Today In History: 23 June 1961 Antarctic Treaty Comes into Force


On 23 June 1961, the Antartic Treaty entered into force. It was the first international treaty to ban nuclear testing, amongst other military activities, within a specified region. The Antarctic Treaty holds the distinction of being the first international treaty established during the Cold War that included substantial arms control provisions.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by 12 nations active in Antarctica during the 1957–58 International Geophysical Year (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States and USSR) to establish Antarctica as a region of peace and cooperation.

The Antarctic Treaty - British Antarctic Survey
Flags of the Antarctic Treaty Nations Photo: British Antarctic Survey

The Antarctic Treaty’s main aims are to demilitarize the continent, to promote international scientific cooperation and to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty. The Protocol on Environment Protection to the Antarctic Treaty designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” and bans the exploitation of oil and natural gas fields found in the Ross Sea. The Treaty applies to the area south of 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves and islands. The Antarctic Treaty is a unique example of international cooperation. Its main focus is to ensure that Antarctica is used for peaceful purposes only.

As of June 2012, 48 States had joined the Antarctic Treaty. Any United Nations Member State can join the Antarctic Treaty by adhering to its provisions.
The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth’s only continent without a native human population.

The Treaty covers the area south of 60°S latitude. Its objectives are simple yet unique in international relations. They are:

  • to demilitarise Antarctica;
  • to establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste;
  • to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;
  • to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica; and
  • to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

The Treaty remains in force indefinitely. Forty-seven countries have acceded to it. Consultative (voting) status is open to all countries who have demonstrated their commitment to the Antarctic by conducting significant research. Twenty-eight nations, including New Zealand, have Consultative status. The Treaty parties meet each year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

The Antarctic Treaty System comprises the Treaty, its Protocol on Environmental Protection (1991), the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980) and all the measures, resolutions and decisions adopted annually by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

Sources: NZ History, Department of conservation Te Papa Atawbai, Wikipedia