That’s the rule, per the Antarctic Treaty, signed on Dec. 1, 1959. Antarctica, for political or military purposes, is off-limits.
The treaty originally held 12 signatories, including the rival United States and Soviet Union. The treaty was signed to ensure that Antarctica would be used for purely scientific purposes, and ensure that research on the continent could and would remain collaborative and not get penned up by that petty Cold War stuff up north. It also banned using Antarctica as a testing ground
The original New York Times article about the treaty notes that seven countries — Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway — got to keep their territorial claims to the snowy continent. But as part of the new treaty, no further claims would be recognized. (In addition to those seven countries, the U.S., the Soviet Union, Belgium, Japan, and South Africa signed on.)
But because the treaty explicitly says the continent may not be used to advance any political goals, the Times noted, “Many hope that this will ultimately permit the claims issue to die a natural death.”
The treaty also established how the continent would be governed:
The treaty provides that scientific parties may go anywhere they wish in Antarctica. But they do not have the right, accorded the inspectors, of probing into buildings, planes and ships. Each nation retains jurisdiction over its own nationals wherever they may be.
Today, 50 countries have signed on to the treaty, making it all the less likely that Earth will ever see its own version of the Battle of Hoth.
photo credit: 23am.com, Creative Commons/flickr