Perfect peace in Antarctica

By Jonathan Power

November 15th 2016.

In 1772, sailing to the far south, Captain James Cook deflated the prevailing myth of Antarctica, that it was a temperate land, fertile and populated. Although he never landed on the continent he saw the vast icebergs, the frozen sea and the “worst weather anywhere in the world”. He wrote that “it is a continent doomed by nature” and doubted that man would ever find a use for it.

The words had not been long out of his mouth before governments started to make tentative grabs. The British were the first to make a move, claiming sovereignty on the grounds that the government needed to regulate commercial whaling.

The grabbing continued over the next century, to be followed by a lull and a passive acceptance of the status quo by the rest of the world. Now, however, the “ice continent”, the vast wilderness of ice, whipped continuously by hurricane force winds surrounded by cold grey seas, has become the centre of its own stormy debates. It is mankind’s last frontier on earth, its ice-covered mountains and surrounding seas contain undiscovered resources- oil, gas, uranium, platinum as well as krill, whales, penguins and petrels.

So who owns Antarctica? The original buccaneering nations who grabbed it first? Or is it, like the UN’s Law of the Sea, another “common heritage of mankind”, as suggested by the eminent Latin American jurist Andres Bello who developed the thesis in 1831 that “those things that cannot be possessed by one nation without detriment to the rest have to be considered by the international community as indivisible common patrimony”?

The Antarctica discussions have been Read More »