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What is the Antarctic Treaty?

The Antarctic Treaty was a treaty signed on December 1, 1959, during the Cold War by 12 countries that had vested interests in Antarctica. Those 12 countries were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. It entered into force in 1961.

The treaty provides a framework for international relations concerning Antarctica. It regulates an entire continent with no local population.

To read about India’s and its International Relations, IAS aspirants can visit the linked article.

Aspirants can cover the topics mentioned in the UPSC Syllabus by following the below-mentioned links:

Overview of Antarctic Treaty

The article aims to define the Antarctic Treaty and other relevant information related to it, such as the year it was signed, the 12 original countries that initially signed it, its expansion, function, purpose. It also shines a light on the issue of mining surrounding the continent as natural resources like oil deplete increasingly.

It also briefly explains the Antarctic Treaty within the context of India, when India got involved, and what research investigations the country is focusing on. And lastly, it also covers the relevance of this topic in UPSC Prelims as well as Mains, and how extensively these topics are asked in UPSC Exam and IAS Exam.

Relevance in UPSC Prelims/Mains

Antarctic Treaty UPSC is a topic that UPSC aspirants will have to study to answer questions from GS Paper 2 that covers both Foreign Relations and International Affairs. The Prelims stage of UPSC consists of two papers. Both papers are of objective level.

The Mains stage of UPSC consists of a total of 9 papers, out of which 7 papers are counted for the final ranking. Aspirants will find questions related to Antarctic Treaty in Paper 3; General Studies 2 (GS-2): International Relations. The IAS Mains, given by students who qualified Prelims, contains subjective-type questions.

The most widely asked questions are the impact of climate change on Antarctica. International Relations is an important topic students must prepare as it pertains to the Antarctic Treaty.

Current Issue

The Antarctic Treaty has proven to be extremely effective in the face of a variety of problems. More countries are showing interest in scientific projects in Antarctica. At present, 54 countries have become parties to the treaty. The reason for this is the wide access to ever-evolving technology as well as climate change.

There are now more countries that have laid claim to substantial stakes in the region. The possibility of mining has been a huge debate in recent years. Although mining activities are banned in the region, countries will look to lift the ban in the near future as vital resources like oil begin to deplete more.

Context with India

India became a party to the treaty in 1983. Since then, India has shown an increased interest in the ecological, geographical, geological, and biodiversity of the region. India has also established various research facilities to investigate these fields.

Dakshin Gangotri was India’s first scientific research base station in Antarctica as part of the program. Antarctica has immense scientific value to Indian research as it pertains to global warming. India continues to contribute to the scientific advancement in the region by drilling holes into the cold ice sheets of Antarctica on a regular basis.

Given below are a few other IAS Syllabus related links for UPSC CSE preparation:

Nuclear Arms Control

India’s Nuclear Doctrine

Non-Proliferation Treaty

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Reactor

List of Nuclear Power Plants in India

Purpose of Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 was written to ensure that Antarctica remained free of any international sovereignty or dispute by permitting its use strictly for humanitarian purposes only. The treaty states that Antarctica should be used only for the benefit of mankind. The main stipulations of this treaty were the ban of military activities and intervention, nuclear trials, and the disposal of radioactive waste. The treaty, however, favours scientific investigations and data exchange as long as they are conducted without violating any rules based on international order concerning Antarctica. All territorial claims or sovereignty are suspended. Though signed in 1959, the treaty came into effect on 23rd June 1961.

Antarctic Treaty System

The Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) is the governing body that regulates international relations concerning Antarctica, the only continent without any human population in the world. The treaty designated Antarctica as a haven of scientific research with complete scientific autonomy and no military intervention. All human activities within the continent are regulated through this treaty to ensure safe and environmentally friendly visits by travellers.

The treaty applies to areas south of 60 degrees south latitude, including land and ice shelves.


The Antarctic Treaty was a paradigm shift and a significant step towards international relations concerning Antarctica, the continent with no human population. The treaty ensures that Antarctica remains free of territorial claim or sovereignty to minimise conflicts or disputes between nations. The treaty also ensured that the continent was demilitarised, and provisions were made for joint research and potential use.

The ban on nuclear testing and dumping of radioactive wastes set a beautiful precedent for environmentally friendly practices. Nations are encouraged to display prudence and cooperation to prevent conflict from escalating.

Other Related Links

Science & Technology Notes For UPSC

UPSC Prelims 2022 – Science & Technology Questions

Science and Technology Questions & Answers for UPSC

Science & Technology Questions in UPSC Mains GS-3

Topic-Wise GS 3 Questions for UPSC Mains

UPSC Mains GS 3 Strategy, Structure & Syllabus


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