02 December 1988 - 04 December 1988


Chair: Dr R M Laws CBE FRS

This conference was intended to provide an opportunity for some of the partners in the Antarctic Treaty system to review achievements and weaknesses, to consider criticisms and possible responses to them and generally to think about ways in which the system and related activities should develop.

We were reminded at the outset that the principal purpose of the Antarctic Treaty had been the preservation of peace, through the freezing of territorial claims, so as to provide the conditions in which scientific work could be carried forward in the spirit of peaceful cooperation established during the International Geophysical Year. In that over-riding objective it had been entirely successful, to the point that some seemed to think that it was no longer necessary to be concerned about sovereignty issues. Against that background, however, a number of pressures for change had developed, some external to the system and some internal.

Externally there was pressure from non-members of the system, even though the Treaty was open for accession to all members of the United Nations, ostensibly to have it brought under the aegis of the United Nations and to dedicate the region as the common heritage of mankind, under UN trusteeship.

Internally, there was a fundamental tension between, on the one hand, activity in the Antarctic, the possibilities of mineral wealth (though most thought that these were remote and if they existed could prove uneconomic) the growing membership of the system and the increasing openness of the Continent to non-governmentally sponsored visits (including tourism) and, on the other, the declared aim of all to attempt to maintain the region in its pristine state - an impossible aspiration given the activity and its accompanying pollution, albeit proportionately that pollution was small. Other tensions related to jurisdiction, the dissemination of information and the coordination of scientific activity.

Discussion of the external pressures revealed some differences of approach. Some questioned whether the true motive of those non-members of the system who pressed for change was not to acquire a “share of the action” (and, if exploitation of mineral deposits appeared profitable, of the profit), at little or no cost. These believed that the signatories could afford to ride out the criticisms, especially in the UN General Assembly, and that olive branches, e.g. in the form of an invitation to the UN Secretary-General to participate as an observer, would merely be pocketed and would not assuage the pressures. Even the provision of more information - and a great deal was already available through national contact points - was unlikely to satisfy, since the suspicious would continue to believe that something was being held back. Others, while accepting some of these arguments, believed that more information and easier access to it by non-members, e.g. through a secretariat, the involvement as an observer of the UN Secretary-General and better liaison with the relevant UN Specialised Agencies, could help to improve the image of the Antarctic Treaty system and thus to stave off demands for radical reform or unwieldy enlargement. Even if, as was the case in law, only consultative members could initiate a formal review of the Treaty (and after 1991, any one consultative member could call for a review), outside pressures could not be wholly ignored. Those taking this view were inclined to suggest that a review might even be turned to advantage to bring the achievements of the Treaty system to public notice and to initiate an improved programme between the scientific work being conducted in the Antarctic and science generally, particularly in the field of climatic change. The ozone hole had after all been discovered in the Antarctic and work there would continue to be highly relevant to global science, especially in such programmes as the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP). The non-governmental Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) was already planning a conference for 1991 which would serve some of these purposes.

This focussed attention on the need for improved coordination of scientific work within the Antarctic system itself, better coordination between the SCAR and the Treaty signatories, and also on a possible requirement to give the Antarctic system an international personality in some form, if the contribution it could make was to be brought home to the world.

The consensus that emerged was that there probably was a need for a modest secretariat or management mechanism, to act as a clearing house for information, including information about planned scientific activity and perhaps, in the view of some though there might be difficulties, as a form of pressure on the members to improve compliance with the Treaty and with the recommendations of Consultative Meetings. There was some inconclusive discussion whether a secretariat was needed or feasible, given considerations of cost, siting and political objections, or whether it might be better to build on existing cooperation in the “Gateway” countries of the kind already developing in New Zealand.

Inevitably there was some overlap between that part of the debate and discussion of the internal weaknesses of the system, centring on such issues as waste disposal, tourism, search and rescue, jurisdiction, dissemination of information among member states, the criteria for consultative status (would a ship-borne scientific expedition or a remote-sensing satellite project count, and if so would joint ventures qualify?) and, again, coordination of scientific research. Generally the point was made that meetings of the Consultative Parties could well be more frequent (though that may raise questions of cost which were not addressed).

