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British influence on the Antarctic treaty system 1959-64

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Pope, Philip 


A widely adopted historical view of the creation of the Antarctic Treaty and the subsequent development of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) places the United States at the centre of both. It is suggested that this view is too simple and the genesis of the ATS remains poorly understood. It is accepted that the US supplied much of the political drive which led to the Treaty and that there could have been no Treaty without at least the acquiescence of the USSR, Argentina and Chile. It is clear, however, that none of the twelve signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, other than Britain, had any clear idea as to how the consultative procedure, for which the Treaty provides, was to be positively used. The dissertation concentrates on the first three Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (Canberra 1961, Buenos Aires 1962, and Brussels 1964), and finds that the British had a clear idea as to their positive objectives and were partially successful in achieving them. Previously unavailable diaries written by Dr. Brian Roberts (Head of Polar Regions Section in the Foreign Office from 1943 to 1975) serve as the primary source for this study, along with official Foreign Office documents from the period and secondary sources from Britain and around the world. The negotiations are traced with regard to -:

  1. The successful conclusion of the Agreed Measures for the conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora
  2. The foundation and location of a secretariat
  3. The arrangements for telecommunications in the Antarctic
  4. The need for clarification over the question of jurisdiction
  • Once these have been considered one can reasonably conclude that Dr. Roberts was the driving force between 1961 and 1964 behind a British attempt to strengthen the Treaty against its perceived weaknesses with a view to the long-term stability of the ATS. Having established this, attention is then turned to the wider question of whether Britain had a more formative role in the negotiation of the Treaty itself than the widely circulated view allows.






Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Digitisation of this thesis was sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.