The Antarctic Treaty at Sixty Years: Past, Present and Future

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 Last revised: 7 Jun 2021

Date Written: August 15, 2019


The Antarctic Treaty, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2019, remains as a unique example of an international law instrument that seeks to provide a governance mechanism for a single continent. Both Japan and Australia were original parties to the Antarctic Treaty and have been strong supporters of the Treaty throughout its lifetime. However, in 2019 questions are starting to be raised as to whether a treaty negotiated in 1959 is capable of continuing to provide an appropriate governance framework for Antarctica. These questions relate to the role of the seven Antarctic claimant States, the role of historically prominent non-claimant States such as the United States and the Russian Federation, and the interests of powerful ‘new’ States that are beginning to express a strong interest in polar affairs such as China. This paper assesses whether the Antarctic Treaty is sufficiently robust to address the challenges that confront Antarctic governance in 2019 and into the future. Particular attention will be given to whether it remains possible for Treaty parties to request an Article XII ‘Review Conference’, and also the 1991 Madrid Protocol Article 25 review mechanisms.

Keywords: International Law, Treaties, Antarctic Treaty System

Suggested Citation

Rothwell, Donald R., The Antarctic Treaty at Sixty Years: Past, Present and Future (August 15, 2019). ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 19.16, Available at SSRN: or

Donald R. Rothwell (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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