It seemed to be generally agreed that the criteria for consultative status should not be set too low, especially since enhanced activity by more nations would lead to greater over-crowding, more pollution, more visitors, greater jurisdictional problems etc. There might be a case for helping those who were genuinely interested, to acquire the specialised expertise for operation in the Antarctic, but assistance should not result in the diversion of effort from other scientific activity more relevant to the country concerned. The problems which might arise if a large additional number of countries exercised their right to accede to the Treaty, were noted, but not addressed.

Much time was spent on tourism, both government sponsored and private, which was increasing by leaps and bounds, with its concomitant pollution, and on the related question of search and rescue, where only the US was in a position to provide a service, at the cost of a considerable diversion from its scientific work. Any system of permits for visitors was ruled out. Probably, it was suggested, the answer lay in action by governments individually to regulate the trade, which might be encouraged to take out insurance cover. A secretariat might help to coordinate the organisation of search and rescue.

With jurisdiction too there was no easy answer. An international entity exercising a common jurisdiction was ruled out and some argued that in practice the arrangements set out in Art. VIII of the Treaty worked well.

As for compliance, it was noted that Art. VII of the Treaty provided a comprehensive system of inspection. Inspections need not be, and in practice were not, limited to verification of compliance with Art. I - III, but could extend to environmental malpractice. Publicity was not given to reports by observers however and pressure on those concerned to mend their ways was weak. Non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) played a valuable part here, though they felt themselves hampered by lack of information. Here also a secretariat could play a role.

Finally, participants returned again and again to the need for better coordination of scientific effort in the Antarctic, to identify areas where research was needed or was duplicated, and for integration of that effort into global “big science”. The complaint was made that SCAR’s reports were often ignored by Treaty members: and that national science bodies in their global programmes did not appear to give due weight to scientific work in the Antarctic or its results. There was clearly a role for Antarctic research within the scope of global science (for example, research now being planned in the Arctic should be complemented by similar work in the Antarctic). In the absence of a central coordinating body for the Antarctic system, to which several of the members might object on grounds of sovereignty, it must be for national scientific research authorities to ensure that due weight was given to the Antarctic and that work there was integrated into national and international effort. “A clarion call” to this effect was needed, and some participants, I believe, have it in mind to organise it

To sum up then: no review in 1991 with a view to amendment of the Treaty, though a public relations event was not to be ruled out; no thin-end-of-the-wedge concessions to the pressure group of non-members, but judicious encouragement to be considered for those genuinely interested in Antarctic activity; a small, low profile secretariat or management mechanism, to act as a central point for the receipt and dissemination of information to members, non-members and NGO’s alike, as a persuasive agent for the better compliance with Treaty and Treaty-related requirements, and as a forum for cooperation over tourism, pollution and search and rescue; perhaps more frequent Consultative meetings; and, above all, better coordination of scientific effort in Antarctica so as to enable Antarctic science to be integrated through national action by member states into relevant international programmes.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Dr R M Laws CBE FRS
Director, British Antarctic Survey (1973-87); Master, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge; Director, Natural Environment Research Council Sea Mammals Research Unit; Convenor, Group for Specialists on Seals; Chairman, UK Delegate, Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research; Member of Council, Secretary, Zoological Society of London.


Mr David W Evans

Australian Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom     

Dr Patricia Birnie

Lecturer in Law, London School of Economics and Political Science            
Mr Tam Dalyell MP

Member of Parliament (Labour), Linlithgow; Political columnist, New Scientist
Dr D J Drewry    
Director, British Antarctic Survey; member, British National Committee for Antarctic Research, Trans-Antarctic Royal Geographical Society Council, European Science Foundation Polar Network; UK alternate delegate, Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research
Brigadier P P Glass MBE
Senior Military Officer, Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment, Procurement Executive, Ministry of Defence       
Dr John A Heap

Polar Regions Section, South American Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Sir Donald Logan KCMG
Retired from HM Diplomatic Service as Leader, UK Delegation to Conference on Marine Living Resources of Antarctica, Buenos Aires and Canberra (1978-80); Chairman, Jerusalem and Middle East Trust Ltd; Chairman, St Clare’s College, Oxford  
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein CBE 

