' B.P. Abbink, ‘Origins of the Antarctic Treaty System’, in Antarctic Policymaking and Science in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (1957-1990), Barkhuis, 2009, p 25.
The Soviet Union did not threaten the American—and therefore Western—hold on Antarctica until the 1950s. A 19th century Russian explorer named Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, the first to 'discover land within the Antarctic circle', R.T. Gould, 'Reviewed Work: The Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Antarctic Seas 1819-1821 byFabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, Frank Debenham' 63 The English Historical Review 247 (1948) 246. gave the Soviets a historical claim to the land at a time when Cold War tensions were heating up. In 1955, the Soviet Union announced plans for an Antarctic expedition, the first since von Bellingshausen’s, during the upcoming International Geophysical Year of 1957 to 1958.
In 1954, the American Association for the Advancement of Science described the genesis of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), saying, 'Meeting at Brussels in 1950, the Mixed Commission on Ionosphere recommended to its sponsoring unions that a Third International Year be held in 1957-58 to coincide with the eminent peak of the solar cycle and the 25th anniversary of the Second International Polar Year.' L.V. Berkner, 'International Scientific Action: The International Geophysical Year 1957-58', 119 Science 3096 (1954) 572.
In a fragile and complex diplomatic environment, science provided a rational commonality, a motive to cooperate beyond state lines in the name of discovery. The year of 1957 to 1958 was not some politically contrived timetable. It was a time that scientists knew Earth would be riddled in geophysical anomalies, which, if studied, could push work in multiple scientific specialties forward.
At the same time that scientists were proving that states could work effectively together in the name of science, the IGY was posing complications for international relations. Scientifically, the IGY relied heavily on research within Antarctica for fields like oceanography and glaciology. J. Kaplan, 'The Scientific Program of the International Geophysical Year', 40 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, (1954) 927-928. The Soviet Union was not going to keep itself out of this research, and it was then that the Soviets first established their presence in Antarctica. B.P. Abbink, ‘Origins of the Antarctic Treaty System’, in Antarctic Policymaking and Science in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (1957-1990), Barkhuis, 2009, p 32.
The Antarctic Treaty grew out of both hope and fear: hope in the cooperation demonstrated during the International Geographic Year (IGY) and the fear of an inevitable arms build up in the region between the United States and the Soviet Union directly caused by the IGY.
The preamble frames the treaty within the values of the IGY and future uses of Antarctica, declaring that this treaty was created on a 'basis of freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica as applied during the International Geophysical Year [that] accords with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind.'
Article I sets concrete assurances of the land being used for peaceful purposes; Article II ensures the rights of nations to conduct scientific investigations on the land; and Article IV strictly prohibits nuclear explosions to be conducted or nuclear waste to be stored on the land.
Furthermore, the treaty should be hailed for its confidence and transparency building measures (CTBMs). Article III lays out provisions for the exchange of both plans and results of scientific research in Antarctica. Article VII sets forth guidelines for inspection, observation, and 'complete freedom of access at any time to any or all areas of Antarctica' for the parties to the treaty.
Following the twelve original signatories of 1959 mentioned in the introduction, 41 other countries have been added. Out of the 53 parties to the treaty, twenty-nine enjoy consultative status while twenty-four can attend conventions without the right to participate in decision-making. 'Parties', Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.
The Antarctic Treaty set a precedent for nuclear free zones, starting with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1971 Seabed Treaty. These treaties can also be categorized as conflict-avoidance mechanisms. Nevertheless, they would be used as inspiration to conduct true disarmament in inhabited areas facing violence, such as the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco and the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga respectively. F. Barnaby, 'The First of Five Nuclear Weapon Free Zones', Springer on behalf of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, (1989) 90. So, it could be argued that the Antarctic Treaty was a factor in ensuring Latin America never saw the creation of a nuclear weapon.
Last updated on: 15 August 2017