President Eisenhower and the Antarctic Treaty


The late 1940s and early 50s was a dangerous period of cold-war posturing with few bridges between the United States and Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons were a reality and ballistic missiles were inevitable. It was in this environment after World War II, when President Eisenhower entered office in 1953 with vision for “a day of freedom and of peace for all mankind.” One of the opportunities was “establishment of international status for the Antarctic area” as suggested by the United States’ draft agreement to the seven claimant nations in 1948. Planning also was underway for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-58 with satellites anticipated to advance upper atmospheric research and provide unparalleled measurements of the Earth system. The relationship between satellites and ballistic missiles was unmistakable. Seizing on the role of science as a tool of diplomacy, in 1955 the United States announced its first space policy to launch small earth-circling satellites as part of the IGY. This policy – along with instructions from the White House to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency not to launch its Jupiter-C rocket into orbit in September 1956 – enabled the freedom of space to emerge with the IGY launch of ‘Sputnik’ in October 1957. Building on this momentum of scientific cooperation, in May 1958, Eisenhower invited the Soviet Union and the other ten nations involved with Antarctic research to seek an effective means of ensuring that the “vast uninhabited wastes of Antarctic shall be used only for peaceful purposes.” Over the next eighteen months, sixty secret meetings were convened in the United States among these twelve nations, culminating in the Conference on Antarctica between 15 October and 1 December 1959, when the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington, DC – creating the first international space “forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes...with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind.”


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Dr. Olav Orheim Senior Adviser, Research Council of Norway and Former Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, Norway


Professor Gillian Triggs Dean of Law School, University of Sydney, Australia
Dr. Cornelia Lüdecke Privatdozent, Centre for the History of Science, University of Hamburg, Germany
Professor Paul Berkman Chair of the International Board for the Antarctic Treaty Summit


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