Despite the years of effort to have Antarctica preserved as a politics-free zone, many countries still vie for its territory to this day.
Some of them are taking steps adverse to peace on the southernmost continent of the world, continuously claiming sovereignty in the most underhanded of ways. Others are either turning a blind eye to such activities in order to maintain the status quo or performing some illicit activities themselves. While there are systems to prevent such divisions of land among sovereign countries in Antarctica, there are obviously tendencies to bend the rules ever so slightly, just enough for certain countries to flash their claims.
All these conflicting interactions, double standards, and a glutton for land are to this day causing confusion not only among those visiting the South Pole themselves but also anyone trying to get informed about the bottom of the barrel that are these claims to Antarctican lands.
How many Countries in Antarctica Are There?
Before discussing the exact number of countries presently holding claims on Antarctica, it’s important to understand what these claims constitute.
Territorial claims in Antarctica include all lands and each and every ice shelf under the 60th parallel south, or it is at least how the Antarctic Treaty deals with the aforementioned claims. So, what countries are in Antarctica if any?
Are there any Countries in Antarctica?
The short answer to this question, and also how it should be is simply – no.
However, as can be expected of any place on Earth where interests of various countries collide, waters get muddied rather abruptly. To get a clearer picture, you need to understand more about the events that preceded the treaty system that keeps the fifth-largest continent of the world in check, protecting it from armed conflicts and petty squabbles.
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During the 1950s, seven countries were very eager to lay claim to the Antarctic continent. They were the neighboring countries of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and a few countries under Antarctica continent (or above depending on how you look) – Norway, the United Kingdom, and France. The Antarctic region was divided into Australian Antarctic Territory (now headed by Australian Antarctic Division), Ross Dependency, Chilean Antarctic Territory, Argentine Antarctica, Peter I Island, British Antarctic Territory, and Adélie Land, claimed by the seven countries respectively. To truly grasp the ridiculousness of these claims, just consider the fact that Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom’s proposed territories overlap, which can be seen on any map of Antarctica that features borders.
After this greedy division of the Antarctic region came some better days. International Geophysical Year was a major turning point for countries deeply separated by the Cold War and the danger it posed. It was there, on Antarctica, that scientists from a large number of countries came together to learn about the world and the universe. The product of their collaboration was the Antarctica Treaty. Opened for signature in 1959, it was initially given a blessing by twelve countries that participated in the International Geophysical Year, or IGY for short. Besides the seven countries that were also busy claiming the territories, five more came forward, willing to ratify the treaty. These were Belgium, South Africa, Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The Antarctica Treaty came into force in 1961 and has been the main tool in managing the international relations around the South Pole.
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So, does Antarctica have countries? No, no one owns Antarctica, at least not officially, but the number of countries in Antarctica doing research at the moment is quite high, with more than 50 of them signing the Antarctica Treaty.
Antarctic Treaty System
With so many different fields requiring a decent amount of regulation in order for all these countries to coexist and focus on science rather than causing conflicts, the need arose for an all-encompassing system to fulfill that role.
This is exactly where the Antarctic Treaty System came into play, and it has served the purpose admirably. The system features a set of treaties that were later added to the steady foundation that is the Antarctic Treaty. Being so important for the stability and cooperation of countries of Antarctica, the treaty deserves a special mention here:
“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 or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica, shall be asserted while the present treaty is in force.”
-Antarctic Treaty, Article IV
These lines fully portray the importance of the treaty in preventing conflicts due to territorial claims. On the other hand, it shies away from denouncing the claims that are already in place. After the initial treaty, there were some others that followed suit, protecting marine and all other kinds of life on the continent, particularly seals and prohibiting mineral extraction.
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List of Countries in Antarctica Continent
As we’ve already established, there are no countries in Antarctica, and making a list of such countries would be absolutely redundant.
However, there are other questions that we may ask, such as:
How many countries are there in Antarctica that claim portions of its territory?
The answer to this question we’ve already talked about, there are seven countries that claim one area each as their own, the exception being Norway which claims two territories: Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land. To reiterate, these countries are:
- New Zealand
- The United Kingdom
Which countries of the world have research stations in Antarctica?
Besides these seven, some other countries with research stations include:
- The United States
- Russia (Former Soviet Union)
- South Africa
The list goes on and encompasses most of the European countries, including quite a lot of them from Europe.
Violations of the Treaty
The treaty system defines what countries involved may or may not do and this mostly boils down to demilitarization of the continent.
However, there have been instances of these rules being broken, like when Argentina performed military maneuvers on Antarctican land. Also, even though the military is prohibited from operating on the continent unless they’re helping the scientific staff, Chile and Argentina are maintaining a constant military presence. The United Kingdom offers visitors to stamp their passports as if they were entering a sovereign country. What’s the purpose of all this? Well, making it look like these countries actually have claim over the land. It’s hard to predict what may happen in the future, but if oil were to be found underneath all the ice, the sovereigns will hold on to their claims much stronger.
Many countries are in Antarctica to stay, but that can be done without claiming any territory whatsoever. Let the world have at least one completely demilitarized zone where scientists from all over the globe can come together for the betterment of humankind. There’s no need for Antarctica countries, just Antarctican scientists and research stations!