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International Cooperation



The Antarctic Treaty, signed at Washington, D.C., in 1959 and entered into force in 1961, establishes a legal framework for the area south of 60°S, which includes all of Antarctica. There are two types of Antarctic Treaty parties. Consultative nations are empowered to meet yearly and to influence operation of the treaty. Acceding nations agree to abide by the treaty, but, not being among the original signatories and not having substantial programs in Antarctica, do not participate in the consultative process.

The Treaty provides that Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only; it prohibits military operations except in support of peaceful activities. It provides that freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation shall continue and that nations shall exchange program plans, personnel, observations, and results. The Treaty does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims, and it prohibits assertion of new claims. It prohibits nuclear explosions and disposal of radioactive waste. It guarantees access by any treaty nation to inspect others' stations and equipment.

The consultative meetings provided for by the Treaty have contributed recommendations, most of which have been formally adopted by the treaty nations, that provide rules for operating on the continent. One of the most significant is the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, ratified by the United States as Public Law 95-541, the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978. Other significant advances have included the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. A 1991 Antarctic Treaty meeting adopted a protocol for improved environmental protection that also prohibits mining.


Although the treaty provides for policy formulation on a range of issues regarding Antarctica, the government offices in the Antarctic Treaty nations that operate field programs in Antarctica have established a Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) to facilitate working level decision making and information exchange. Issues discussed at this level include, for example, decisions regarding the exchange of personnel and cooperation in research and logistics. For the United States, the Director of the Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation, is the COMNAP representative.


SCAR is a committee of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), a nongovernmental organization. As stated in its constitution, SCAR is "charged with furthering the coordination of scientific activity in Antarctica, with a view to framing a scientific program of circumpolar scope and significance." Membership consists of a representative from each country engaged in Antarctic research, representatives of other ICSU organizations as appropriate, and the World Meteorological Organization. Other international organizations may designate observers to attend meetings of SCAR. For the United States, the national committee adhering to SCAR is the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

SCAR meets every 2 years in a SCAR country to consider various scientific and logistics objectives and accomplishments. It also sponsors or associates with major symposia on Antarctic subjects. Sometimes SCAR establishes working groups to develop information or reports in response to Antarctic Treaty recommendations.


Within the context of the Antarctic Treaty, extensive international cooperation takes place in Antarctica to more effectively accomplish both science projects and logistics. Some examples are exchanges of personnel among stations, cooperative planning and execution of large scale science projects such as deep rock core drilling and glaciological exploration, and the exchange or shared use of logistics assets such as ships and aircraft. The United States has pursued cooperative projects with every Antarctic Treaty consultative nation.