Revista de Marina
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Antarctica 2050: the white chessboard moves its pieces.

Antártica 2050: el tablero blanco mueve sus piezas

  • Received at: 10/11/2020
  • Published at: 14/12/2020. Visto 1226 veces.
  • Abstract (spanish):

    Tal como un tablero de ajedrez en tablas, el Tratado Antártico ha mantenido al continente blanco en status quo respecto a reclamaciones territoriales y explotación. Conforme se acerca el 2050 y se cumple el plazo de revisión, se van diferenciando los países con intereses en dos tipos de jugador. Aquellos revisionistas que mueven sus piezas para obtener una ventaja futura y aquellos, como Chile que, reforzando su posición y respeto a tratados vigentes, reafirman la protección y paz Antártica.

  • Keywords (spanish): Antártica, intereses, revisionista, STA, status quo.
  • Abstract:

    Just like a chessboard, the Antarctic Treaty has kept the white continent in status quo with respect to territorial claims and exploitation of its resources. As we near the year 2050 and the deadline for the treaty´s review, the countries with interests in that continent have differentiated in two types of players. First the revisionists, that move their pawns to obtain an advantage in the future and those, like Chile that in reinforcing its claim and compliance to international agreements, reaffirms the protection and peace in Antarctic.

  • Keywords: Antarctic, interests, revisionist, STA, status quo.

The Antarctic continent, vast in unexploited minerals and fossil fuels, constitutes the planet´s largest freshwater reserve, and enjoys a diverse marine fauna and possibly many other resources yet to be discovered. This continent has remained free of any dispute and conflict for more than 60 years since the creation in 1959, of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).

The ATS is undoubtedly one of the most successful international agreements, in which a large majority of countries worldwide have agreed on a peaceful and scientific use of the white continent, leaving in status quo territorial claims and exploitation of its resources. As in a game of chess, comparable to a draw or stalemate, for many years the signatory countries stopped moving the chessboard, maintaining to a large extent, their positions. For some time now, several countries have been quietly moving their pieces, either to reinforce their stances, improve their position or, at least, to be a more relevant part of the next game, since the year 2048 will mark 50 years since the entry in effect in 1998, of the “Madrid Protocol”, where this agreement will be reviewed. This protocol seeks protection of the Antarctic environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems. It is worth asking oneself; Who is behind each move and what position should our country take in the first half of the 21st century?

In the book, “The Great World Chessboard”, by Zbigniew Brzezinski, in 1998 the author analyzed, from a chess perspective, the strategic imperatives of the United States of America to maintain supremacy in the global order. Likewise, further on it will be pointed out that, like a chessboard, some countries with claims in Antarctica will make strategic moves, in which each move must be careful and well calculated, according to their respective interests. Although, in the game of stratagems only two rivals face each other, each one with its ability to win the game, in the Antarctic continent, with more than a dozen countries with interests and activities in the area, it is possible to deduce the existence of two groups of competitors. On the eve of the next game that will take place near the year 2050, some countries will try to make a calculated or masterful revisionist move, trying to turn the board in their favor and, on the other hand, there will be those countries, committed to world order and cooperation, who will seek to maintain the status quo that currently prevails.

In his book “The Origins of Revisionist States and Status-Quo”, Jason Davidson (2006) defines revisionist States as those that seek a change in the distribution of goods, be it territory, market, expansion of ideology or a change in the international law. The author argues that the meaning of revisionist is given mainly by the objectives pursued by the State, rather than by the actions it takes, there being a gap between the adoption of revisionist objectives and their implementation. It is remarkable how some countries with a history in the Antarctica have implemented policies and concrete actions to reinforce their position and claims. The Chilean Think Tank AthenaLab, in its study "Chile and the Southern Hemisphere: Antarctica in Transition? specifies that the existing member countries:

...have been joined by an additional group of increasingly active countries, including South Korea, Turkey, India and, primarily, China, a country whose ambition to grow into an Antarctic power is part of its strategic agenda to turn into the main world power by the middle of the 21st century (AthenaLab and Henry Jackson Society, 2020, p. 13).

