In the 1910s, it probably was far from the minds of Roald Amundsen, Robert F. Scott, and Ernest Shackleton—the pioneer explorers of the Antarctic—that the white plains they were traversing at the risk of their lives would be dotted with military and scientific bases just a few decades later. They would have been even more astonished to discover that, before the end of the century, the apparently uncontestable rights of the British Empire or Norway over those desolate territories would be challenged not only by Argentina and Chile, Antarctica’s most immediate neighbors, but also by far-off Brazil, Uruguay, and Peru, not to mention the establishment of U.S., Japanese, German, and even Soviet bases in the South American quadrant of the Antarctic. In fact, in the course of two generations, the situation of the Antarctic tenants has changed so drastically that it rebuts the geopolitical picture of the southern hemisphere which dominated the first decades of the twentieth century.
This book by Jack Child reviews the legal validity of the arguments and foundations that underlie the sovereignty claims over the Antarctic made by the South American countries nearest to the white continent, and analyzes the significance of these claims within the geopolitical constructs of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The author’s expertise in the field has been well established. However, beyond the descriptive treatment of historical events and the schematic presentation of geostrategic issues that characterize his previous works, Antarctica and South American Geopolitics has achieved deeper analytical penetration, a higher degree of research sophistication, and greater interpretative power. Historical antecedents, international treaties, pieces of legislation, and other legal arguments by which the South American countries justify their possession claims or rights to access to the Antarctic are explained as a function of their current geopolitical priorities and regional perceptions. By so doing, Child implicitly reveals the elements of impracticality that beset many South American geopolitical doctrines. Actual control and “de facto” occupation of the Antarctic demand costly technical infrastructures and investments that the debt-ridden South American countries can ill afford.
A question that necessarily arises is: why then do these nations entangle themselves in ventures that only further strain their already limited military capabilities and fiscal resources? The answer draws interpretative elements from a vast array of territorial perceptions, national pride issues, and entrenched geographical distortions.
It is perhaps with refined irony that, in the subtitle of his book, the author calls the Antarctic a “Frozen Lebensraum,” because it is not, in a strict sense, a “Lebensraum.” Furthermore, considering the environmental constraints and lack of financial resources, it is difficult to imagine an easy colonization of the continent by any Latin American nation. The prevailing assumption that the Antarctic hides riches that the South American countries hope to exploit with the help of future technology obviously fuels the claims of Argentina and Chile to exclusive rights of access and arouses their frustration when they see their rights challenged by distant but wealthy nations which justify their presence based on the international status of the continent sanctioned by the Antarctic Treaty of 1961. There are no internal factionalisms in Argentina and Chile when it comes to declaring the territorio antártico an integral part of the nation’s patrimony, and in this context any alien presence in the South American quadrant is considered an attempt against their national sovereignty and preestablished rights.
The pertinence of Child’s book resides in the fact that it provides valuable elements for understanding the cohesive—rather than divisive—international politics pursued at present by formerly antagonistic nations. Indeed, a longstanding mutual mistrust between Argentina and Chile has been replaced by a politics of cooperation fostered by their common interest in barring from the Antarctic both distant nations and uninvited close neighbors. The imminence of the 1991 meetings which will review the Antarctic Treaty raises many jurisdictional issues related to the occupance of the Antarctic. For the proper understanding of the legal and historical tenets of the Argentine and Chilean positions, this book by Child is a valuable source of information.