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Antarctic Cooperation: Challenges and Benefits to American Foreign Interests

Antarctic Cooperation: Challenges and Benefits to American Foreign Interests

Multinational cooperation plays an essential role in shaping the field of international relations. Throughout the years, countries have been trying to overcome and understand each other’s differences and create bilateral and multilateral partnerships. Nowadays, in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, and Australia, nations have various sets of rules and regulations that all actors must abide by. Those commonly established principles make the cooperation within the continents safe and transparent, as those processes are usually overseen by the international organizations. Nevertheless, there is still one giant and geopolitically significant continent that is left out from the general attention: Antarctica. As the world’s coldest and hardest to reach continent, Antarctica has been attracting scientists and explorers from all around the planet for decades.

Countries, as a result of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, have been granted a right to share and use the continent for “peaceful purposes only.” This means that no nation is capable of owning the whole icy land, it is common by the rule of international law. The Antarctic Treaty requires nations to use the icy continent according to the following principles: “Freedom for scientific research,” “International scientific exchange shall be promoted,” and “Territorial claims shall be held in abeyance while the Treaty is in force.” The United States (US), as one of the most developed nations, has been studying Antarctica since December of 1955 when the first American base, McMurdo Station, was established on the continent.

As time went by, the US and other members of the Antarctic Treaty furthered their influence in Antarctica by increasing the number of research bases and advancing their own infrastructural features on the continent. Additionally, nations have been increasing their budgets, related to the South Pole research and exploration. The United States certainly has national ambitions and goals in Antarctica, benefits that America might not be willing to split with others. However, because of the extreme weather conditions, logistical hardships, and other shared problems, the US, together with other nations, will be better off cooperating with one another within Antarctica despite the political issues, mistrusts, and resource nationalism of the current global order.

Opportunities of Antarctica

The South Pole region is one of the most unexplored parts of our planet that possesses a great amount of material, scientific, and other types of opportunities yet to be utilized. Therefore, the United States together with other nations can get more out of the icy continent by making the Antarctic partnerships with each other. Nonetheless, while cooperating, nations in Antarctica may or may not still act with respect to their own interests and this commitment uncertainty could make the cooperation perspectives less likely. Hence, by being clear about the sharing process of goals and gains that arise from collaborations, countries will be able to have far more trust in one another and eventually achieve significantly more objectives.

The article “The Fight to Own Antarctica” that was written by Benedict Mander and Leslie Hook in the popular publication Financial Times informs the reader that Antarctica has a lot to offer and the issue of sharing the findings may bring up a number of possession related matters between the countries. The authors highlight that “At stake is the last pristine continent, one that contains the world’s largest store of freshwater, huge potential reserves of oil and gas and the key to understanding how quickly climate change will impact the world through rising sea levels.” This excerption has a relatively pessimistic and competition implying message, which is a relevant concern, based on the current global order and long-determined relationships between the world’s most powerful nations. Nevertheless, the same statement may be interpreted as evidence for a different viewpoint. Antarctica has so much to offer that nations will benefit from cooperating and can eventually advance their exploration and gains from the icy continent’s enormous potential. America is capable of leading the common work and cooperation, which eventually can contribute to strengthening the US hegemonic future.

Furthermore, by working together with other preoccupied nations, the United States will get more information and a broader picture of a highly contemporary problem as climate change. Thus, by having a superior comprehension of this issue, nations will be able to orient the essential solutions to the existing causes of the climate change and the primary matter of global warming.

Competitors on the Continent

Our planet has been a gigantic arena where nations compete for resources, power, control, and usually act in pursuit of their own interests rather than the common good; ergo, with its resources and overall potential, Antarctica may become a new battlefield for the world’s leading countries. Nowadays, there are a lot of skeptics of the Antarctic Treaty saying that the agreement needs to be modernized in order to meet the demands of current global order and implement additional regulations on the agreement signing countries.

The Financial Times authors in their Antarctica related article introduce the Royal Holloway, London University’s professor Klaus Dodds, who raises the principal question about the icy continent. The online publication provides an interview excerpt: “Resources have always been the big trigger,” says Professor Dodds. “Once you get more explicit about resource exploitation, then you raise the troubling issue of who owns Antarctica. That’s the issue that haunts the Antarctic Treaty, and the Treaty System more generally.” This concern is not random and has been one of the key talking points of the Antarctica conversations, debates, and international meetings. Professor Dodds does not mention any countries, however, it is clear that the race for resources and other Antarctic prospects might erupt between nations with the most influence in the region, which are the United States, Russia, and China. Therefore, even if America follows all the rules and favors the cooperative way of diplomacy in Antarctica, the US will not have any other option but to join the contest when Russia or China begin the resource race. In that case, we may see the Antarctic Treaty countries form clusters, bilateral groups, or act solely and eventually any likelihoods of multilateral cooperation in Antarctica would be extremely hard to work through.

It is vital to note that countries such as Great Britain, Australia, Norway, Argentina, Chile, France, and many others are also crucial actors in Antarctica with their research bases and various influence giving aspects. Moreover, since the Antarctic Treaty was signed, more and more nations have been developing their technological, logistical, and monetary capabilities and can now join the scene. Whether it will be a cooperative or competitive scene has to be decided by the nations themselves, though it is understandable that the Antarctic Treaty will need to be updated according to the current global standards and preoccupations.

