Polar Record

50 years on: invited reflections on the Antarctic Treaty

Fifty years on: putting the Antarctic Treaty into the history books

Peter J. Becka1

a1 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames KT1 2EE (P.Beck@kingston.ac.uk)

Recent media coverage of the threatened collapse of the vast Wilkins ice shelf highlights the manner in which the established focus on global warming and the ozone hole has led Antarctica to be well and truly accepted as playing an integral role in global environmental systems. By contrast, histories of the 1950 and 1960s continue still to treat Antarctica largely as, to quote Philip Quigg (1983), ‘a Pole Apart’, that is a marginal region struggling for inclusion on most world maps. Despite the occasional newsworthy item, like the 1952 Anglo-Argentine clash at Hope Bay (Beck 1987: 18–21) or the 1955–1958 British Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Fuchs and Hillary 1958), Antarctic affairs have not been regarded, except perhaps in Argentina, Australia, Chile and New Zealand, as sufficiently mainstream during the 1950s and 1960s to warrant inclusion in national or global histories covering that period. As a result, it remains easy still to gloss over the 1959 Antarctic Treaty as possessing rather limited contemporary significance, and hence to dismiss it as a limited purpose agreement confined to a relatively marginal area. Indeed, for some commentators, the treaty was even interpreted as a lost opportunity in terms of failing either to internationalise the region or to resolve the longstanding Antarctic sovereignty problem.