The United States has strong diplomatic interests in Antarctica. In particular, the United States seeks to promote Antarctica’s status as a continent reserved for peace and science in accordance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The United States played a major role in negotiating this Treaty, which was signed in Washington, and it participates actively in all aspects of the Antarctic Treaty System. There are currently 53 Parties to the Treaty, of which 29 are Consultative Parties having the right to participate in decision-making.
The Department of State coordinates U.S. policy on Antarctica, and works closely with the National Science Foundation, the federal agency that administers the U.S. Antarctic Program. The United States maintains three year-round scientific stations on Antarctica and has more personnel based in Antarctica than any other country. The Department of State leads the U.S. delegation to the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), where the international community discusses a range of issues pertaining to the Continent. The Department also maintains close ties to the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (based in Buenos Aires) which facilitates communication among parties to the Antarctic Treaty.
Seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom) maintain territorial claims in Antarctica, but the United States and most other countries do not recognize those claims. While the United States maintains a basis to claim territory in Antarctica, it has not made a claim.
More information about the State Department’s role in promoting U.S. interests in Antarctica is available by emailing Antarctica@state.gov.
In order to promote peace and security on the Continent, and to determine whether parties to the Antarctic Treaty are meeting their obligations under the Treaty, its Environmental Protocol, and related regulations, the United States periodically conducts inspections of foreign stations, equipment and vessels under rights of inspection granted in Article VII of the Antarctic Treaty and Article 14 of the Protocol for Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The United States’ program of inspections helps emphasize that Antarctica is accessible to all countries.
The United States has been a leader in developing Antarctic tourism policies, as well as policies and rules protecting the Antarctic environment. The United States has a major interest in Antarctic tourism because one-third of all tourists visiting Antarctica by ship are American citizens. Furthermore, almost half of all Antarctic tourist expeditions are subject to U.S. regulation because they are organized in or proceed to Antarctica from the United States. The United States has a major interest in promoting the safety of American citizen tourists in Antarctica, in particular, and in minimizing environmental impacts of U.S. tourists and U.S.-based tour operators. The Department of State is responsible for informing other Treaty Parties of non-governmental expeditions to Antarctica organized in or proceeding from the United States. In this connection, the Department of State determines, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation, whether expedition organizers are subject to U.S. regulations administered by EPA and NSF related to environmental protection in Antarctica. Information for U.S. citizens traveling to Antarctica is available at travel.state.gov.
Southern Ocean Marine Conservation (CCAMLR)
The Department of State’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs is an active participant in the multilateral conservation efforts of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and provides the U.S. Commissioner to that organization. The State Department works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on all matters under CCAMLR, which was established by the Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty System in 1982. Generally regarded as a model for regional cooperation in the area of fisheries, this consensus-based organization has 25 Commission members and 34 total parties. CCAMLR meets once a year at its headquarters in Hobart, Australia.
The United States works within CCAMLR to advance ecosystem-based and precautionary approaches to fisheries management including advancing efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Notably, the United States was instrumental in CCAMLR adopting the world’s largest Marine Protected Area within the Ross Sea. This 1.55 million square kilometer (598,000 square mile) area is nearly twice the size of the state of Texas. This historic decision has advanced CCAMLR’s goal of creating a system of MPA’s in the Southern Ocean.
Handbook of the Antarctic Treaty System
This Handbook, last updated by the United States in 2002, reproduces material with respect to the Antarctic Treaty system, including the Antarctic Treaty itself, the Protocol on Environment Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and measures [recommendations] in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty. Updated information on the Antarctic Treaty system is available on the websites of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat or the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The Handbook is also available on our archive to download as PDF chapters.