Prospects of Collaboration

Cooperation in Antarctica will most likely benefit the countries with less industrial and technological capabilities on the continent, yet this partnership will also make the nations with significant powers in the region much better off. The United States, as one of the leading players in Antarctic explorations and studies, is and should strive for the cooperation with other countries, especially if such interaction can bring the American side certain optimistic outcomes. The academic article, published in the scholarly periodical The Polar Journal by Georgetown University professor Christopher C. Joyner, touches upon the significance of Antarctica for the United States in scientific, astronomical, and geopolitical ways. The author also mentions the importance for America of the science-related partnership. He argues that “The United States government strives to undertake opportunities for cooperative scientific research to understand Antarctica and other global physical and environmental systems.” Additionally, the writer calls the American efforts a “major national interest.” This statement clearly shows that the United States is open towards various research-related partnerships on the icy continent.

Moreover, the American authorities view the scientific investigations and potential knowledge, gained as a result of Antarctic research, as a vital matter for the whole country. Consequently, by collaborating with other nations in Antarctica, the United States and its researchers will be able to make new scientific advancements, and as Christopher C. Joyner suggests, acquire valuable information to understand the world we live in. The US supports the Antarctic cooperation in pursuit of the scientific discoveries and is willing to create bilateral or multilateral partnerships with other nations on the continent. However, competition between the partner countries is the obvious issue that arises and needs to be addressed, while talking about the prospects of Antarctic cooperation and potential steps that must be communicated along the way.

Real Obstacles

The process of Antarctic cooperation is not easy to commence and even more difficult to stick to; ergo, the matter of trust is vitally important with relation to the partnership formation activities on the continent. Like most situations, cooperation cannot exist without trust between the global actors. Nevertheless, it gets tricky when you have to rely on the collaborator who you have been competing with for a long time. In the article “The WikiLeaks Arctic Cables,” published in the Polar Record, Professor Klaus J. Dodds analyzes and publicizes the confidential American foreign relations records that were obtained and distributed by WikiLeaks. Those documents reveal a great number of conversations, assignments, and exchanges of advice between the State Department of the United States of America, diplomats, and embassies around the globe. The primary reference point of those records is the situation in the Arctic among the North Pole countries. This peer reviewed publication talks about the present issue, related to mistrust of the US and other NATO nations towards Russia, as one of the active leaders in the areas of Arctic research, territorial control, and resource extraction. As a result, such North Pole matter can be compared with the possible course of events in Antarctica.

The author also references the WikiLeaks website and writes, “Under the heading of ‘New WikiLeaks revelations shed light on Arctic oil “carve up”’ it rallied against the ‘new revelations’ by the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks that show how the scramble for resources in the Arctic is sparking military tension in the region, with NATO sources worried about the potential for armed conflict between the alliance and Russia… .’” The publicity of these revealed records did not benefit the United States or its allies. Moreover, American competitors, primarily Russia and to some extent China, among others, got valuable insight information that concerns the NATO countries’ activities, preoccupations, plans, and talks about the North Pole region. The WikiLeaks publication shows that in the Arctic, neither the US and its allies trust Russia or any other potential adversary, nor can the Russian Federation trust their counterparts. This conclusion can also be empirically devoted to other regions of the planet and Antarctica is one of them. Consequently, based on these materials, a reliance-building process between the three strongest Antarctic nations will demand a great amount of diplomatic work and time.

Coexisting in Peace

        It is hard to deny that the United States views other powerful countries, such as China and Russia, as evident rivals because of the decades long competition for global hegemony, resources, and political ideas. However, Antarctica is an immensely different kind of location, as it is impossible to be in power and thus, cooperation has a lot less obstacles. Taking the Antarctic Treaty into account and the possibility of gaining benefits through mutual assistance, the United States should not worry about the threat from other nations. The Global Politics report titled “The Option for U.S.–China Cooperation in Antarctica” by Senior Research Fellow Dean Cheng, highlights that the Antarctic matter is not a zero-sum game and there can be multiple winners as a result of the cooperation on the icy continent. The report was published through The Heritage Foundation website and looks at the prospects and American interests from the United States-China cooperation in the Antarctic region. Cheng makes it clear that China is currently one of the biggest actors in Antarctica and will be advancing its influence in future. Beijing is spending more money in the field of South Pole research and Cheng emphasizes it by giving the information about the new Chinese base, which at the time of the report writing (2014) was close to be completed. The researcher affirms, “Once completed [the research station], it will give China one of the largest Antarctic presences. With its Antarctic budget growing from $20 million to $55 million, China clearly has the wherewithal to expand its presence even further.” By increasing the Antarctic exploration spending, China confirms its plans to stay in the South Pole region.

