While the United States has a legal foundation to claim land in Antarctica, it has yet to do so. Other countries with interests in Antarctica include Russia and China.
In 1820, America's Congress passed the Submerged Lands Act (SLA), which claimed all lands that were under water but weren't owned by other countries. The SLA also granted American citizens the right to explore and claim mineral deposits on these lands. In 1959, the United States and Britain signed an agreement calling for cooperation in their activities in Antarctica. This agreement was revised in 1965 to allow each country to conduct scientific research in Antarctica without interference from the others. As part of this agreement, neither country has territorial claims in Antarctica.
China's first expedition to Antarctica was led by Chen Dianzhong and began in November 1980. The group spent three months conducting geological studies before returning home in December 1981. A second Chinese team returned to Antarctica in February 1992 and remained there for seven months. This team also conducted geological studies and helped build two research stations: one at Zhanyin Island and another at Anshun Station on the South Shetland Islands. China has since then continued its program of marine science research in Antarctica.
While the current Treaty is in effect, no new claim or extension of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica will be established. Despite common belief, the pact did not "freeze" the claims, implying that they were somehow stopped. In fact, it only states that no new claim shall be made while the treaty is in force. This means that countries can make new claims if they choose to do so.
The treaty was formed after World War II when the nations involved agreed not to invade each other's territory nor build military bases on the Antarctic continent. Since then, many other countries have joined the agreement, including China, Russia, and the United States.
In 2009, Argentina announced its intention to begin constructing a research station on South Georgia Island, which is located 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) from the southern tip of Africa. The government claimed that this would not violate the Antarctic Treaty because the island is not covered by it. However, many scientists believe that building the station could help lead to the eventual annexation of South Georgia by Argentina.
In December 2010, Chile announced that it would also be building a research station on South Georgia. Like the Argentine project, this one is expected to be completed by 2015.
Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom are the seven sovereign governments that have claimed territorial claims in Antarctica. All of these countries also have diplomatic relations with the United States, which is one of only five countries to have permanent sovereignty over Antarctica.
Other states that have sent scientists to work on research stations built by their nations include Bahrain, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
In 2009, Argentina issued a decree claiming 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) of land including all Antarctic waters deeper than 200 meters (656 feet). The claim was not recognized by other countries or the UN. In 2013, Argentina again claimed ownership of large parts of Antarctica, this time extending its border to include all underwater areas. However many countries still view Argentinian claims as invalid since they were not approved by other countries or the UN.
Australia acquired its first territory, known then as New Holland, now part of modern-day Australia and New Zealand. In 1820, Britain's King George III granted the British government rights to any valuable minerals found in this new territory.
Antarctica is not owned by anybody. Antarctica is not owned by a single country. Instead, Antarctica is administered by a unique international coalition of states. The Antarctic Treaty, which was signed for the first time on December 1, 1959, recognizes Antarctica as a continent dedicated to peace and research. No nation can claim ownership of Antarctica, but each treaty member grants certain rights to all other members.
In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution encouraging all countries to be parties to the Antarctic Treaty. Countries that are not treaty members can join by submitting an application to the Secretariat of the treaty. As of now, only Russia is known to have rejected the treaty. China announced its intent to join in 1992 and is expected to do so later this year.
The Antarctic Treaty system was designed by US politicians who wanted to prevent any conflict from developing over Antarctica. By declaring Antarctica to be for scientific research only, the leaders of these nine countries were trying to avoid any further violence like that which occurred in World War II. These countries agreed not to exploit Antarctica's resources or interfere with one another's scientific studies. They also agreed not to send military vessels to Antarctica.
Since the treaty was created, 17 more nations have joined as full partners or observer states. They include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Africa.