Introduction in 'Antarctic in International Law'
ANTARCTIC IN INTERNATIONAL LAW, B. Saul & T. Stephens, eds., Hart Publishing, 2015
20 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2014 Last revised: 2 Apr 2015
Date Written: March 2, 2014
Since its establishment in 1959 the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) has defused the risks of sovereign competition which arose from the early era of exploration in Antarctica, and were later brought to a head in the early years of the Cold War. On the whole it has produced a peaceful, stable, effective and widely accepted regime for cooperation on a range of scientific, environmental, and related issues. Rising powers, such as China (which joined in 1983), have been brought into the system. The ATS has proven sufficiently flexible to accommodate new challenges and risks, even as the number of state parties has expanded, thus making consensus on many issues more difficult to achieve. It has also seen off challenges to its normative and institutional authority in the United Nations General Assembly. There is nonetheless ongoing speculation about the future of the Antarctic regime, including rising concerns about security risks. So far there is no serious evidence that tensions arising from these issues threaten to unravel the half-century consensus on the Antarctic regime. To the contrary, the growing number of states participating in the ATS is testament to its vitality. In the long term, the persisting uncertainty about the final status of sovereign territorial, maritime and continental shelf claims will present the greatest challenge to Antarctic stability. The ATS embodies an uneasy truce and cannot indefinitely defer disputes over sovereign title (and thus sovereign rights to exploit Antarctica’s riches). The time will come when it may be necessary to reconsider sovereign claims and to desire an alternative legal architecture for securing Antarctica’s future. This essay provides an overview of the ATS from its inception to the present, and introduces a collection of key primary legal materials, hard and soft, which sustain the ATS and are reproduced in the book which the essay introduces.
Keywords: Antarctica, Antarctic Treaty, Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, continental shelf, sovereignty
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation