On January 23, I joined seven other members of a joint U.S.-Russian Federation team that departed Christchurch, New Zealand, for the United States' McMurdo Station in Antarctica to conduct inspections of facilities maintained by other nations in Antarctica. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, and most isolated continent on Earth. Despite these challenging conditions, there are more than 100 facilities of various sizes and capacities in Antarctica established by almost 30 Antarctic Treaty Parties. The Department of State and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, joined by colleagues from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Russian Antarctic Expedition, co-led the first joint inspection conducted by either country. NSF provided invaluable logistical assistance.
After an eight-hour flight on board a New York Air National Guard ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft, our Inspection Team arrived at McMurdo's Pegasus Ice Runway. It was 30 degrees with clear skies when we landed at 5:00 p.m. -- a nice summer day in Antarctica! We spent the next few days inspecting three foreign stations, installations, and equipment to assess compliance with the Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol on Environmental Protection.
The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 reserves the continent as an area exclusively for peaceful purposes. It places science at the heart of international cooperation on the continent by guaranteeing freedom of scientific research, including sharing research and information. The Treaty, which was negotiated and signed in Washington, D.C., provides the basis for the governance of Antarctica, including reserving the continent for peaceful purposes, guaranteeing freedom of scientific research, banning military activities, as well as protecting Antarctica's pristine environment. There are currently 49 parties to the Treaty, 28 of which, including the United States and Russia, conduct research on the continent and are entitled to the status of Consultative Party with the right to name inspectors.
Our Joint Inspection Team inspected three stations: Concordia (France/Italy), Mario Zucchelli (Italy), and Scott Base (New Zealand). These inspections are unique, as the Antarctic Treaty's inspection provision was precedent setting in international diplomacy and has been a cornerstone of the Treaty. It establishes the right of all Consultative Parties to conduct on-site, unannounced inspections of all installations and facilities in Antarctica, in order to monitor compliance and ensure observance of the Treaty's provisions. All three stations demonstrated best practices that could be emulated elsewhere on the continent. For instance, the joint management of Concordia provides a unique example of how countries can collaborate to maximize the scientific potential of a station in a remote location. New Zealand recently installed wind turbines at Scott Base that generate almost all of its power with renewable energy.
The United States and Russia will jointly present the results of our inspection to the other Treaty Parties at the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which will be held in Australia in June.
The United States and Russian Federation conduct some of the most extensive and diverse scientific activities in Antarctica. The United States maintains three permanent stations, including the only year-round scientific station at the South Pole, and has more personnel based in Antarctica than any other country. U.S. research has three goals: to understand the region and its ecosystems; to understand its effects on (and responses to) global processes such as climate; and to use the region as a platform to study the upper atmosphere and space.
Working closely with our Russian colleagues has provided an excellent opportunity to consider our shared objectives for the future of peace and science in Antarctica and globally. We look forward to building upon this cooperation with further collaboration in the future.
The Department of State coordinates U.S. policy on Antarctica in close cooperation with the National Science Foundation, which operates the U.S. Antarctic Program and the three year-round U.S. stations in Antarctica, and with other federal agencies. This is the thirteenth inspection undertaken by the United States since the Antarctic Treaty entered into force.
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