Activities on the southernmost continent are subject to the Antarctic Treaty system, which has been in force since June 23, 1961. This international agreement – originally signed by 12 nations including the UK, but now comprising a total of 54 parts – covers the whole area. south of 60° south latitude. The objectives of the treaty are to maintain Antarctica as a demilitarized space, to ensure that it remains free of nuclear testing and waste, to promote scientific cooperation and to set aside all disputes over sovereignty. territorial.
In total, there have been eight territorial claims to Antarctica by seven sovereign states, dating back to the early 1900s.
Countries with established – and in some cases overlapping – claims include Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK.
The United States and Russia, meanwhile, both argue that they have reserved the right to make claims on the southernmost continent.
There has also been speculation that other countries, including Brazil and Peru, may also file claims in the future.
The oldest formal territorial claim to Antarctica was made by the United Kingdom in 1908, via the Letters Patent of the Falkland Islands Dependencies.
This declaration – which was allegedly made to better regulate and tax the whaling industry – also included a number of islands in the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean, including South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and the South Orkneys.
In 1917 the wording of the claim was revised to unambiguously include all territory within the sector extending to the South Pole – thus covering the whole of what is now the British Antarctic Territory, which was officially formed in 1962.
Britain’s claim to Antarctica – like the other six existing claims – is suspended by the Antarctic Treaty system.
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According to Professor Dodds, if Russia chooses to abandon the Antarctic Treaty, it is possible that it will continue to establish a rival treaty system.
This, he added, could potentially include China and possibly India as partners.
Alternatively, he said, separation from Russia could trigger a territorial “every man for himself.”
Either way, Britain’s claim to Antarctica could easily be threatened.