From the New Geopolitics of Resources to Nanotechnology: Emerging Challenges of Globalism in Antarctica

in The Yearbook of Polar Law Online
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Abstract

The Antarctic regime does not face imminent collapse, but its apparent calm disguises significant ecological and geopolitical instability. Over the past 15 years, the picture of human activity in Antarctica has transformed from one still heavily terrestrially focussed, dominated by national Antarctic programmes, largely science focussed, and situated within a Cold-War geopolitics, to one where diverse activities, increasingly including the marine environment, involving a much wider group of actors and commercial imperatives, is the norm. Globalism has brought new pressures, and increased intensity of pressures to Antarctica. Whilst the existing Antarctic Treaty System retains a theoretical capacity to develop standards and provide regulation, it has shown no obvious inclination to do so for a decade and a half. Critically, the system seems to have lost confidence in Antarctic exceptionalism as its organising principle, and to lack administrative capacity to address substantive issues. Given technology’s overcoming of the natural defences of Antarctica, if globalism now denies us the capacity to treat anywhere differently and thereby disables the principle of Antarctic exceptionalism upon which international governance of the region was predicated, Antarctica faces severe difficulties. This paper argues for continuing special treatment of Antarctica and a new deliberative exceptionalism. It suggests that significant unresolved issues within the present Antarctic dispensation need attention, notably the beginning of a debate on the abandonment of territorial sovereignty claims, a more coherent institutional development and the establishment of a political level Meeting of Parties in addition to the current officials-only meetings.

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