Antarctic Treaty

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Antarctic Treaty
Date: December 1, 1959
Come into effect: June 23, 1961
Reference: Federal Law Gazette 1978 II p. 1517, 1518 in three languages
Contract type: international agreement
Legal matter: Environmental law
Signing: December 1, 1959
Ratification : .
Please note the note on the current version of the contract .

Antarctic Treaty emblem

The Antarctic Treaty is an international agreement that stipulates that uninhabited Antarctica between 60 and 90 degrees south is reserved exclusively for peaceful use, especially for scientific research . The treaty was discussed by twelve signatory states in Washington at the Antarctic Conference in 1959 and came into force in 1961. It is of great political importance because it was the first international treaty after the end of the Second World War to fix the principles of peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems.

Guiding principle

The Antarctic Treaty was supposed to tie in with the International Geophysical Year 1957/1958. During this period, various states had agreed to carry out joint research in the Antarctic.

The goals of the contract are to maintain the ecological balance in the Antarctic, to use the Antarctic for peaceful purposes, to promote international cooperation and to support scientific research. Military exercises and operations are therefore prohibited, as is the mining of mineral resources.


The Antarctic Treaty System ( Antarctic Treaty System ) is a network of international agreements on matters of Antarctica with various subsequent agreements that have been concluded on the basis of the Basic Agreement.

The treaty was signed in Washington, DC on December 1, 1959 and took effect on June 23, 1961.

Follow-up treaties to the 1959 agreement:

  • Agreed measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora ( Agreed Measures for the Conservation of the Antarctic Flora and Fauna ) 1964 - acquisition in existing contract
  • CCAS - Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Seals ( Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals ) 1972
  • CCAMLR - Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, ( Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources ) 1980
  • CRAMRA - Convention for the Regulation of the activities related to mineral resources of Antarctica ( Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities ) - This Convention was ratified by any state, so it never came into force. It was replaced three years later by the following agreement:
  • Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty ( Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty ) 1991. This Protocol entered into force in 1998.

international law

In the Antarctic Treaty, those states that have claims or reservations of claims in the Antarctic agreed to rest their territorial claims and to forego economic exploitation or military use in order to research the Antarctic together scientifically instead. The initiative for this contract came from the International Geophysical Year 1957/58.

The treaty invites all countries in the world to take part in scientific exploration of the Antarctic. A consultative contracting party with voting rights can be anyone who has acceded to the contract and continuously carries out substantial research in the Antarctic.

In the international law of the Antarctic, the law established in the Antarctic treaty system overlap with the international law of the sea , the conventions on the use of the ocean floor and space, and the conventions on environmental protection .


The "administration" of the Antarctic, which actually does not exist due to the international legal situation, is essentially taken over by two organizations. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) unites all scientific institutions worldwide with an interest in Antarctica and coordinates scientific research. SCAR was founded in 1958 during the International Geophysical Year and continues to implement the agreements made at the time.

The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) is the ' Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs ' and coordinates the activities of the authorities responsible for the national Antarctic programs .

In addition, attempts have been made since the mid-1980s to set up a secretariat for the Antarctic treaty system. The host countries of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM ) set up websites in the 1990s that make the results of the consultative meetings public. Since September 2004, that is Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (ATS Antarctic Treaty Secretariat ) in Buenos Aires established.

Executive Secretaries of the Antarctic Treaty were:

Contracting States

Contracting States
  • Consultative states with territorial claims
  • Consultative state with deferred territorial claim
  • Consultative state without territorial claims (claims neither recognized nor demanded)
  • Contracting state without voting rights
  • no contracting state
  • In the case of the contracting states in the Antarctic system, a distinction is made between consultative states and normal contracting states. To become a Consultative State, a state must conduct significant scientific research and set up a scientific station in Antarctica or send a scientific expedition . A consultative state is entitled to vote at the consultative meetings.

    The twelve states that signed the Antarctic Treaty on December 1, 1959, are consultative states. These are: Argentina , Australia , Chile , France , Great Britain , New Zealand and Norway (all of which have territorial claims in Antarctica), as well as Belgium , Japan , the Soviet Union (now Russia ) , South Africa and the United States , which have no territorial claims in the Rise in Antarctica.

