Race to Antarctica, Which Country Owns This Continent?

Who owns the Antarctica

Neko Harbour, Antarctica, Image taken by Rita Willaert

Antarctica, only continent which doesn’t have a native human population lies in the southern latitudes. The continent attracts large number of scientific expeditions and various temporary and permanent research missions. Found to be rich in mineral and other essential resources, more countries are trying to increase their presence in this continent.

According to the Antarctica Treaty System none of the signatory countries can use Antarctica’s land for military and mining purpose. No country can claim their territorial claims on part or full of this continent. Antarctica land should only be used for peaceful and cooperative scientific research.

However, in next few decades the world may see the new geopolitical development and Antarctica could be open for the business and military reasons, especially when the super power will discover the way to profitably extract oil and minerals from the earth crust beneath a kilometer thick layers of ice. Although according to the treaty, no country has right to draw state border on the continent, still there are some countries including those who are signatory of this treaty whose constitutions guarantee control over some part of Antarctica.

nations claiming Antarctica
Nations claiming parts of Antarctica. Mixed colours means the overlapping claims by two or more countries

Australia raises claims to one third of the continent. Argentina and even the UK claims because of Falkland island’s vicinity to Antarctica. Chile has also strongly made claims to the same sector as of UK and Argentina.

“The sector which belongs to Chile is registered in Argentina and the UK as their own sectors. If one of those countries says that this is their territory they will face opposition from the whole of the Antarctic community and the two pioneer countries, as well as those countries whose constitutions also claim that those are their territories. The agreement on the Antarctic prevents all countries from taking any steps concerning the continent but the ocean around is a different matter. There is a contradiction between the maritime law and the treaty on the use of seabed mineral resources.” Vyacheslav Martianov from the Institute of the Arctic and the Antarctic, deputy head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, explains the situation.

New Zealand, France and Norway also raise claims to parts of the Antarctic. Norway is prepared to annex lands in the centre of the continent that exceed the area of that country tenfold. In addition, there are about 20 other countries including India and Pakistan that in the past began scientific research on the South Pole, made some discoveries there and built research stations. In the future their contribution to the Antarctic science could become the reason for claiming rights to their own piece of the sixth continent, experts say. However, no one has yet cancelled the right of pioneer countries for the new lands.

“The pioneer countries for the Antarctic are Russia and the US. Russia carried out the expedition of Bellingshausen and Lazarev in 1819-1821. Americans produced a pirate who discovered the Antarctic at approximately the same time and this has been recognized. For this reason the two countries are considered to be pioneers in discovering the Antarctic. As a pioneer country, either of these countries can announce the whole of the sixth continent their territory.” Vyacheslav Martianov tells Voice of Russia.

Antarctic Treaty is reviewed every fifty years, last time it was reviewed in 2009 and no amendments or changes were made. However, it is not known what kind of situation will it be in 2059 in terms of resources availability in the rest of the world and technology availability to extract minerals from Antarctica’s tough terrain.

Apart from the present territorial claims made by the countries in the proximity of this continent, there are other number of countries who have their research and scientific centres and find good interest in the future of  Antarctica. Every moderate developed country wants to establish a research centre in this continent so they can sometime raise a claim on the land and claim its resources. Among these countries the emerging economies BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have their permanent presence on the continent already even before this term was coined. Following India, its arch rival Pakistan also established their scientific research centre which is functional only during the summer season. Such move shows the economical, geopolitical and militaristic importance of Antarctica.

 research stations in antarctica
Countries having their Research Stations in Antarctica, click to enlarge.

As 2059 will come closer, more countries would try to establish their presence on the continent, either to claim some part or not let anyone claim it. It would be better for the world and mankind if we leave at least one part of our land to the nature and prevent the icy polar caps on the continent from further melting. Discovering and harnessing other sources of green energy would be a better investment than disturbing the geography of the continent. However, all this will depend on how far we would have reached in terms of technical progress by 2059. Till then Antarctica will remain a land devoted to peaceful and cooperative scientific research.

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Sanskar Shrivastava is the founder of international students' journal, The World Reporter. Passionate about dynamic occurrence in geopolitics, Sanskar has been studying and analyzing geopolitcal events from early life. At present, Sanskar is a student at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture and will be moving to Duke University.
  • Anonymous

    It was believed that Antartica contains gold mines and other minerals trapped inside the ice. It will be very costly to extract those minerals with the current technology. I hope the Antartic Treaty doesn’t get revised in even 2059. It can lead to environmental disasters.

  • Anonymous

    It not can even lead to enviromental disasters, it even can cause political desaster… Read for example this:
    http://www.fairobserver.com/article/who-will-control-antarctic