Britain to claim more than 1 million sq km of Antarctica

First Japan, then Russia. Now Britain:

The United Kingdom is planning to claim sovereign rights over a vast area of the remote seabed off Antarctica, the Guardian has learned. The submission to the United Nations covers more than 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) of seabed, and is likely to signal a quickening of the race for territory around the south pole in the world’s least explored continent.

The claim would be in defiance of the spirit of the 1959 Antarctic treaty, to which the UK is a signatory. It specifically states that no new claims shall be asserted on the continent. The treaty was drawn up to prevent territorial disputes.

The Foreign Office, however, has told the Guardian that data is being gathered and processed for a submission to the UN which could extend British oil, gas and mineral exploitation rights up to 350 miles offshore into the Southern Ocean.

As we have seen/discussed more or less on an ongoing basis. For all our big talk about international co-operation, none of us have, truly, accepted that we are all in this together (sorry, John F Kennedy. It just isn’t happening). We are friends of only very fair weather, indeed.

The kick is that, like the Russian plan, reliance is upon the Law of the Sea:

Last month the Guardian revealed the UK is working on three other sub-sea claims in the Atlantic: around South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, surrounding Ascension Island and in the Hatton/Rockall basin, west of Scotland. Britain has already lodged a joint claim at the UN – with France, Ireland and Spain – for a large area of seabed in the Bay of Biscay.

The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that the UK was working to extend sovereign territory into new areas. “There are five claims in total that the UK is hoping to put forward,” a statement said. “They are in the Bay of Biscay, around Ascension, off the British Antarctic Territory, around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and in the Hatton/Rockall basin.

“We believe these five meet the geological conditions required. The claims are based on article 76 of the UN convention of the law of the sea.”

…meaning the US can’t, for now, play. For now. The fact that the US is not in the game has never stopped them ruining such games before (International Criminal Court, anyone?), and no country in this game is pretending any of their own niceties will last, either:

The UK claim on Antarctica will be its most controversial because it depends on proximity to the British Antarctic Territory which overlaps rival land claims by Chile and Argentina. The environmental protocol to the Antarctic treaty, agreed in 1991, currently prohibits all mineral related activity, other than for scientific research.

The stakes are perceived, simply put, to be too high. The US has been documented as taking on Iraq (a) for oil, and (b) because they could (as opposed to the far tougher tasks of Iran or North Korea). We are seeing, and will see, most countries doing what they can to get what they can while they can. The basic behaviour is not that different. One wonders whether it’s even changed since the Ardipithecenes (no, no apologies to the creationists).

It shall be interesting, to say the least, to observe just how much lip-service our governments pay to how many international treaties, and how many nasty lawyers are brought to bear to stretch them how far. No?

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