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Antarctica, a source of new conflicts?

antartida1.jpgIt is easy to understand why there is interest in Antarctica; not only is it very probable that it has oil, gas and mineral riches, but it also has something that could be of even greater importance in the future, and which is neither possible nor probable, but unmistakably there: fresh water, of which Antarctica must be the largest known reserve.

(From Santiago de Chile) THE SO-CALLED FROZEN CONTINENT was enjoying a harmonious life until, in October 2007, the United Kingdom declared to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [1] its intention to extend its claims in the area over a continental of shelf of more than 200 miles, from the Falkand Islands to South Georgia Island. The area is not small, as the United Kingdom would be claiming a maritime area of up to a million square kilometers on the white continent.

The problem is that not only does the extension reach Antarctica, but it also superimposes itself on territories that Chile and Argentina today claim as their own. As a result, it sets in motion a movement that would practically obligate the countries that signed the Antarctic Treaty [2] half a century ago, of which seven claimed immediate sovereignty, to act in a similar fashion. Along with the United Kingdom, the other six claiming countries are Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway.

Besides, the United Kingdom threw off balance a mechanism that had functioned without many hiccups since 1959, the year in which the Antarctic Treaty was passed, which froze all claims for 50 years and prevented economic exploitation and military utilization. In practice, this actions speeds up the revision of the Treaty, which was initially set for the year 2009.

A GLOBAL CONFLICT THROWN ON TOP UF US

In addition to the apparent lack of commitment to the environment, the topic is complicated for other reasons, given that many things have changed since 1959. “In the future, conflicts will not only arise over the possession of hydrocarbons, but, just like in the most remote antiquity, over the need to control the liquid element” To begin, even though they were not all among the original signers of the treaty, the majority of countries have some type of presence there nowadays, above all with their own bases.

Secondly, there are important players who need to be taken into consideration for 2009, such as the United States, which is not among the original signers and, for that reason, has since then been a promoter of the idea that sovereign territorial claims should not be considered, and that Antarctica should instead be a communal world heritage site. Will it maintain the same position in 2009?

We must also take into consideration the current clout of countries whose influence was rather marginal when the treaty was signed, of which China is the most well-known case.

Additionally, the environmental movement and the global public opinion are important players in any discussion regarding the topic.

“The reason for why the United Kingdom acted in such a manner has to do with how bad its relationship with Putin’s Russia is” And finally, there are the transnational firms, which have at their disposal technological and financial resources that were not within their reach half a century ago.

For the aforementioned reasons, by stepping out of the bucolic box in regards to Antarctic claims, the United Kingdom set the wheels in motion for a global conflict that will soon be upon us.

It is easy to understand why there is interest in Antarctica; not only is it very probable that it has oil, gas and mineral riches, but it also has something that could be of even greater importance in the future, and which is neither possible nor probable, but unmistakably there: fresh water, of which Antarctica must be the largest known reserve.

And there is no doubt that in the future, conflicts will not only arise over the possession of hydrocarbons, but, just like in the most remote antiquity, over the need to control the liquid element.

A RESPONSE TO RUSSIA’S SURPRISE

The question in why a country like the United Kingdom acted in such a manner, when it was aware of the fact that by giving a presentation before the UN that, at least until 2009, will go straight to its filing cabinet, it was not only violating the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, but also setting in motion a mechanism that clashed with the Antarctic Treaty.

“Moscow successfully carried out an unprecedented dive to the seabed below the North Pole, where it planted a Russian flag made of titanium at a depth of 4,302 meters” Were the British diplomats ignoring this? Of course not. Their principal aim was not to irritate (from their point of view) lesser players either, in reference to the sovereignty claims that Chile and Argentina have made with dedication and force. None of that. In order to find the reason for why the United Kingdom acted in such a manner, we must look to the other end of the world, as it has to do with a fight between big dogs, and is a testament to how bad the UK’s relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is.

In essence, the British action cannot be explained in any way other than as a response to the surprise that Russia gave to the world when, in August 2007, it successfully carried out an unprecedented dive to the seabed below the North Pole, where it planted a Russian flag made of titanium at a depth of 4,302 meters. What Moscow was looking to do was demonstrate that it possesses rights to an area of 1,2 million square kilometers, which would be an extension of its territory. In case global warming continues, the flag would provide proof of its rights. What it achieved was an immediate response from the United States and nations that are normally very peaceful, like Canada and Denmark, who, in thinking about the oil and gas reserves, have the same aspiration.

In summary, the British claim put in motion (before 2009) a virtual race for the revision of the Antarctic Treaty, obligating other countries to take steps that they had not planned to take until that date. It also inaugurated a conflict that, as diplomatic as the route may be, is going to have a global reach, given the rewards that await in Antarctica. The UK probably would not have taken this step if it had not been for the Russian action in the other pole.

The question that is still up in the air is what will happen to the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty on a reserve for humanity dedicated to scientific and peaceful purposes only?