Assessing influence within the Antarctic Treaty System

The first of the Government’s goals for the Australian Antarctic program is ‘to maintain the Antarctic Treaty System and enhance Australia’s influence within the system'. But what is influence and how is it achieved? This question is the focus of a major research project within the Law, Policy and International Relations Program of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre (Antarctic CRC). It is being undertaken in conjunction with the Australian Antarctic Division.

Australia and the Antarctic Treaty System

As an original signatory to the Treaty, Australia has played a significant part in the development of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). We were instrumental in negotiating the Treaty and, twenty years later, in the establishment of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The conclusion of the Madrid Protocol in 1991 was also a direct result of Australia’s influence within the ATS.

Australia’s influence needs to be measured against changes within and outside the ATS. The increase in consultative parties and the demands of the CCAMLR Commission and the Committee on Environmental Protection (CEP) established under the Madrid Protocol, illustrate the scope of change within the system.

Influence within the ATS is more than ‘diplomatic clout’ measured by success in establishing international instruments. Australia’s longstanding commitment to Antarctic science is another area of influence, the importance of which is recognised in the Treaty and in the Protocol. The Australian Government’s Foresight report in 1997–98 recognised the linkage between our commitment to the ATS and the significance of longstanding scientific programs. This report emphasised that ‘Australia should enhance its influence in Antarctic matters through its lead role in Antarctic science and through its leadership in the Antarctic Treaty System'.


Exploring influence is a challenge. Significant practical and theoretical issues complicate measurement of influence, and assessing influence within international regimes is difficult as processes and outcomes are generally less ‘visible', and effort is not clearly linked to immediate outcomes.

The considerable diplomatic and scientific effort expended over time on Antarctic issues clearly contributes to ‘influence'. Reputations for excellence in science or commitments to the system are distinct assets. Presence ‘at the table', whether at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings or in scientific working groups, provide further opportunities to influence outcomes, particularly where decision making is based on consensus. The skills and abilities of individuals may also be critical. There are good examples of this from Australia in the development of the Madrid Protocol, the negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty and the development of CCAMLR.

Influence in the Antarctic Treaty System

The research project aims to explore national influence within the ATS at a period in which the ATS itself is undergoing change. The entry into force of the Madrid Protocol in 1998 instituted the CEP. As the CEP evolves its role within the ATS raises a number of important research questions about the relationship between itself and other institutions within the system, particularly SCAR and COMNAP, in relation to advice to the ATCM.

A focus of the research project is the examination of the nexus between national interests and the ongoing development of the ATS, and the influence exerted by individual States. The research is directed at measuring influence and identifying ways in which it is maximised.

Marcus Haward
Law, Policy and International Relations Program,
IASOS and Antarctic CRC