The U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS 2017), has labeled China as revisionist, indicating that it has expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. A clear example in this regard was the total complacence by China of the ruling against them by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague (PCA) in 2016 over the South China Sea dispute, regarding the Scarborough Shoal case and part of the Spratly Islands, in the face of the unilateral claim filed by the Philippines. The year 2049 will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and the so-called dream of the Asian giant. Its leader, President Xi Jinping is steering his country to be a nation with global leadership, which implies orchestrating the rise of this millennial country to regain its historic and rightful place in Asia and beyond (Yoshihara & Holmes, 2018). China has increased its presence in the Antarctica since the creation of its first polar station “Great Wall”, in 1985, and announced the construction of a fifth station to begin operations by 2022, thus matching the United States. Added to this is the construction of its second indigenous Polar-3 class icebreaker, operational since July 2019. Not only is the intention, but also the attitude in the international arena and the concrete actions taken in recent times, that suggest China, in its global strategy, seeks a recognized and unwavering space for its claims in the Antarctic.

Russia, on the other hand, also labeled a revisionist State by the NSS 2017, mainly because, contrary to international law, illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, is proud of the exploits of the Imperial Russian Navy´s intrepid navigator, Fabian von Bellingshausen, indisputably linking the Antarctic history with Moscow's interests. Although it has not significantly increased its activities in Antarctica in the last decades, Russia has a long history and scientific development in the South Pole. It is relevant to note that, in 2019, at the request of the “Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources” (CCAMLR) and the motion presented by Australia, France and the European Union, Russia, together with China, blocked plans to establish sanctuaries for the preservation of vulnerable marine species in the Ross Sea. For eight consecutive years, this initiative has failed. At the same time, Russia has maintained close ties with Argentina in relation to the Antarctic, which has supported with a polar ship and cargo aircraft to supply its stations (Witker, 2019). Russia, which the year 2020 celebrated the bicentennial of the discovery of Antarctica sighted by von Bellingshausen in 1820 aboard the sailing ship “Vostock”, has kept open the possibility of future access to marine resources in Antarctic waters. Once a world power during the Cold War, Russia has increased its international leadership, carefully observed by the West, both in the international conflicts that have affected Syria and Armenia-Azerbaijan. By virtue of its international attitude and polar reputation, it is likely that it will continue to move its pieces in an indirect way or with a Kasparov-like master move, to ensure a game in its favor.

In this matter, Argentina has entered in a category of revisionist. In July 2020, its National Congress unanimously passed into law, two bills aimed at strengthening and protecting the sovereignty of that country with respect to the continental shelf, the South Atlantic islands, and the Argentine Antarctic sector. After the presentation in 2009 by the Argentinian government at the United Nations “Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf” (CLCS) and published in various local news media, the Argentine Republic "increases the legal security for the exploration and exploitation of the immeasurable riches that exist in the seabed and subsoil of the sea" (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina, 2020). This is not only contrary to new territorial definitions that inhibit the ATS, and which have been maintained in diplomatic agreements of "not to consider," but also infringes the Treaty of Peace and Friendship (TPA in Spanish) in force with Chile. The TPA clearly states in its Article IV, paragraph 2: "No new claims of territorial sovereignty shall be made in the Antarctic, nor shall previous claims asserted be extended, while the present Treaty is in force" (Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2012). This move can be seen as daring, given the international agreements, and undoubtedly seeks a change in the territorial distribution that can be settled in the future.

In 2004 Australia set a precedent, being the first country to claim areas of the continental shelf in the Antarctic continent, but after an agreement adopted that year by the claimant countries, requested the CLCS not to consider, in their respective submissions, the area south of latitude 60°S (Guzmán, 2017). Despite that, not only would Argentina join Australia in the attempts to include continental shelf claims, but also Norway in 2009, thru its submission in relation to Bouvet Island and Queen Maud Land.

Other powers, such as the United States, have kept a calmer but more observant pace in Antarctica. In the last decade, the world's leading power has kept its focus on the Arctic rather than the Antarctic, looking closely at the new sea-lanes that are opening as a result of the melting of the Artic Ocean, close to its geographical position in the North Atlantic, and which are being exploited by its competitors. Perhaps because of this, has not made any moves that could alarm the status quo at the South Pole. The U.S. has a continuous and permanent presence in the Antarctic territory, and a sponsor of the STA in Washington DC in 1959. Its Antarctic Program (USAP) policy emphasizes advancing U.S. objectives by supporting the ATS, encouraging international cooperation, and maintaining an active and influential presence in the region (United States Antarctic Program, 2020). There is no doubt that it keeps a watchful and cautious eye on the moves of its closest competitors. But, as Henry Kissinger stated in his book “Diplomacy”, in the context of the new or emerging post-Cold War world order, the U.S. cannot withdraw or be absolute dominant on the world stage, so it requires consensus and allies to maintain its global interests, especially in times of superpower competition, with a strong presence in the white continent.

