The Antarctic Treaty provides that “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only” (Art. I). To this end it prohibits “any measures of a military nature” but does “not prevent the use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any other peaceful purpose”.
Article IV of the Treaty deals with the issue of territorial claims. It safeguards the different positions of States:
“Nothing contained in the present Treaty shall be interpreted as:
(a) a renunciation by any Contracting Party of previously asserted rights of or claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica;
(b) a renunciation or diminution by any Contracting Party of any basis of claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica which it may have whether as a result of its activities or those of its nationals in Antarctica, or otherwise;
(c) prejudicing the position of any Contracting Party as regards its recognition or non-recognition of any other State’s right of or claim or basis of claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica.”
The same Article goes on to preserve the status quo by providing that “no acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force.”
The question of sovereignty over Antarctica was set aside to provide a pragmatic solution that has kept Antarctica a region of peaceful cooperation for half a century.
To promote the objectives of the Treaty and to ensure that the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty are observed, Parties are obliged to inform each other of their activities in Antarctica (see under Information Exchange) and facilitate inspections by other Parties of their facilities. Both matters are dealt with in Article VII, which provides that each Consultative Party shall have the right to designate observers to carry out inspections under the Treaty.
The observers, whose names are communicated to the other Consultative Parties, “shall have complete freedom of access at any time to any or all areas of Antarctica.” This includes “…all stations, installations and equipment within those areas, and all ships and aircraft at points of discharging or embarking cargoes or personnel in Antarctica .”
Nowadays inspections include many aspects of environmental protection as well as operational and disarmament matters. The ATCM has adopted sets of non-mandatory Inspection Checklists concerning different types of facilities and protected areas to assist inspection activity. In recent years, most inspections have been cooperative undertakings carried out by several countries.