Managing Director, Terimar Services (Overseas Consultancy); President, Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Council
Mr Richard Sandbrook
Vice President for Policy, International Institute for Environment and Development, London
Lord Shackleton KG OBE PC
Life Peer (Labour);Author of two reports on the Falkland Islands and a report on anti-terrorist legislation; a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation          
Mr Cyril D Townsend MP            

Member of Parliament (Conservative), Bexleyheath; Vice-Chairman, Conservative Parliamentary Defence Committee; Chairman, South Atlantic Council and Political Committee, United Nations Association
Dr Peter Wadhams
Director, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge; Walker-Ames Professor, University of Washington; Fellow, Arctic Institute of North America          
Mr Arthur Watts CMG QC

Legal Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office            

Mr Maxwell Bruce QC   

Barrister-at-law; Member, Planning Council, International Ocean Institute, Malta; Trustee, Bermuda Biological Station for Research; Special Fellow, UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); Member, Executive Committee and Secretary, British Pugwash Group; Honorary Legal Adviser, Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea (ACOPS); member, Board of Directors, International Oceans Institute, Malta; Legal Adviser to Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Seas, London.
Mr Ron Cleminson
Head, Verification Research Unit, Department of External Affairs, Ottawa             
Mr E F Roots

Science Advisor, Department of the Environment, Ottawa; extraordinary member, International Bureau, UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme; member, Group of Environmental Experts of the Economic Summit

M Pierre Buhler

Deputy Director, Strategic Affairs and Treaties, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris  

Dr Kurt Messer

Head of Department, Antarctica, Law of the Sea and Outer Space, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Bonn; Head, German delegations in negotiations on Antarctica

Mr Roger Wilson

Co-ordinator for Greenpeace International’s activities on Treaties and Conventions

Dr D James Baker

President, Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc; Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; Senior Fellow, Professor, Department of Oceanography, Joint Institute for Study Atmosphere and Ocean
Mr James N Barnes
Senior Attorney, Environmental Policy Institute; Director, The Antarctica Project; General Counsel, Antarctic & Southern Ocean Coalition; Member, US State Department Advisory Com­mittee on Antarctica
Professor Richard Bilder
Burrus-Bascom Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Professor Jonathan I Charney
Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University School of Law
Professor David Elliot
Director, Polar Research Center and Professor, Department of Geology and Mineralogy, The Ohio State University; US Representative to Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research Working Group on Geology; Associate editor, Board of Editors, Antarctic Research Series of the American Geophysical Union; Member, Polar Research Board, National Research Council; member, Advisory Board for Antarctic Resources, Office of Technology Assessment, US Congress
The Hon William E Evans
Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Department of Commerce; President Emeritus, Hubbs Marine Research Institute, San Diego; Chairman, Marine Mammal Commission
Mr James K Jackson
American Petroleum Institute, Washington, DC
Ms Lee Kimball
Director, Antarctica Program, International Institute for Environment and Development/North America (now merged with World Resources Institute) and Executive Director, Council on Ocean Law, Washington DC
Mr Keith R Knoblock
Vice President, American Mining Congress
Dr Bruce S Manheim Jr
Attorney and scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, Washington DC; Member, Antarctic Section, Advisory Committee on Oceans and International Environmental Scientific Affairs, Department of State; non-governmental representative, US delegation to Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
Professor Edward L Miles
Professor of Marine Studies and Public Affairs and Director, Institute for Marine Studies, University of Washington, Seattle; Advisor to the Executive Committee, Seabed Working Group, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Paris; Member, Executive Board, Law of the Sea Institute, University of Hawaii
Dr Robert Rutford
President, University of Texas at Dallas; Advisor to Department of State on Antarctic Treaty issues; Chairman, Association for Higher Education Council of Presidents
Mr R Tucker Scully
Director, Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, Department of State and head of US delegations in negotiations on Antarctica and Antarctic resources
Ms Deborah Shapley
Writer on Antarctica; Member, editorial board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Captain Brian Shoemaker
US Navy (Ret), Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
Mr William E Westermeyer
Senior Analyst, US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Oceans and Environment Programme; Project Director OTA’s study, “An Analysis of the Potential for Mineral Resource Development in Antarctica and Evaluation of the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities”
Dr Peter E Wilkness
Director, Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation (NSF); Liaison member, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Polar Research Board; Member, American Geophysical Union, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Antarctican Society