Countries whose scientists had been conducting research in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58 formed the Arctic Treaty. It was signed by over a dozen countries in Washington on the 1st of December in 1959.The treaty became active in the year 1961. Now, there are over 50 countries part of this agreement. The Antarctic Treaty is a global organization with many more countries participating, since its original formation.
Among the signatories of the original treaty were seven countries. Those were Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. These countries do not make any territorial claims in Antarctica. The treaty states clear objectives such as:
- Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only.
- Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end… shall continue.
- Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available.
The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), regulate international relations regarding Antarctica, Earth’s only continent without a known native human population.The Antarctica Treaty was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War, setting aside the continent as a scientific preserve, establishing freedom of scientific investigation, and banning military activity in Antarctica and surrounding regions.
The danger of the Cold War spreading to that continent, caused the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to convene an Antarctic Conference to the twelve countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year, to sign a treaty. In the first phase, representatives of the twelve nations met in Washington, who met in 60 sessions from June 1958 to October 1959, to define the basic negotiating framework.
Antarctica is not a country: it has no government and no indigenous population. Instead, the entire continent is set aside as a scientific preserve. The Antarctic Treaty System is the whole complex of arrangements made for the purpose of regulating relations among states in the Antarctic. At its heart is the Antarctic Treaty itself. The Consultative Parties comprise the original Parties and other States that have become Consultative Parties by acceding to the Treaty and demonstrating their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there.
The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) is now held annually. During each ATCM, there is also a meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP). The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) is an Observer at ATCMs and CEPs, and provides independent and objective scientific advice in a variety of fields, particularly on environmental and conservation matters.