    Since 1961 another 33 states have signed this treaty. 16 of these later became consultative states, but with no prospect of territorial claims. In addition to the twelve signatory states, the consultative states today include Poland ( contracting state since 1961 / consultative state since 1977), Germany (1979/1981), Brazil (1975/1983), India (1983/1983), People's Republic of China (1983/1985), and Uruguay (1980/1985), Italy (1981/1987), Sweden (1984/1988), Spain (1982/1988), Finland (1984/1989), Peru (1981/1989), South Korea (1986/1989), Ecuador ( 1987/1990), the Netherlands (1967/1990), Bulgaria (1978/1998), Ukraine (1992/2004) and the Czech Republic (1993/2014). The German Democratic Republic also signed the treaty in 1974 and became a consultative state in 1987.

    The contracting states that have been added since 1961 are Czechoslovakia (1962–1992), Denmark (1965), Romania (1971), Papua New Guinea (1981), Hungary (1984), Cuba (1984), Greece (1987) and North Korea (1987), Austria (1987), Canada (1988), Colombia (1989), Switzerland (1990), Guatemala (1991), Slovakia (1993), Turkey (1996), Venezuela (1999), Estonia (2001 ), Belarus (2006), Monaco (2008), Portugal (2010), Malaysia (2011), Pakistan (2012), Kazakhstan (2015), Mongolia (2015), Iceland (2015) and Slovenia (2019). These states are not entitled to vote at the consultative meetings.

    Consultative meetings

    So far there is only one steering body in the Antarctic treaty system, the consultative meetings (the official name is ATCM: Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings ), which took place every two years until 1991. So far (as of 2010) 28 of the 45 contracting states have consultative status, which means that they are entitled to vote at these meetings. These states express their particular interest in Antarctica through significant scientific research.

    So far, the topics of the consultative conferences have mainly focused on improving scientific cooperation, as provided for in the Antarctic Treaty, and the further institutional development of the Antarctic system. The Environmental Protection has in recent years become a major subject for which a set of rules by now over 200 recommendations and measures was created. A full list of all consultative meetings can be found on the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat website.

    The consultative meetings took place as follows:

    1. Canberra , Australia (1961)
    2. Buenos Aires , Argentina (1962)
    3. Brussels , Belgium (1964)
    4. Santiago de Chile , Chile (1966)
    5. Paris , France (1968)
    6. Tokyo , Japan (1970)
    7. Wellington , New Zealand (1972)
    8. Oslo , Norway (1975)
    9. London , Great Britain (1977)
    10. Washington, DC , USA (1979)
    11. Buenos Aires , Argentina (1981)
    1. Canberra , Australia (1983)
    2. Brussels , Belgium (1985)
    3. Rio de Janeiro , Brazil (1987)
    4. Paris , France (1989)
    5. Bonn , Germany (1991)
    6. Venice , Italy (1992)
    7. Kyoto , Japan (1994)
    8. Seoul , South Korea (1995)
    9. Utrecht , Netherlands (1996)
    10. Christchurch , New Zealand (1997)
    11. Tromsø , Norway (1998)
    1. Lima , Peru (1999)
    2. Saint Petersburg , Russia (2001)
    3. Warsaw , Poland (2002)
    4. Madrid , Spain (2003)
    5. Cape Town , South Africa (2004)
    6. Stockholm , Sweden (2005)
    7. Edinburgh , UK (2006)
    8. New Delhi , India (2007)
    9. Kiev , Ukraine (2008)
    10. Baltimore , United States (2009)
    11. Punta del Este , Uruguay (2010)
    1. Buenos Aires , Argentina (2011)
    2. Hobart , Australia (2012)
    3. Brussels , Belgium (2013)
    4. Brasília , Brazil (2014)
    5. Sofia , Bulgaria (2015)
    6. Santiago de Chile , Chile (2016)
    7. Beijing , China (2017)
    8. Buenos Aires , Argentina (2018)
    9. Prague , Czech Republic (2019)
    10. Paris , France (2021)

    In addition, there were also some special consultative conferences such as from 11th to 15th September 2000 in the Netherlands with the central theme of environmental protection.

