The first part of this study describes the origins of the three international juridical instruments at present governing the Antarctic: the Antarctic Treaty (1959), the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972), and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (1980). The author notes that, in developing these instruments, the United Nations system has deliberately been kept in the background, although it has been suggested that it should play a more active role.
In the second part of the study, the author analyzes the contents of these instruments, particularly as regards their relationship with the United Nations system. He then gives an account of the negotiations that took place within the FAO governing bodies when some countries suggested setting up a subsidiary body of the FAO Committee on Fisheries to deal with Antarctic living marine resources. Mention is also made of the proposals formulated within UNEP for the purpose of amending the 1959 Treaty. In both cases, the parties to the Antarctic Treaty had the obligation of ensuring that their special responsibilities in the Southern Hemisphere were respected.
The author also notes that the scientific community has acted in a very pragmatic way; within the framework of non-governmental organizations, there has been effective cooperation between specialists throughout the world, including those within the United Nations system.
The third part of the study reports on discussions on Antarctic issues that have taken place in the United Nations General Assembly since 1983. After presenting the views of certain non-aligned countries that wish to reform the Treaty and those of the countries who were parties to the Treaty and who are anxious to protect the fragile equilibrium established in 1959, the author notes that the two groups have entirely different conceptions of the role that the United Nations can or ought to play. For the first group, the Antarctic forms part of the common heritage of mankind and should be governed within the framework of the United Nations by new rules providing, among other things, for the participation of the Third World in the decision-making process and an equitable system of sharing the benefits from exploitation of the Antarctic resources. For the second group, the Treaty is based on the principles of the Charter and the United Nations' role is simply to promote the strengthening of the Treaty by all possible means.
The author concludes by observing that, while on many points the positions adopted by the two groups are still very far apart, most observers agree that the Antarctic Treaty system has emerged strengthened from the offensive it has had to face.