Antarctica was deemed a military-free continent on this date in 1959. The Antarctic Treaty was an agreement signed by 12 nations — including the United States and the Soviet Union — stating that the continent was to be used for scientific research only. Seven of the 12 original signing nations had, at various times since the 1800s, claimed part of Antarctica for their country. The treaty didn’t address those claims, but it did ban any future claims. It also banned any military installations or weapons testing of any sort, and it was the first arms control agreement signed during the Cold War.
Provisions of the treaty include: “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only” (Art. I);
“Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue” (Art. II); and “Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available” (Art. III).
In his statement on the treaty, President Eisenhower said, “The spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding, which the 12 nations and their delegations exhibited in drafting a treaty of this importance, should be an inspiring example of what can be accomplished by international cooperation in the field of science and in the pursuit of peace.”
The treaty went into effect in June 1961. More countries signed on over the years, and in 1991 the agreement was expanded to include a ban on mineral and oil exploration for at least the next 50 years. It’s also been supplemented by agreements concerning things like wildlife preservation and waste disposal. There are now 53 signatories to the Antarctic Treaty System, as it’s now called; more than half of them have active scientific research projects underway on the continent.