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Antarctic Treaty lessons have enduring value for humankind

The lesson of fifty years of the Antarctic Treaty System is that the nations of the world can set aside their political and territorial aspirations to share in the management of a vast region of the planet, says Paul Berkman, chair of the International Board for the Antarctic Treaty Summit. In this final part of...

Antarctic Treaty Summit logo.jpg

The lesson of fifty years of the Antarctic Treaty System is that the nations of the world can set aside their political and territorial aspirations to share in the management of a vast region of the planet, says Paul Berkman, chair of the International Board for the Antarctic Treaty Summit.

In this final part of a series on the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, Berkman describes the hopes for building on an international agreement that has been a road map for nations to collaborate on the basis of “common interests” to manage the 75 percent of the planet that does not fall under national jurisdictions.

 The Antarctic Treaty Summit: Science-Policy Interactions in International Governance will be convened in Washington, D.C. from November 30-December 3, 2009. The organizers invite broad participation in the Summit, “which is being convened with the sprit of balanced international, interdisciplinary and inclusive engagement.”  Registration and other information can be found on the Antarctic Treaty Summit Web site. 

By Paul Berkman,
Special Contributor to NatGeo News Watch

Recognition by the U.S. Congress

The United States House of Representatives adopted House Concurrent Resolution 51 (Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Antarctic Treaty) on September 30, 2009. (See full text below.)

The resolution was sponsored by Congressman Pat Tiberi from Ohio along with 33 co-sponsors, including the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (Congressman Howard Berman from California) and Chair of the House Commitee on Science and Technology (Congressman Bart Gordon from Tennessee).

The Resolution was an interesting process from several different angles.

As a citizen of the United States, one individual among 300 million people, to be able to go and interact with the elected officials at the national level and to be able to suggest them a type of legislation and assist with the process of seeing this legislation emerge and finally get approved by one of the branches of the U.S. Congress, was in itself a humbling experience.

An individual in a great nation can contribute to the development and growth of that nation. There’s a message of hope in that. Anyone, whoever they are, with the right motivation, insight and sincerity can create positive development and change in the world we live in.

“The idea is to look across the 50 years of international cooperation and identify those lessons that will have meaning and value to international governance into the future.”

The full name of the Antarctic Treaty summit is The Antarctic Treaty: Science, Policy, Interactions, and International Governance. So it’s not just a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty. The idea is to look across the 50 years of international cooperation and identify those lessons that will have meaning and value to international governance into the future.

Certainly science and policy are two of the ingredients that allowed the Antarctic Treaty system to emerge. The notions of science, policy, interactions are the focus of the Antarctic Treaty Summit.

In developing this Concurrent Resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, the original resolution was sponsored by Congressman Tiberi, and it was done in a nonpartisan way. Eventually there were 33 co-sponsors of the resolution, which was assigned to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The very last sponsor was Congressman Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Two of the co-sponsors are the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee and the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s a mirror of the science policy theme. This makes it a special piece of legislation.

The Resolution is now in the U.S. Senate, where it has been assigned to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

The Antarctic Treaty Summit “Forever Declaration”

The intention of the summit is not just to have a meeting, where people get together, discuss things, and leave, and it was relevant only to the people in the room.

The idea is to begin a snowball, a level of momentum in a dialogue where various parties, governments, nongovernmental organizations, commercial entities, academic institutions, indigenous peoples organizations, are all talking together in neutral venues about strategies to manage regions that are beyond sovereign jurisdictions, as well as resources that are transboundary.

Fisheries migrate across boundaries, the atmosphere and oceans move across boundaries, so the issues that are relevant to international spaces are also relevant to things that move across boundaries.

The type of dialogue that is anticipated for the Antarctic Treaty Summit is a demonstration that it is possible to catalyze high-profile international, interdisciplinary and inclusive discussion.

The big difference between the Antarctic Treaty Summit and the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which is an annual event, is that the consultative meeting is convened by governments, for governments, with government people, whereas the Antarctic Treaty Summit is open to anyone anywhere in the world.

