Twelve nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union, sign the Antarctic Treaty, which bans military activities and weapons testing on that continent. This is the first arms control agreement signed during the Cold War.
Since the 1800s, a number of countries, including Britain, Australia, Chile and Norway, have claimed parts of Antarctica. These competing claims have led to diplomatic disputes and even armed clashes. In 1948, Argentine military forces fired at British troops in an area claimed by both nations. Such incidents, along with evidence that the Soviet Union was increasingly interested in Antarctica, prompted the United States to propose that the continent become a United Nations administrator. This idea was rejected when none of the other nations with interests in the continent agreed to cede their claims of sovereignty to an international organization.
In the 1950s, some officials in the United States began to push for a more active American role in Antarctica, believing that the continent might have military potential as a nuclear test area. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, took a different approach. U.S. diplomats, working with their Soviet counterparts, crafted a treaty that set aside Antarctica as an army-free zone and postponed the settlement of land claims for future debate. There could be no military presence on the continent, and no testing of weapons of any kind, including nuclear weapons. Scientific enterprises were allowed and scientists would not be prohibited from traveling to any of the areas claimed by various nations. A dozen nations signed the document. Since the treaty did not directly alter questions of territorial sovereignty in Antarctica, the signatories included all nations with territorial claims on the continent. As such, the treaty marked a small but significant first step towards arms control and US-Soviet political cooperation. The treaty entered into force in June 1961 and set the standard for the basic policies that continue to govern Antarctica.
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