Time for Australia to Rethink Its Antarctica Policy

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2022-01-13 11:30:02

The Antarctic Treaty System has governed affairs in Antarctica since 1961. But it is now struggling under the weight of strategic power competition and new threats to Antarctica’s unique ecosystems. Through gaps in governance frameworks, states are exploiting the treaty to pursue national interests. This article examines how strategic power competition is affecting Antarctica and how Australia, as a claimant to 42 percent of East Antarctica, might seek to better protect it.

Antarctica offers great treasures in natural resources, fishing stocks, bioprospecting opportunities, climate science analysis, and hydrocarbons, with potential reserves of between 300 and 500 billion tonnes of natural gas on the continent and potentially 135 billion tonnes of oil in the Southern Ocean. Article 1 of the Antarctic Treaty declares that use of Antarctica is reserved for scientific observation and investigation – for peaceful purposes only. Article 1, however, is under siege.

Despite the treaty suspending the claims of the seven original claimants (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the U.K.), the United States and then-Soviet Union (as additional, non-claimant, original signatories) exercised the right under the treaty to stake a claim at a later stage. In effect, the treaty froze the issue of territorial sovereignty.

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