    Territorial claims

    Antarctica: geography, claims and research stations

    Even if the Antarctic Treaty prohibits territorial claims in the Antarctic, they do exist, but they were "frozen", so to speak, when this treaty entered into force. Further territorial claims are not allowed according to the contract. Thus, the Antarctic Treaty has not finally clarified the political claims.

    Territory claims are made by Argentina , Australia , Chile , France , Great Britain , New Zealand and Norway . Some of the claimed territories overlap, while individual areas of the Antarctic remain unclaimed. Brazil has declared an area as a “zone of interest”, but without deriving any formal territorial claims from it.

    The territorial claims of the Antarctic are justified by the individual states as follows:

    • Great Britain (20 ° W to 80 ° W, 1908, overlapping with the Argentine, Brazilian and Chilean claims) bases its claims on occupations made in earlier times through research trips. So were z. B. in 1819 the South Shetland Islands by Captain Smith and in 1821 the South Orkney Islands by Powell for the United Kingdom. In addition, Great Britain has supported numerous research projects in the Graham Land region and has several year-round stations.
    • Argentina (25 ° W to 74 ° W, registered in 1943, partially overlaps with the British and Chilean claims) supports its claims on the one hand by the administrative steps in the region and on the other hand by the scientific evidence that Graham Land and the offshore islands are the direct natural continuation of South America represent. According to its own statement, Argentina is the closest neighbor to this region (although Chile is geographically closer). The territorial claims of Argentina have a name of their own: Antártida Argentina (Argentine Antarctica). The region is subordinate to the Maritime Administration of Tierra del Fuego in Ushuaia . There are several year-round stations as administrative measures.
    • Chile (53 ° W to 90 ° W, 1924, overlapping the Argentine and British claims) bases its claims on its location as the closest neighboring country and on scientific evidence that graham land is the continuation of the Andes . The Chilean territorial claim also has its own name: Territorio Chileno Antártico (Antarctic Chilean Territory) and is administratively subordinate to the Magallanes region. There are three year-round stations in the designated area that are subordinate to the army.
    • Norway (45 ° E to 20 ° W, 1939) bases its claims to possession of Peter I Island on the fact that it landed and raised its flag for the first time. In addition, Norway has precisely measured and mapped the island. The island was placed under Norwegian protection in 1929 and the formal annexation took place in 1933. The coast of Queen Maud Land was explored by Norwegian expeditions and whalers between 1927 and 1937, on January 14, 1939 Norway made a territorial claim with a Royal Proclamation on the Territory under Norwegian sovereignty in Antarctica .
    • France (142 ° E to 136 ° E, 1924) bases its claims on the fact of the discovery and occupation of 1840. It regulated the administrative annexation when these areas were placed under the governor of Madagascar in 1924 . The area claimed by France is called Terre Adélie and has been part of the French Southern and Antarctic Territories since 1955 .
    • Australia (160 ° E to 142 ° E and 136 ° E to 45 ° E, 1933) bases its claims on the fact that Australian expeditions explored these areas and that Australia is the natural neighbor of the Antarctic coast south of Australia. This territory is known as the Australian Antarctic Territory and is subordinate to the Australian federal government. The administrative measures are three year-round stations.
    • New Zealand (150 ° W to 160 ° E, 1923) justifies its claims by actively participating in the exploration of the Antarctic by Australian and British expeditions and by maintaining its own research stations. Several ports in New Zealand were the starting points for these expeditions.

    In addition to these territorial claims within the scope of the treaty, there is a further series of claims on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic islands that are not affected by the Antarctic treaty. For example, Norway claims Bouvet Island and France the Crozet Islands and Kerguelen .

    In the past, Germany has not made any claim to an area in the Antarctic. A German expedition discovered the so-called Neuschwabenland in 1938/1939 and took possession of it for the German Reich by flagging it. In 1952, however, the federal government only exercised the right to geographical naming on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany.

    South Africa, on the other hand, also made territorial claims between 1963 and 1994, but has given them up. The other contracting states of the Antarctic Treaty are interested in the Antarctic, but do not assert any territorial claims, but only use the Antarctic for research purposes, as the treaty provides.

