Britain claims territory in Antarctica and near the Falklands

Britain’s announcement on Wednesday that it plans to extend its Antarctic territory by 1 million square kilometers has already come under fire from environmental groups as being antithetical to the UK’s status as a leader in the fight against global warming. The new territory would likely be used for oil and gas exploration, critics points ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
598609_071018_antarctica_05.jpg
598609_071018_antarctica_05.jpg

Britain's announcement on Wednesday that it plans to extend its Antarctic territory by 1 million square kilometers has already come under fire from environmental groups as being antithetical to the UK's status as a leader in the fight against global warming. The new territory would likely be used for oil and gas exploration, critics points out, thus violating the 1959 Antarctic treaty. The treaty divides the continent between seven nations and forbids resource extraction.

But Her Majesty's Antarctic land grab is only one of five new territorial claims the UK plans to submit under a new U.N. treaty that allows countries to claim continental shelf up to 380 miles off their shores. Britain's four other claims are located around the Falkland Islands, around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, near the Bay of Biscay in the North Atlantic, and in the Hatton-Rockall basin off Scotland's coast. Though eight other countries have filed claims under the treaty, some are characterizing Britain's sudden expansionist mood as imperialistic.

The Falklands claim is particularly touchy because of certain previous, uh, territorial disputes in that region. When the claim was announced last month, a senior Argentine official stated, "[I]f the British do not change their approach we shall have to interpret it as aggression." Now, Argentina is working on its own Antarctica bid. This should be interesting.

Britain’s announcement on Wednesday that it plans to extend its Antarctic territory by 1 million square kilometers has already come under fire from environmental groups as being antithetical to the UK’s status as a leader in the fight against global warming. The new territory would likely be used for oil and gas exploration, critics points out, thus violating the 1959 Antarctic treaty. The treaty divides the continent between seven nations and forbids resource extraction.

But Her Majesty’s Antarctic land grab is only one of five new territorial claims the UK plans to submit under a new U.N. treaty that allows countries to claim continental shelf up to 380 miles off their shores. Britain’s four other claims are located around the Falkland Islands, around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, near the Bay of Biscay in the North Atlantic, and in the Hatton-Rockall basin off Scotland’s coast. Though eight other countries have filed claims under the treaty, some are characterizing Britain’s sudden expansionist mood as imperialistic.

The Falklands claim is particularly touchy because of certain previous, uh, territorial disputes in that region. When the claim was announced last month, a senior Argentine official stated, “[I]f the British do not change their approach we shall have to interpret it as aggression.” Now, Argentina is working on its own Antarctica bid. This should be interesting.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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