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Science, People & Politics, issue 1 (Jan.- Mar.), IV (2013). Page 1

Antarctica and the South Atlantic, 1945 to 1957:
a British view from before the Antarctic Treaty System.

By Helen Gavaghan* *

"No two histories would agree on what should be included in a Companion to British History, nor perhaps is it desirable that they should do so."

John Cannon, until 1992 professor of Modern History at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, writing in the preface to The Companion to British History, p vii. First edition 1997. Oxford.

"The Governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America [12 countries],

"Recognizing that it is in the interest of all Mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord;


"Have agreed as follows:

"1. Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only. ...

"1. Nothing contained in the present Treaty shall be interpreted as:
"(a) a reunciation by any Contracting Party of any basis of previously asserted rights or of claims of territorial sovereignty in Antarctica ...

"1. Any nuclear explosion in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material shall be prohibited.

"2. In the event of the conclusion of international agreements concerning the use of nuclear energy, including nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste material, to which all the Contracting Parties whose representatives are entitled to participate in the meetings provided for under Article IX are parties, the rules established under such agreements shall apply in Antarctica.

"The provisions of the present Treaty shall apply to the area south of 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves, but nothing in the present Treaty shall prejudice or in any way affect the rights, or the exercise of the rights, of any State under international law with regard to the high seas within that area.

"3. Instruments of ratification and instruments of accession shall be deposited with the Government of the United States of America, hereby designated as the depositary Government.
"6. ...registered by the depositary Government pursuant to Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations.

"...shall be deposited in the archives of the Government of the United States of America, ..."
Extracts from the Antarctic Treaty.

THE ANTARCTIC TREATY WAS SIGNED in Washington DC on 1st December, 1959, and registered by the US with the United Nations on 4th August 1961, following ratification by the participant signators1.

In the opening quote of this article I strip out Articles and clauses specific to science and political science. What is left are the principles giving legal shape to the Antarctic Treaty, and it is that exposed outline which, I argue, is the most telling exegesis of the Treaty framers' insight, forethought and intent. It is a framework with potential - as good law must have - to recloth itself in new science and political science, in the present, and in future times.

I have omitted also from the opening quote that the ultimate juridical body for dispute resolution within the Antarctic Treaty is the International Court of Justice in The Hague. I did so because lack of compunction within the Treaty to apply to the I.C.J. is, arguably, more telling of the Treaty creators' finally agreed consensual intent than is the existence of the option to seek resolution in The Hague. The framers of the Treaty place the burden of responsibility for dispute resolution on the disputants, who are enjoined to select whichever peaceful means are effective, be it negotiation, inquiry, conciliation, mediation, arbitration or judicial settlement. An administrative trip to The Hague is an option if all Parties agree, not a necessary final sanction, but failure to agree to go to The Hague does not excuse participants from striving to reach agreement.

Article XII of the Treaty gave options for reviewing the original Treaty thirty years after coming into effect. The date fell in 1991.

The Treaty's main achievement, in the context of its day, was to place on ice a well known territorial dispute involving Britain, Chile and Argentina, over land claims in Antarctica. That science, in the shape of the International Geophysical year (I.G.Y.) of 1957-1958, was recruited politically to exemplify how Antarctica could be a peace resource to benefit all Mankind is accepted by historians and political scientists of the I.G.Y. and of Antarctica2.

But there was a bigger picture within which nations negotiated the Antarctic Treaty; a history of seismic, hegemonical shifts, de-colonialisation, global post-war reconstruction, and the creation of a new political World order.

Let's travel back to the pre-Treaty years of 1945 to 1957, and relationships among Chile, Argentina and Britain.

1. The Antarctic Treaty. The url address is to a copy stored in the United Nations' Library.
Accessed 20th February, 2013.

2. Korsmo. F (2007). The International Geophysical Year of 1957 to 1958, issue 1, volume ii, Volume I, 01. 01., 2007. Science, People & Politics.
Other scholars than Dr. Korsmo have, over the years, explored or commented on the political science of the IGY. These will be referenced on page 12, part two of this article. Reference 2 was added by the author on 15th June, 2013. It was an oversight that the reference was not included when the article was initially published. Editor.


*This article was line edited by deputy editor, Martin Redfern. HG.

Science, People & Politics issn:1751-598x (online) and Helen Gavaghan©.