Antarctica is designated as a continent of peace and cooperation, but it hasn’t always been. Find out more about how the spirit of co-operation has developed and is demonstrated in Antarctica today.
Geopolitics and governance
Since 1908 seven nations have made formal claims to parts of Antarctica. During the 1940s and 1950s these competing claims led to diplomatic disputes and even armed clashes. In 1948, Argentinean military forces fired on British troops in an area claimed by both countries. The ‘scramble’ for Antarctica intensified in the 1950s. By the end of 1955 a number of countries had created over 20 bases in the Antarctic Peninsula including Argentina, Chile, Britain and the United States of America.
The Antarctic Treaty is set within the context of the Cold War, a time when the USA and the Soviet Union were involved in a standoff involving nuclear weapons. The USSR was also beginning to show interest in Antarctica and there were fears that Antarctica could become a pawn in the Cold War. Diplomats designed a treaty setting Antarctica aside as a military free zone and precluded future territorial claims. The treaty was signed by 12 nations (the original 7 with claims on Antarctica plus South Africa, Belgium, Japan, and the Soviet Union). The treaty came into affect in June 1961 and now forms the basis of all policies and management in Antarctica.