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Post at: Aug 13 2021

60th Anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty

Recent Context

  • On June 23, 2021, the 1959 Antarctic Treaty has celebrated its 60th anniversary.
  • This treaty is the only example of a single treaty that governs a whole continent.

The Antarctic Treaty

  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve countries, whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58.
  • The twelve original signatories were – Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • The treaty entered into force in 1961.
  • The total number of parties to the Treaty is now 54.
  • Antarctica is Earth’s only continent without a native human population.
  • Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude.
  • India is a signatory of this treaty since 1983.
  • It is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Major Provisions of Antarctic Treaty

  • The treaty also put a freeze on any disputes between climates over their territories on the continent.
  • Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and co-operation towards that end shall continue (Art-II)
  • The treaty is remarkably short and contains only 14 articles.

What is Antarctic Treaty System?

  • As disputes have arisen over the years, many have been addressed through the expansion of the treaty framework with these agreements, this framework is now referred to as the Antarctic Treaty System.
  • The Antarctic Treaty System is made up of four major International agreements –

Challenges –

  • While the Antarctic Treaty has been able to successfully respond to a range of challenges, circumstances are radically different in the 2020s compared to the 1950s.
  • Antarctica is much more accessible, partly due to technology but also climate change.
  • More countries now have substantive interests in the continent than the original 12.
  • Some global resources are becoming scarce, especially oil.
  • This will inevitably result in increased attention being given to the potential for Antarctic Mining to take place sometimes in the future.
  • Calls to revisit the prohibition on Antarctic mining would seem inevitable.
  • There is also uncertainty as the China’s intention in Antarctica.
  • There is considerable speculation as to China’s interest in Antarctic resources, especially fisheries and minerals and whether China may seek to exploit weakness in the treaty system to secure access to those resources.

Indian Antarctic Program

  • It is a scientific research and exploration program under the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCPOR).
  • It was initiated in 1981 with the first Indian expedition to Antarctica.

NCPOR was established as an autonomous Research and Development Institutions of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (Formerly Department of Ocean Development) on 25th May 1998.

  • NCPOR is designated as the nodal organizations for the co-ordination and implementation of the Indian Antarctic Programme, including the maintenance of India’s permanent station in Antarctica.
  • Dakshin Gangotri – First Indian Scientific research base station established in Antarctica in 1983.
  • Maitri – India’s second permanent research station in Antarctica.
  • It is situated on the rocky mountainous region called Schirmacher Oasis.
  • Bharti – India’s latest research station operation since 2012.
  • It is India’s first committed research facility and is located about 3000 km last of Maitri.
  • Sagar Nidhi – In 2008, India commissioned the Sagar Nidhi for research.
  • It is an ice-class vessel.
  • It can cut through the thin ice of 40 cm depth and is the first Indian vessel to navigate Antarctic waters.

Way Forward

  • All of the treaty signatories, but especially those with significant stakes in the continent, need to give the future of the treaty more attention.
  • It the treaty’s signatories wish to ensure it remains fit for purpose in long-term and more strategic thinking needs to be given to Antarctica’s is future.

@  Yogesh Pratap Singh

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