Future of Antarctica

June 25, 1982

Report Outline
Recent Tensions in Area
History of Exploration
U.S. Role on Continent
Special Focus

Recent Tensions in Area

Link Between the Falklands and Antarctica

Great britain and Argentina both claim sovereignty over the same portion of land in the extreme southern Atlantic Ocean. The dispute over the sovereignty of this area has been going on for most of the century, and several times during the last 30 years the two nations nearly came to blows over the issue. The contested real estate in this case is not the Falkland Islands, but Antarctica—the world's most isolated and forbidding continent.

Five other nations—Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway—also claim a slice of the Antarctic pie. Only a unique international agreement, the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, has kept the sovereignty question from causing troublesome international problems. Under the treaty, which was drawn up by the claimant nations and five other countries with scientific interests in Antarctica, all territorial claims are in abeyance (see p. 483). The treaty also bans military force in Antarctica and mandates that the continent be used solely for scientific purposes.

For the most part, the treaty nations have lived up to the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty. But recent disputes in the area just north of Antarctica involving Argentina, Chile and Great Britain—three nations claiming overlapping portions of the Antarctic Peninsula (see map, p. 474)—have threatened the stability of the entire region. Early in 1977 Chilean President Gen. Augusto Pinochet traveled to Antarctica to reassert his nation's claim to the peninsula, whose tip is about 750 miles south of Cape Horn. The following year Chile and Argentina came close to war over sovereignty of three barren islands in the Beagle Channel at the southern tip of South America. The two nations have feuded bitterly over the islands ever since; the Vatican has been trying to arbitrate the dispute without much success.

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