How Does the Law Work in Antarctica?
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The Law of Antarctica
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To say that Antarctica has "laws" is really a mischaracterization. In fact, Antarctica has no government and no country owns it. As previously mentioned, 7 countries have placed territorial claims on Antarctica, but most countries including the United States and Russia do not recognize such claims. Because no country technically owns Antarctica, Antarctica is not a sovereign. This means no government controls Antarctica. Therefore, Antarctica is more like a “no-mans-land” from a traditional legal perspective.

While there are no "laws" as we traditionally know them, there is a treaty and many international agreements in place between the cooperating nations of Antarctica. In reality, the international scientific community governs Antarctica because those are the people who work and operate on the continent. However, this cooperation would likely have not been possible without the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which created the foundation for how everything operates today.

Lets explore the Antarctic Treaty and the countries that abide by it.

The Antarctic Treaty

The first official treaty signed between any countries concerning Antarctica is the "Antarctic Treaty" of 1959. The following 12 countries signed the Treaty: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The Antarctic Treaty set the foundation for how affairs are conducted in Antarctica today. It suspended all territorial claims made on the continent. It defined all signatory countries of the Antarctic Treaty as "consultative members." The Treaty defines consultative members as those nations that have voting rights in making agreements about Antarctic. Countries that have signed the Treaty but have no voting rights are referred to as "acceding members." At the end of 2007, there were 46 treaty member nations comprised of 28 consultative member nations and 18 acceding member nations.

The 28 consultative member nations (i.e. voting member nations) are as follows (the 7 countries in italics are also claimant nations): Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Uruguay, the UK, the United States, and Russia.

The 18 acceding (i.e. non-voting members) nations include: Austria, Belarus, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, and Venezuela.

Next, let’s explore the 12 articles of the Antarctic Treaty in more detail to better understand the Treaty.