About the Treaty

In this section, you will discover the Antarctic Treaty and its 54 States Parties.

  • Key dates
  • Some important provisions of the Treaty
  • The Madrid Protocol : a protective framework for the Antarctic environment

About the Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty (PDF, 55 Ko) was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by twelve States whose scientists had been active in the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958).

It entered into force on 23 June 1961. In 2020, the total number of Parties to the Treaty is 54:  29 Consultative Parties, which may take part in decision-making (Article IX.2 of the Antarctic Treaty gives them this status because of the importance of their scientific research activities in Antarctica) and 25 Non-Consultative Parties.

The main dates of the Antarctic Treaty

Logo of the International Geophysical Year (AGI)

Key dates

  • International Geophysical Year (IGY). Its success, amid the Cold War, made it possible to hold the Washington Conference during which the Antarctic Treaty was negotiated.

  • Signature of the Antarctic Treaty in Washington.

  • Adoption of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.

  • Adoption of the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR)

  • Adoption of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, known as the Madrid Protocol.

Some important provisions of the Antarctic Treaty

Adelie penguins @Cyril Gallut

The provisions of the Antarctic Treaty apply to the area south of the 60° South Latitude. The Treaty sets forth four principles:

  • “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only.” The Treaty expressly prohibits the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military maneuvers, as well as the testing of any type of weapons (Article I);
  • Any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material shall be prohibited (Article V);
  • Freedom of scientific investigation and promotion of international scientific cooperation in Antarctica. The Treaty promotes the exchange of scientific personnel between expeditions and stations and sets forth the principle of freely available results of investigations (Articles II and III);
  • Establishment of a status quo regarding territorial claims on all or a part of the continent (Article IV).
  • It is important to point out that to promote the objectives and ensure compliance of its provision, the Treaty provides that “All areas of Antarctica, including all stations, installations and equipment within those areas (...) shall be open at all times to inspection” (Article VII).
Seal @Francoise Amelineau

The Madrid Protocol

Signed on 4 October 1991, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (also known as the Madrid Protocol) entered into force on 14 January 1998.

It supplements the Treaty designating Antarctica as a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science”.

This text sets forth the principle that activities in Antarctica must be conducted so as “to limit adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems” (Article 3). Procedures implemented to apply this principle are strict. The Protocol provides that any human activity which could affect the environment shall be subject to prior impact assessments – which are de facto authorizations to enter the Antarctic Treaty area (Article 8). The Madrid Protocol (PDF, 113 Ko) prohibits “any activity relating to mineral resources” (Article 7).

Emperor penguins @Francoise Amelineau

A protective environment

Le dispositif international construit depuis 1959 pour protéger l’Antarctique fait preuve, depuis cette date, d’une grande efficacité :

The international system established since 1959 to protect Antarctica has proven to be very effective.

The Treaty and the Madrid Protocol as well as the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (PDF, 151 Ko) and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) (PDF, 97 Ko) have organized international cooperation of unparalleled scale in the world, which has made its environment into a sanctuary, almost completely stopped illicit fishing, and created an international legal framework strictly framing activities conducted in the region.