FOR SCIENCE AND PEACE: The Creation and Evolution of THE ANTARCTIC TREATY SYSTEM

By Blumenfeld, Steven | Yale Economic Review, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

FOR SCIENCE AND PEACE: The Creation and Evolution of THE ANTARCTIC TREATY SYSTEM


Blumenfeld, Steven, Yale Economic Review


A Model for International Cooperation and Governance

THE ANTARCTIC TREATY was signed fifty years ago on December 1, 1959. Since then, its governance model has adapted to meet new challenges, all the while maintaining the delicate balance necessary to preserve the foundational aspects of the treaty, such as the management of the issue of sovereignty. In a speech to The Joint Session of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in April 2008, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the treaty as "a blueprint for the kind of international cooperation that will be needed more and more to address the challenges of the 21st century."1 As we look at the major issues of our increasingly globalized and interdependent world, international governance schemes such as the Antarctic Treaty System are of particular importance as potential models to help us deal with other global commons issues, such as approaches to climate change and management of our natural resources. With this in mind, this paper will explore the formation and evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System, and use that as a launching point to discuss not only the future of Antarctica, but also how these lessons can be applied to help shape the framework of future international environmental policy.

ANTARCTICA BEFORE THE TREATY

Commercial exploitation:

Before assessing the Antarctic Treaty System itself, it is important to first understand what the state of Antarctica was like before the Treaty. In the late 16th century, British sea captain Francis Drake demonstrated that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans met south of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Along this journey, he noted: "we found great store of foule which could not fly with the bigness of geese, whereof we killed in lesse than one day three thousand and victualled ourselves thoroughly."2 This was the first documentation of exploitation of Antarctic resources (in this case, penguins), and it set the stage for how activity in the region would continue for centuries to come.

Major trading companies began to take an interest in the hypothetical great southern continent in the early 18th century. The Dutch East India Company and the French East India Company each sent out expeditions in the first half of that century to discover and annex parts of these southern lands. As technology advanced and explorers were able to safely travel further south, exploration in the Antarctic region was driven by commerce. In the last decade of the 18th century, more than 3 million sealskins were carried from Juan Fernande2 (a group of islands in the South Pacific off the coast of Chile) to China, where a good market for these furs had been established. One the region's seals were depleted to near-extinction, explorers continued south in search of more. Sealing peaked at South Georgia (an island is the southern Atlantic Ocean) in 18001 801, and the fur seals were nearly driven to extinction there as well. Years later, a population of refugee seals was accidentally discovered in the South Shetland Islands (a group of Antarctic islands further south near the Antarctic Peninsula), which resulted in massive multilateral exploitation until that population was destroyed. As one of the sealers, James Weddell, noted: "this valuable animal, the fur seal, might, by a law similar to that which restrains fishermen in the size of the mesh of their nets, have been spared to render annually 100,000 furs for many years to come."3 These cautionary remarks were a sign of things to come, and foreshadowed the need for a regulatory framework to protect a wide range of interests in the Antarctic. Nevertheless, without any regulatory framework in these areas, Weddell continued to fight for his share as the seal population of that area dropped precipitously.

As commercial interests dwindled, purposes of science and national interests prompted further expeditions down south. Interest in gravitational and magnetic fields prompted exploration by French, British, and American expeditions in the middle of the 19th century, and the first decade of the 20'1' century marked the quest for the South Pole. …

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