Carving Up Antarctica?
This week Brendan Borrell suggested in the New York Times that it was time to reconsider the status of Antarctica.
Antarctica is now effectively an international, stateless, demilitarized zone, on the basis of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. Many countries have land claims, but they effectively put them aside when they sign the treaty, as most powers have.
Borrell advocates dropping the treaty and letting nations claim pieces of Antarctica, as he thinks that national interests would drive stronger environmental protection. This could lead to significant downsides, however:
- Opening up national claims could expand environmental abuses, both in the fisheries that concern Borrell and on land. Do we really want Chinese and Russian companies to have free rein in parts of the continent?
- Abandoning the treaty would mean stepping away from a system that has been remarkably successful in fostering cooperation and non-militarization, even at the height of the Cold War. Borrell himself notes the British and Argentines exchanged gunfire in Antarctica before the treaty.
- Letting the treaty lapse would open up Antarctica to competition just as climate change may make exploitation of polar resources more plausible, setting the state for more conflict.
Perhaps instead the treaty could be strengthened, especially those aspects dealing with marine conservation?
(Image courtesy Eli Duke, Flickr)