The intention is to reach across all sectors of society internationally in an engaged and inclusive way, welcoming the insights and participation, the enthusiasm, even the questions from anyone, anywhere in the world. So the event itself is open and not restricted in any way.

The tangible outcome of the event, aside from books and things like that, will be discussions that carry over into future meetings.

But what’s likely to be of most interest to the average person anywhere in the world is the “Forever Declaration.”

The Forever Declaration embraces an interesting concept:

If you think of the eight centuries of perspective of the value of the Magna Carta, and imagine eight centuries into the future, for all intents and purposes that’s forever. We know from the Magna Carta that we can see how a legal document can have meaning across centuries.

The idea of elaborating “Forever” from the Antarctic Treaty is not only for the relevance of the Antarctic but for the relevance of international spaces, for transboundary issues, for the elaboration of common interests, as an example of how different nations can cooperate for peaceful purposes in ways that are equitable, balanced, continuous, and offer hope to the world.

This declaration will be introduced on the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, which is on December 1. The declaration will be open for signature by anyone anywhere in the world. And it will be available for signature via the Internet.

It is something in which the entire world can make a shared statement about cooperation, using regions for peaceful purposes only, about the notion of common interests. That is the hope and aspiration of the Forever Declaration.

Professor Paul Berkman is the head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Programme at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, UK.

Special series on the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty by Paul Berkman

Part One: Antarctic Treaty at 50, a beacon for joint management of Earth

Part Two: How Antarctica facilitated science as a tool of diplomacy

Part Three: Antarctic Treaty lessons have enduring value for humankind (this page)

For more information, please visit the Antarctic Treaty Summit Web site.

U.S. House of Representatives Concurrent Resolution (H. Con. Res. 51)
recognizing the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty
agreed to on September 30, 2009

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty was signed by 12 nations in Washington, D.C., on December 1, 1959, “with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind”;

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty was established to continue and develop international “cooperation on the basis of freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica as applied during the International Geophysical Year”;

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty came into force on June 23, 1961, after its unanimous ratification by the seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom) with territorial claims in the region and five other countries (Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the Soviet Union, and the United States), which had collaborated in Antarctic research activities during the International Geophysical Year from July 1, 1957, through December 31, 1958;

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty now has 47 nations as signatories that together represent nearly 90 percent of humanity;

   Whereas Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty states 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”;

   Whereas the 14 articles of the Antarctic Treaty have provided a lasting foundation for maintaining the region south of 60 degrees south latitude, nearly 10 percent of the Earth’s surface, “for peaceful purposes only”;

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty prohibits “any measure of a military nature”;

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty has promoted international nuclear cooperation by prohibiting “any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material”;

   Whereas the Antarctic Treaty provides a framework for the signatories to continue to meet “for the purpose of exchanging information, consulting together on matters of common interest pertaining to Antarctica, and formulating and considering, and recommending to their Governments, measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty”;

   Whereas common interests among the Antarctic Treaty nations facilitated the development and ratification of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources;

   Whereas the international cooperation represented by the Antarctic Treaty offers humankind a precedent for the peaceful governance of international spaces;

   Whereas in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year, the Antarctic Treaty Parties in their Edinburgh Declaration recognized the current International Polar Year for its contributions to science worldwide and to international cooperation; and

   Whereas the International Polar Year program has endorsed the Antarctic Treaty Summit that will convene in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian Institution on the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress–

    (1) recognizes that the Antarctic Treaty has greatly contributed to science and science cooperation worldwide and successfully ensured the “use of Antarctica for peaceful purposes only and the continuance of international harmony” for the past half century; and

    (2) encourages international and interdisciplinary collaboration in the Antarctic Treaty Summit to identify lessons from 50 years of international cooperation under the Antarctic Treaty that have legacy value for humankind.

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Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn