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Environment, Space, Place

Volume 8, Issue 2, Fall 2016

Ingo Heidbrink
Pages 99-121
DOI: 10.5840/esplace20168212

Claiming Sovereignty Where There can be no Sovereignty--Antarctica

According to the regulations of the Antarctic Treaty System (signed 1959 and entered into force 1961) all claims for sovereignty over certain parts of Antarctica are indefinitely suspended. Since the treaty went into effect Antarctica has become a space where the traditional concept of national sovereignty does not apply any longer but has been replaced by an international governance scheme. Nevertheless it can be easily observed that some nations are preparing themselves to substantiate possible future claims for national spaces in Antarctica and are engaging in a wide range of activities to support such future claims. The article describes and analyzes these activities as an Antarctic ‘thumb war’ on national claims in Antarctica and showcases how nations are using certain activities that might be considered as of low importance to prepare and substantiate potential future claims in a post Antarctic Treaty regime. While this thumb war is mainly occurring in the Antarctic Peninsula Region, it is also going on in an area where there are overlapping suspended but not abandoned national claims and where space is limited, at least in Antarctic terms. The article analyses what is required to claim potential future national sovereignty in an area where there can be no such sovereignty according to international treaties and how nations are positioning themselves for such claims with activities that need to be understand as borderline in the context of the current system of international treaties.