The Coast Guard Icebreaker program is getting support from an Airforce General. Military.com reports Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Charles Q. Brown is seeing signs that Great Power competition may be coming to Antarctica.
“The Arctic … is kind of a precursor to the way I look at the Antarctic,” Brown said. “The capabilities that we have in the Arctic are the same capabilities that we probably want to have in the Antarctic. And when I look at the competition, and the melting ice in the Arctic, and the competition with both Russia and China … we’ve got to pay attention to that,” he said.
Brown said he believes the South Pole “is just a number of years” away from being the same kind of focal point of competition for Russia and China that the Arctic is now.
While the treaty bans militarization and weapons use on the continent, it allows for the flow of military personnel and equipment into the region. In 1998, an additional measure was added to the treaty, called the “Protocol on Environmental Protection,” which stipulates that “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research, shall be prohibited.”
That measure is set to expire in 2048, Brown said. The general hinted there already may be non-sanctioned activity taking place in the region.
At some point in the future one of the several nations with interests in Antarctica is going to try to act on a claim to this the last land on earth without a recognized sovereign authority. When that happens we are going to see a land rush and likely a clash of some sort. When the Antarctic treaty was signed, seven sovereign states had already made claims to Antarctic territory. There were already conflicting claims between the UK, Argentina, and Chile. The US and USSR (Russia now as its successor) reserved the right to make future claims. Since then, three additional South American countries have declared that they have interests there, and China has taken advantage of the provisions of the treaty to allow it to become a major player in Antarctica.
Antarctica has been seen as a zone of peace, but unless a treaty can be negotiated that would allow it to be exploited as a condominium, to me it has the makings of a powder keg.