The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. It entered into force in 1961 and has since been acceded to by many other nations.
The three main purposes of the treaty are
- the demilitarization of Antarctica
- the regulation of scientific research and
- safeguarding freedom of research, and the freezing of territorial claims.
Military activities, the testing of nuclear weapons and the disposal of radioactive waste were also prohibited in Antarctica. The parties of the treaty have confirmed to protect the unique environment of Antarctica. The treaty concerns the areas south of latitude 60 °S, and the total number of Parties to the Treaty is now 50 (1014). Of these, 29 are so-called consultative parties which have the right to participate in decision-making concerning Antarctica. Finland signed the Antarctic treaty in 1984. The Finnish research station, Aboa, was established in Queen Maud Land in 1988 and Finland was accepted as a consultative party in 1989.
Consultative membership requires significant scientific research in Antarctica and grants voting rights in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM). The Antarctic Treaty and related treaties are dealt with in the international ATCM meetings. The most important of these is the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in Madrid in 1991. The environmental protection protocol is an attempt to provide comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment, as well as of the associated ecosystems dependent upon it. The environmental protocol forbids such activities concerning mineral resources that are not scientific research. The protocol was entered into force in Finland as part of the Antarctic environment protection law and decrees.