[Presidential Decision Directives - PDD]

US Antarctica Policy

Washington, DC
March 9, 1996


The United States has important foreign policy and national security interests in Antarctica. These interests are given concrete expression through the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The Treaty guarantees freedom of scientific research in Antarctica and prohibits military and nuclear activities, with rights of on site inspection to assure compliance. It is the indispensable basis for successful pursuit by the United States of the unique opportunities Antarcticaa offers for scientific research, as well as associated goals of protecting the environmentt of Antarctica and conserving its resources. The Treaty's framework for managing conflicts over territorial sovereignty in Antarctica has prevented regional conflicts such as the dispute over the Beagle Channel or the Falklands war from spreading to Antarctica. The international peace and political stability in the area resulting from the Treaty has greatly supported foreign and national policy objectives of the United States. Moreover, the importance of Antarctica for national security, environmental and scientific interests was reflected in PDD-26 signed by President Clinton.

The success of the Antarctic Treaty and the achievement of United States interests through it rest upon the year round presence in Antarctica maintained by the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), the program of scientific research and associated logistics funded and managed by the National Science Foundation. The most visible symbol of this presence is South Pole Station, in continuous operation since 1956. Budget constraints have raised important issues relating to United States presence in Antarctica. The Senate Appropriations Committee has expressed concern over the costs of the USAP and called for the National Science and Technology Council to review United States presence in Antarctica. U.S. facilities at the South Pole have reached the end of their design life and need replacement.

The Department believes that our foreign policy and national interests must be reflected in budgetary decisions affecting United States presence in Antarctica. This presence is particularly important when viewed in the light of the dispute over territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. Seven nations (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the U.K.) assert claims to territorial sovereignty over parts of Antarctica. The claims of Argentina, Chile and the U.K. overlap. The United States, along with Russia and others active in Antarctica, reject claims and assert the right of access to all areas of Antarctica for peaceful purposes. At the same time, the United States has a solid basis of claim in Antarctica, resulting from its activities there prior to 1959.

The Antarctic Treaty includes imaginative juridical and decisionmaking provisions that permit Parties to agree to disagree over sovereignty. It freezes previously asserted rights and claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica, including reservation of any prior basis of claim (e.g., the United States basis of claim). It prohibits new claims and provides that no acts or activities carried out while the Treaty is in force may constitute a basis for a claim. Decisionmaking authority in the Treaty system is linked to actual involvement in activities in Antarctica. The twelve nations that negotiated the Treaty were all active in scientific research on the continent. Participation in decisionmaking by nations that subsequently become Party requires demonstration of interest in Antarctica by the conduct of substantial scientific research there.

The Treaty has proven to be durable and dynamic, evolving to deal effectively with new scientific, environmental and resource management issues and to accommodate new participants. The number of Treaty Parties active in Antarctica has grown from the original twelve to twenty-six and includes all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as Japan, India and Brazil. The regular meetings of the Treaty Parties provide a forum for peaceful cooperation among them even when bilateral relations are strained or hostile. For example, Argentina and the U.K. continued to interact peacefully within this forum during the Falklands War and the United States and Soviet Union were able to cooperate on Antarctic matters even when relations were at their worst.

More than any other nation, the United States benefits from the Antarctic Treaty. The potential for international discord and conflict over Antarctica that would exist absent the Treaty is, if anything, greater now than when it was negotiated. The United States has developed a world class program of scientific research in Antarctica and shaped the innovative resource management arrangements that have evolved under the Treaty. The effective operation of the Antarctic Treaty is a direct result of the active and influential United States presence in Antarctica maintained through the Antarctic Program. This presence accords the United States a decisive role in the Treaty's activities based decision system and in maintaining the political and legal balance that makes the Treaty work.

The Department of State believes it essential that the United States continue to maintain an active and influential presence in Antarctica, including year-round operation of South Pole Station. United States presence at the South Pole Station demonstrates United States commitment to assert its rights in Antarctica, its basis of claim, and its commitment to conduct cutting edge scientific research there. Abandonment of the Station would create a vacuum and likely result in a scramble to occupy the site, to the detriment of our position as well as to the stability of the Treaty system. Shrinking budgets raise issues of priority, particularly in respect of capital outlays such as are projected for necessary replacement of South Pole Station. However, funding decisions on the United States Antarctic Program must be based on the fact that it is a national program that serves important foreign policy and national objectives as well as basic scientific, environmental and economic interests. From this perspective, appropriation of the funds necessary to maintain an active and influential United States presence in Antarctica, including renovation of South Pole Station, represents both a priority and cost effective investment.

The Department of Defense has cleared this memorandum.

WILLIAM J. BURNS, Executive Secretary


  • THE UNITED STATES AND ANTARCTICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY WEDNESDAY, MARCH 12, 1997 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science, Washington, DC.