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Which major powers were among the original signers?

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The United States and the Soviet Union, both of which have potentially large claims in Antarctica. Several European powers - Britain, France, Belgium, and Norway - are among the original 12. Japan is there, as well as the countries you would logically expect in the Southern Hemisphere - Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Is a political drama shaping up, as nations that so far have not been part of the process press to participate?

That is exactly what's happening. Antarctica's mineral resources are all extremely iffy. Nonetheless, the fact that it is unclear who owns them, the fact that the claims issue was never resolved and probably never will be, and the fact that in many minds these must be international resources, has raised world interest in them.

Even though we may never develop Antarctic minerals - or certainly maybe not until the next century - and even though any offshore oil development is at least 10 years away, both the Antarctic Treaty nations and the outside world are becoming deeply interested in the disposition of these minerals. This interest is strong among developing nations, which previously have played no role in Antarctica.

Currently the treaty parties are negotiating to agree on a regime which would help to decide whether Antarctic minerals are ever to be developed, and if so, what environmental, legal, and financial arrangements should be put in place.

What is the US position in these negotiations?

Main goal of the United States is to keep Antarctica peaceful. It therefore favors upholding the Antarctic Treaty even past 1991, when it may be reviewed. Anticipating that the subject of Antarctic resources might become extremely controversial, either in the United Nations or within the treaty group itself, the US has pressed to get resource regimes negotiated.

What is the forum of the negotiations?

So far, the United Nations has played no direct role in Antarctic affairs. Over the years, in fact, the treaty powers have discouraged such UN activity. Treaty members feel they have an excellent system of administration to deal with expeditions, science, environmental protection, and now to negotiate the very delicate question of resources.

In September 1983, however, Malaysia - claiming to speak on behalf of the developing world - moved to put the subject of Antarctica on the United Nations agenda. It has now been inscribed, but will not be discussed by the General Assembly as a whole. It was referred to the committee on disarmament.

Is the continent being drawn into the so-called North-South dialogue, between rich and developing nations?

That is the $64,000 question in Antarctic politics today. Several years ago many observers believed that Antarctica would become a football in the confrontation between the South, or developing world, and the rich industrial nations. Now, however, something very interesting has started to evolve. Several major developing countries - some in the Latin bloc, plus India and China - have expressed interest in joining the Antarctic Treaty. Several Latin nations have very recently joined as ''acceding powers'' to the treaty. They agree to abide by its terms, but cannot vote, because they don't have scientific activities in Antarctica. So these developing countries are inside the tent, instead of standing outside and throwing stones at it. In September, as I have said, two leading developing nations - India and Brazil - became voting members. China is not yet an acceding party, but has expressed interest in doing scientific research in Antarctica and cooperating with the nations that are there.