Geopolitics of Antarctica


Geopolitics of Antarctica

Imagine a place without war, without mineral exploitation where the environment is fully protected. A place where peace and cooperation, science and the environment come before money and power.

South Pole Station
South Pole station, Antarctica
© British Antarctic Survey

This sounds like an imaginary place doesn't it? However this is reality in Antarctica under the Antarctic Treaty system which was put into place in 1959.

Antarctica hasn't always been a place of peace and cooperation though. Since 1908 seven nations have made formal claims to parts of Antarctica. During the 1940s and 1950s these competing claims led to diplomatic disputes and even armed clashes. In 1948, Argentinean military forces fired on British troops in an area claimed by both countries. The 'scramble' for Antarctica intensified in the 1950s. By the end of 1955 a number of countries had created over 20 bases in the Antarctic Peninsula including Argentina, Chile, Britain and the United States of America.

The Antarctic Treaty is set within the context of the Cold War, a time when the USA and the Soviet Union were involved in a standoff involving nuclear weapons. The USSR was also beginning to show interest in Antarctica and there were fears that Antarctica could become a pawn in the Cold War. Diplomats designed a treaty setting Antarctica aside as a military free zone and precluded future territorial claims. The treaty was signed by 12 nations (the original 7 with claims on Antarctica plus South Africa, Belgium, Japan, and the Soviet Union). The treaty came into affect in June 1961 and now forms the basis of all policies and management in Antarctica.

Antarctic territorial claims
Antarctic territorial claims

There are many geopolitical issues to be considered in the governance of the Antarctic, the Antarctic Treaty has many political elements. Only some of the geopolitical have been covered in this section and only one species, the albatross, has been studied in depth as it combines many factors such as conservation, regulation and resource exploitation.

>> 4:1 Antarctic Treaty