“I am hopeful that Antarctica in its symbolic robe of white will shine forth as a continent of peace as nations working together there in the cause of science set an example of international cooperation.”
These words by US naval officer and polar explorer Richard E. Byrd in 1957 are now inscribed on the Byrd Memorial at the US base McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Two years later, at the height of the Cold War and with the threat of a nuclear holocaust looming large, Antarctica made its place in the history books and became this symbol of international cooperation.
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US came together and dedicated the continent to peace and science through the signing of the Antarctic Treaty. It froze territorial claims, demilitarized the area, established peaceful cooperation and freedom for scientific research.
The Antarctic Treaty and its related instruments are a defining symbol of the power of multilateralism and good governance that are possible to achieve even at moments of heightened political strife.
Many of its principles have been incorporated into the broader body of global governance and law and it paved the way for the development of other international instruments such as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) that aims for the protection of the continent’s ocean wildlife.
It has also enabled a large amount of multinational research to be carried out that has provided hugely important insights into our changing planet.