Issues Magazine

Articles about Antarctic treaty

Antarctica Without Borders

International flags fly at McMurdo Station.

The principles of the Antarctic Treaty – peace, cooperation, non-nuclearisation and free exchange of scientific results – have endured for more than 50 years. Here international flags fly at the National Science Foundation Chalet, McMurdo Station, in 2011. Credit: Dana Bergstrom

By Andrew Jackson

Arising from sovereign claims to the world’s southernmost continent, the “Antarctic Problem” was resolved to become a treaty founded on peace, cooperation, non-nuclearisation and free exchange of scientific results.

During the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1958–59, 12 countries had been active in Antarctica. Scientists had spread out around the coast, and inland, establishing stations and field camps and undertaking research in a wide range of disciplines. They ignored any borders that appeared on maps and, by mutual agreement, undertook their scientific work with a spirit of cooperation. The fact that the entire continent was without a governance regime and that there were simmering tensions with respect to differences of view over sovereign claims was conveniently ignored.