In an earlier article (Arctic Oil and the Law of the Seize) I mentioned that some such as Scott Borgerson, who teaches maritime studies at the US Coast Guard Academy and is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, are looking to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 as a model to prevent an Arctic race for oil by avoiding the provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention which the USA has not signed. Since the Antarctic Treaty is bedside reading for only a few, it is useful to look at its provisions and to see if it can be a useful precedent.(1)
The Antarctic Treaty was drafted largely as a way to avoid a clash of sovereignty among seven states, some of whose claims to territory in
It is believed that the Antarctic continent once existed in close juxtaposition with
The success of the 1958 International Geophyical Year encouraged hopes of making the spirit of scientific co-operation more permanent, leading to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty among twelve states – those with sovereignty claims and five additional states which had participated in the expeditions of the Geophysical Year.
The Treaty has four notable components. First, it established the world’s first nuclear-free zone, preventing the placing of nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. The Treaty did not rule out the civilian use of nuclear energy, and so the
Second, the Antarctic Treaty has frozen land claims, such as those of the
Third, the Treaty guaranteed international co-operation in scientific investigation. There is an exchange of information regarding scientific programs, as well as co-operation among scientific personnel.
Finally, there is a strong international mechanism to supervise the implementation of the Treaty. This international mechanism also contains an obligation among the nations concerned to settle their disputes peacefully by negotiation and inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or other peaceful means of their own choice.
The Treaty has worked well. While political disputes come and go, the challenges of science remain. In the mid-1970s during the negotiation on the Law of the Sea Convention,
Concerning the North Pole, the Arctic states – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the USA – participate in an intergovernmental body, the Arctic Council concerned largely with environmental questions. Could the Arctic Council serve as a focus for drafting a wider treaty among these states to deal with sovereignty claims, shipping lanes, the development of oil and mineral resources, and the welfare of nearly one million indigenous peoples living within the Arctic Circle? This is one of the questions facing the international community. The quality of the answers given will have to concern more than international lawyers.
Rene Wadlow is the Editor of http://www.transnational-perspectives.org/ and an NGO representative to the United Nations, Geneva.
1) For those who would like to study it at length, see Emilio Sahurie The International Law of Antarctica( Dordrecht, NL: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1991, 612pp.)