Throughout his report, Cheng stresses that Chinese efforts and advancements in Antarctica does not make the United States or other nations worse off, but rather that there are a lot more resources being spent in that region. So, by having China as a collaborator or a part of a partnership group, the Antarctic Treaty members, especially the United States, will be able to utilize far more joint means as opposed to working alone. Cheng through multiple examples and reasoning, emphasizes that in the South Pole region, cooperation, even with rival nations, has no particular threat for America. Cheng ends his report by concluding that “Consequently, like cooperation in the Gulf of Aden, the Antarctic is an area where the U.S. and China have much to gain through greater cooperation and little to lose. Antarctic cooperation is therefore well worth exploring, to help improve bilateral ties without infringing upon either side’s core interests.”

In his report, Cheng makes it clear that it is necessary to take into account the variation in location when talking about the national and foreign interests of the United States. Thus, relationships between China and America may be quite rival in area, such as South China Sea, Africa, or South America; nonetheless, the affairs in a place like Antarctica may be contrasting. This conclusion may also be used with correlation to Russia and other nations that are not considered allies of the United States. Ultimately, as long as America does not see any particular danger with regards to the Antarctic cooperation, benefits from future partnerships will exceed the possible disadvantages that combined efforts may present.

New Value of the Continent

Antarctica is not owned by anyone and can be freely used by humans in accordance with international law and the Antarctic Treaty; as a result, people all over the world should have equal access to the continent in years to come. While tourism in Antarctica is relatively new in the South Pole area, it is a growing activity. Visitors nowadays are willing to pay large sums of money to experience this pure and magnificent place, that only a small percentage of people have ever been to. An article in Financial Times by Leslie Hook and Benedict Mander reports,

“For most tourists — who pay between $10,000 and $100,000 for a trip — visiting Antarctica involves stepping off the boat at just a handful of highly regulated landing sites. But there are loopholes in the system, such as private yachts that flout permitting rules, as well as a growing number of tours that involve activities such as kayaking or skiing.”

The price, conditions, and available infrastructure of such Antarctic tourist journeys makes it extremely hard for the majority of people to go and visit the continent. Even though, Antarctica is undoubtedly difficult to get to and even more difficult to stay on, people are still capable of making constant progress as technology and our wealth of knowledge advances. Tourism on the icy continent is no different. Hence, this progress can be accelerated by creating new Antarctic partnerships and cooperating groups that will focus on the the processes of getting the general public in and out from the continent. In that case, nations can share experiences or focus on what they have comparative advantage in doing. It is vital to state that the United States may end up collaborating with nations that have a long and not always pleasant history with America and vice versa. As the authors of the article indicate, “The US, Russia and China all have critical infrastructure in Antarctica to aid their global positioning systems.” As the statement implies, the three countries have the dominant positions on the icy continent. Thus, it is logical to assume that for the United States, cooperating with Russia, China, or even both countries can bring the most benefits.

Yet, this potential can have a huge obstacle in its way. Significant political and cultural differences between the three nations, heated by the recent US-China trade arguments and Russia’s condemned behavior on the international arena, may primarily resist and blockade the bilateral or multilateral cooperation in Antarctica between America and the two Eastern countries. However, if the United States, through various diplomatic and scientific channels, were able to negotiate the initial South Pole cooperation deals with its two rivals, the future of humankind may see the totally unexpected outcome. Ultimately, with combined efforts, the overall travel experience, cost, and Antarctic’s own infrastructure can be drastically improved, making the Antarctic tourism more affordable and enjoyable. Also, such cooperation will improve the logistics of Antarctic research, which can upgrade the conditions scientists live and work in.

Nonetheless, the Antarctic Treaty members should also pay close attention to the environmental aspects of their future activities on and around the icy continent. Thereof, it will be essential to connect the future discoveries and progresses with new regulations, agreements, and international “manners”. The Antarctic nations will have essential tasks in the years to come: making the icy continent more accessible for travelers and reducing the environmental risks and problems.

The Antarctic cooperation is a field of international affairs that has not been thoroughly studied yet. Nonetheless, with the extraction of resources, advancement of sea level research, space observations, and Antarctic tourism development, countries will become more and more interested in the icy continent. Eventually, in spite of the different aims, cultures, governmental contradictions, and political hostility, the nations will be able to benefit from the bilateral and multilateral partnerships in Antarctica. Consequently, the United States with its capabilities and interests should not miss out on this opportunity. Moreover, America has all the resources and global recognition to become a leader in promoting, organizing, and maintaining such cooperation. By interacting in the logistic, touristic, infrastructural, and scientific fields, the world’s nations can make much greater progress together than separately. Nations like China and Russia may not be allies to the United States and are usually looked at as rivals.

Nonetheless, with combined infrastructural and other efforts, as well as by letting Antarctica shape new relationships, the cooperation on the South Pole continent is nothing but possible, even between completely different nations. The Heritage Foundation researcher Dean Cheng states that, “U.S.–China cooperation in Antarctica is a positive, admittedly limited, opportunity.” America, by leading and contributing to the partnerships in Antarctica will not only strengthen its own positions and advance its own progress on the icy continent, but will also create an example of a successful cooperation for other countries, which will ultimately benefit the whole humankind. Additionally, relationships and experiences that will be built in Antarctica can become a moving force for similar cooperation in other regions of the planet, making global affairs less hostile and more genuine.

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