    The United States, on the other hand, while Richard Evelyn Byrd and 1939 Lincoln Ellsworth took territorial possession on behalf of the United States in 1929 , did not have these claims confirmed by Congress. The United States government stated that it did not recognize territorial claims and that all of Antarctica was no man's land . She also demanded that Antarctica be placed under the joint administration of the United Nations .

    The former Soviet Union did not make any territorial claims, but in 1950 the government demanded involvement in territorial negotiations. She based these claims on the first discovery of parts of the Antarctic by the Baltic German, Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, in 1820.

    Antarctic Territories Not Covered by the Treaty

    Some areas geographically belonging to Antarctica or areas south of the Antarctic Convergence lie north of the 60th degree south and are therefore not covered by the treaty. They are therefore claimed as sovereign territories of different states that also exercise their sovereign rights there. Neither area has a permanent population, but some have permanently manned research stations.

    The areas are:

    Within the Antarctic Convergence there are still:

    environmental Protection

    The protection of the Antarctic with its sensitive ecosystems has become increasingly important to the Consultative States. The main focus was on the effects of mining activities . The exploitation of the raw materials of the Antarctic would require mines , industrial plants and ports. This would have negative effects on the Antarctic environment and thus on the global climate. The estimated deposits under the ice sheet in the Antarctic, which is 1.7 km thick on average, are 45 billion barrels of crude oil , 115 trillion m³ of natural gas , titanium , chromium , iron , copper , coal and the precious metals platinum and gold .

    The IV. Special Consultative Conference, commissioned in 1981 after years of discussions with the effects of a contractual regulation, ended in 1988 in Wellington ( New Zealand ) with the adoption of the text for a resource agreement (CRAMRA). This convention permitted the extraction of mineral raw materials under strict environmental protection regulations and controls in individual cases that had to be approved separately. However, since France and Australia surprisingly withdrew from this agreement in 1989, it could no longer come into force. The voices calling for a long-term ban on mining activities in the Antarctic increased. Germany joined these demands; it had not signed the CRAMRA.

    Thus in 1989 the XI. Special consultative conference commissioned with the development of a comprehensive environmental protection system. It ended with the adoption of the Environmental Protection Protocol (USP) to the Antarctic Treaty. The USP had four facilities: Environmental Impact Assessments , Protection of Antarctic Flora and Fauna, Waste Treatment and Marine Pollution Prevention . 1991 was on the XVI. Consultative conference decided on a fifth annex on Antarctic protected areas . The USP entered into force on January 14, 1998 with Annexes I, II, III and IV, since the 26 consultative states at the time had all ratified it.

    The 1991 protocol supplements the Antarctic Treaty and establishes a comprehensive environmental protection system for the 6th continent , which has added a new pillar to the previous Antarctic treaty and is exemplary for international cooperation in environmental protection. It includes material and procedural regulations for environmentally friendly behavior and contains a ban on mining activities. The provisions can only be repealed at a revision conference after 50 years.

    In addition to the ban on mining activities, the protocol contains further provisions of decisive importance for future environmental protection in the Antarctic. Human action is now set by the environmental protection principles, which emphasize the overriding ecological importance of this region for the world climate and the environmental protection interests of all mankind. Strong emphasis is placed on international cooperation, the implementation of timely and comprehensive environmental impact assessments for planned ventures, the adoption of national enforcement standards, international inspections, regulations for prevention of damage and liability for environmental damage in Antarctica.

    In Germany, the law for the implementation of the Environmental Protection Protocol of October 4, 1991 to the Antarctic Treaty (short: AntarktUmwSchProtG, also: Environmental Protection Protocol Implementation Act (AUG)) was passed. The AUG came into force on January 14, 1998 with the ratification of the USP by all Consultative States. As a result, all activities in the Antarctic that are organized in the Federal Republic of Germany or originate from its territory are subject to approval. This means that research as well as tourism or journalistic activities in Antarctica require a permit. The AUG names the Federal Environment Agency as the national approval authority.