Other countries, original signatories of the ATS, like France, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, have maintained their presence and scientific activities, approaching for consensus and sustainability of the Antarctic treaty.

Chile, as a significant and proactive player in Antarctica, both for its geographical position closer to the white continent and for its status as an original signatory country of the ATS, has maintained a presence with stations (bases) and permanent scientific research, especially through the Chilean Antarctic Institute, (INACH) under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREL). It also provides connectivity, operating two airfields, one located in the South Shetland Islands and the other in the “Union” Glacier (within the Antarctic Circle). Chile provides air and sea transportation to the different Antarctic operators, and offers safety-of-life-at-sea and navigational aid in polar waters by means of the “Combined Antarctic Naval Patrol” (PANC), the latter a yearly combined operation with Argentina.

As stated in Chile's 2035 strategic vision for the Antarctic, the legitimacy of the ATS "constitutes the best scheme for regulating Antarctic activity and the one that best protects sovereign rights over the Chilean Antarctic Territory" (Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2015). The latter reflects the coexistence of national interests together with compliance for international agreements and the current status quo on the white continent. Of course, this vision should be extended towards 2050 and updated according to the new Antarctic law, especially asserting our interests and international commitment in the face of moves by those revisionist countries.

The Antarctic Law N°21.255, also called Antarctic Statute, enacted on August 21st, 2020, modernizes Chile´s Antarctic institutional framework, fulfilling with the obligations of the ATS, in compliance with international law, as indicated in its Article 3:

Chilean sovereignty shall be exercised with full respect to the rules of international law and Chile´s current international commitments, within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty System, and in accordance with the provisions of the Chilean legal system (Library of National Congress, 2020). 

Thus, reinforcing the strategic vision and sending a clear signal to countries that want to alter the white board with respect to international commitments.

It is evident, then, that as the year 2050 approaches, countries with interests in the Antarctica are already moving the pieces on the chessboard, either to reaffirm their position or to generate a change in their favor. China, Russia, and Argentina seem to be, for now, the ones who are moving the pieces to somehow unbalance the chessboard in case of a new game upon completion of the Madrid Protocol. Their revisionist attitude suggests that they could assert their own interests beyond international agreements in force. Australia and Norway have made more subtle moves but have come to their senses at the behest of the Antarctic diplomatic bodies, advocating the status quo. The United Kingdom, France and New Zealand continue moving along the path of the ATS, reinforcing their positions and maintaining their activities in Antarctica. The United States remains vigilant to the movement of its competitors and, perhaps, has realized that it cannot neglect one pole of the other, and as part of its foreign policy, it will have to deepen the alliances that allow it to have a global presence. Nothing will prevent that, in the almost three decades remaining, the players change sides with some out-of-regulation movement of pieces or that new competitors appear. It is undoubtedly a long-term strategic game.

These are examples of how some countries will be inclined to shake up the chessboard, others will make an ingenious move or maintain their current position on the white board in view of international cooperation. This latter option requires, for all types of powers (small and large), maintaining alliances and a common narrative in the face of positions that move away from the rules in play, i.e., the ATS. In this way, when the time comes for a review, can have a firm stance with a widespread support over those specific interests that may move away from the objectives that today govern the white continent.

Our country, abiding of treaties and international law, should continue to strengthen its position in conviction with the ATS and move forward with impetus to protect the current status of Antarctica, keeping in place its pieces of the chessboard, thereby reaffirming that these pieces belong to us by right, product of the past and present, in a protected continent and in harmonious peace.

Finally, Chile must continue to reaffirm its interests with a strong State policy, increasing its presence and boosting research and safety activities, seeking strategic alliances that allows the country to protect its sovereignty rights and face the challenges that lie ahead for the Antarctic of 2050.


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