Saturday, November 14, 2015

British Antarctic Territory

When Apple announces a new iPhone, or Coach a new handbag, or BMW a new sedan, or J. K. Rowling a new Harry Potter novel, well, it's obvious, everybody has to have one, even if it does turn out to be no different really from the last one, and that was, well, let's not say junk, but you could have lived your life perfectly satisfactorily with what you already had. Thus it is with commercial trinkets and the mediocrities of entertainment, and thus it is, for nations, with regions of the world. The Spanish have just discovered some islands off the coast of America; then we must have some too. The Russians are planning a moon-landing. The Belgians are bringing slaves from Africa. The Pharaoh has an amazing new design for a burial-chamber. Must have one. Must have one.

So, apparently, it is with Antarctica; and therefore, alongside the Australians and New Zealanders and South Africans and Chileans and Argentinians, all of whom actually inhabit the northern regions of Antarctica and therefore have a reasonable claim on it, bits of the region are now in the hands of those other local neighbours, Belgium, France, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia; not China, surprisingly; or not China yet.

Australian Antarctic Territory covers nearly 3.7 million square miles, about 42% of Antarctica and nearly 80% of the total area of Australia itself. That seems to me entirely reasonable, given Australia’s geography. The British portion, by contrast, is rather smaller, but surely much larger, by about 100%, than can possibly be justified – after all, if Britain can own a portion, why shouldn't Chad, say, or Latvia, or Myanmar? The British portion nonetheless "comprises the sector of the Antarctic south of latitude 60 degrees South, between longitude 20 degrees West and 80 degrees West...The UK's claim to this part of Antarctica is the oldest of any made on the continent," according to the British government's own dedicated website. As though longevity mitigated. I hereby claim the entire western portion of Mars and Jupiter. It's mine because I claimed it first.

Such has been the competition for the glaciers, the penguin roosts, the seal birthing-grounds, and of course the billions of barrels of untapped oil underneath the ice somewhere, that the countries with claims, or wannabe claims, got together in Washington as long ago as December 1959, and signed The Antarctic Treaty, whose terms are well worth reading, if only because they provide a perfect template for a wider and larger treaty of all nations, which I shall call "The Template For World Peace", and hope that no one starts a fight with me over any part of the wording.

The Treaty asserts that the Antarctic "should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. Military activities, such as the establishment of military bases or weapons testing, are specifically prohibited," which makes a wonderful starting-point; the next clause "guarantees continued freedom to conduct scientific research", which is outstanding; but it gets even better, with lines such as "promotes international scientific cooperation, including the exchange of research plans and personnel, and requires that results of research be made freely available; sets aside the potential for sovereignty disputes between Treaty parties by providing that no activities will enhance or diminish previously asserted positions with respect to territorial claims; provides that no new or enlarged claims can be made, and makes rules relating to jurisdiction; prohibits nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste; provides for inspection by observers, designated by any party, of ships, stations and equipment in Antarctica to ensure the observance of, and compliance with, the Treaty; requires parties to give advance notice of their expeditions; provides for the parties to meet periodically to discuss measures to further the objectives of the Treaty; puts in place a dispute settlement procedure and a mechanism by which the Treaty can be modified"; and it even has a clause which states that "any member of the United Nations can accede to it".

Wow! Today the Antarctic, tomorrow the world!

Marks For: 6.5 billion (one for everybody living on the planet)

Marks Against: 12 (for the number of countries who own a portion of Antarctica but sadly, based on the evidence of history, and the current state of world politics, cannot be trusted to fulfill all their treaty obligations)

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