    Legal experts from the consultative states in a working group under the German chairmanship discussed liability regulations to supplement the protocol from 1993 to 1998. The ninth meeting of the working group ended with a report to the XXII. Consultative meeting from May 26th to June 5th 1998 in Tromsø , Norway .

    At this meeting, the working group was dissolved because its mandate was considered fulfilled. Since the XXIII. Consultative conference in Lima ( Peru ) is now being negotiated on the liability annex.


    The intensive international cooperation within the framework of the International Geophysical Year 1957/1958 bore not only scientific fruits - the experiences of the joint research projects and the newly gained knowledge also had an impact in politics: While the states most active in polar research have always ensured Claiming new areas in Antarctica has now changed.

    As early as 1948, the United States proposed subordinating Antarctica to either the United Nations or an eight-state organization. At this point in time, territorial claims from New Zealand, Australia, France, Norway, Great Britain, Chile and Argentina already existed. Further claims were already foreseeable. In order to prevent the Antarctic from disintegrating into a mosaic of territorial claims and colonies , the scientists took action.

    At their suggestion, an International Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) was set up in 1959. In this non-governmental organization, scientists from more than twenty countries organized and coordinated polar research on an international level. This initiative was followed in the same year by a milestone in international politics and science : on December 1, 1959, government representatives from twelve nations signed the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty entered into force in 1961, after ratification by all of the signatory states, and was initially valid for 30 years. Since 1991 changes can be made if requested by a consultative state.

    Content of the contract

    items content
    article 1 The area may only be used peacefully; military activities and weapons testing are prohibited, but military personnel and equipment can be used for scientific research and other peaceful purposes;
    Article 2 The freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation should continue;
    Article 3 Free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the UN and other international organizations ;
    Article 4 No territorial claims are discussed or established and no new claims should be made for the duration of the contract;
    Article 5 Nuclear explosions or radioactive waste disposal are prohibited;
    Article 6 The subject of the contract is all land and ice areas south of the 60th parallel ;
    Article 7 Observers from States parties have free access, including aerial observation, to all areas, facilities and equipment; all activities and deployment of military personnel must be announced in advance;
    Article 8 Observers and scholars are subject to the jurisdiction of their own states;
    Article 9 Regular consultation meetings should take place between the contracting states;
    Article 10 The contracting states should try to prevent all activities in Antarctica that contravene the treaty;
    Article 11 Any dispute should be settled peacefully by all parties involved and, if necessary, decided by the International Court of Justice ;
    Articles 12-14 deal with the support, interpretation and amendment of the treaty between the nations involved.


    • Patrizia Vigni: The Establishment of the Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty . In: Italian Yearbook of International Law , 13, 2003, pp. 147–155.
    • Gerhard Höpp: 25 years of the Antarctic Treaty . In: Polarkurier , information document of the polar philatelists of the GDR, 1984, pp. 1–4.
    • Peter Frieß, Andreas Fickers (eds.): Dietrich Granow and Rüdiger Wolfrum talk about the Antarctic Treaty and unlawful areas (= TechnikDialog , issue 7). Deutsches Museum / Lemmens, Bonn 1997, ISBN 3-932306-04-X .

    Web links

    Individual evidence

    1. The Antarctic Treaty System (German Federal Environment Agency)
    3. Manfred Reinke
    4. Ceremony for outgoing executive secretary of the Antractic Treaty. Información para la Prensa N °: 333/17. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of the Argentine Republic, August 16, 2017, archived from the original November 16, 2017 ; Retrieved on November 15, 2017 (English): "Today, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie met in his office with the outgoing Executive Secretary of the Antarctic Treaty, Manfred Reinke, and the incoming Executive Secretary, Albert Lluberas Bonaba, who will take office on 1 September."
    5. February 5, 1979 ( Federal Law Gazette II p. 420 )
    6. ^ List of Meetings. Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty, accessed September 30, 2019 .
    7. ^ Donald Rothwell: The Polar Regions and the Development of International Law . Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1996. p. 58. ISBN 0-521-56182-5 .
    8. AUG
    9. Dietrich Granow (* 1933), son of Hans Ulrich Granow , German diplomat
    This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 10, 2005 .