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  • Antarctica! Home to the South Pole - s, penguins,

  • and about 5,000 people during the summers.

  • But less than 1,000 during the ever-dark winter.

  • No one lives on the continent permanently.

  • So, who owns Antarctica?

  • Most stuff outside national borders -

  • the sea floor, the moon, really all of space,

  • is the Common Heritage of Mankind.

  • It belongs to none of us, and all of us -

  • held in trust for future generations.

  • Which is nice, if perhaps a bit presumptive, to say that

  • the entire Universe is ours.

  • And maybe someone will have something to say about that eventually.

  • (Story for another time)

  • But still, well done humanity!

  • Except... it's never that simple.

  • Because the paperwork on Antarctica sort of saysCommon Heritage of Mankind”,

  • but it doesn't go all in.

  • Here's why - explorers started landing in Antarctica in about the 1800's,

  • planting flags and making claims.

  • But these claims were a bit hollow,

  • because, on the Civilisation tech tree,

  • Antarctica wasn't colonisable.

  • Nonetheless, like Monopoly, the optimal colonial strategy isClaim everything you land on”.

  • In the early 1900's, the UK toyed with claiming "all" of Antarctica,

  • before scaling back her ambitions to just

  • the coastal parts she had explored to the South Pole.

  • France also claimed coastal explorations to the Pole,

  • followed by Norway, followed by the Nazis.

  • Mid century, Argentina and Chile claimed slices overlapping with the UK,

  • who they figured was rather too busy at the time to care,

  • but later she and her now independent colonies totally did.

  • This left the Antarctica a mess of competing claims,

  • at a bad time to have large territorial disputes.

  • Complicating things, the United States and the Soviet Union gave themselves the right to make a claim on Antarctica,

  • not now, but maybe later.

  • Given this, quite remarkably, in 1959, the US, and USSR, and ten other countries, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, and the UK, made a treaty to ease the tensions, saying that on Antarctica, there would be - no military, no mining, and no nuclear exploding.

  • The Antarctican paperwork is the first Cold War disarmament treaty,

  • and set aside the continent for science and nature.

  • By the way, because it's a nature preserve,

  • there's a rule about garbage, "Leave nothing behind".

  • Nothing.

  • Travel to Antarctica in the Summer, and you'll fly back with your poo in the Winter.

  • So, this looks pretty great,

  • what's the problem with the line about common heritage?

  • Well, no one actually gave up their claims on Antarctica,

  • because the only way to get everyone to sign was to include this clause,

  • which sidesteps the issue.

  • Basically saying countries will act "as though" Antarctica is the Common Heritage of Mankind,

  • and "as though" they have no claims,

  • but they aren't legally "for realsies" giving up anything -

  • which is why maps of Antarctica often include the current state of claim wedges.

  • This blank spot, by the way, is nobody's,

  • leaving it the largest territory unclaimed on earth by any nation,

  • so far, anyway.

  • Now, unlike the colonial days,

  • countries have the tech to build permanently staffed bases on Antarctica,

  • and it just so happens that countries build their bases in their own claims,

  • leaving no clear answer to this question.

  • According to the Treaty, Antarctica belongs to everyone,

  • but the Treaty itself has an intentional hole.

  • So Antarctica exists in this quantum state

  • where the claims are real and unreal.

  • Some countries build within their "borders",

  • and some countries without claims, like China,

  • build their bases on the continent wherever,

  • because it belongs to everyone, right guys?

  • These claims don't really matter,

  • until they do in the 2040's,

  • when the mining ban comes up for review.

  • Oh, and there's possibly a lot of oil in Antarctica,

  • not to mention 70% of the world's fresh water,

  • which could be the more valuable resource in the future.

  • The US and the Soviet... er... Russia,

  • might just yet dust off those "One-free-claim-because-I-say-so" tickets.

  • But for now Antarctica is as the Treaty intended -

  • a continental nature reserve, and scientific research haven.

Antarctica! Home to the South Pole - s, penguins,

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B1 US antarctica treaty heritage squarespace claim pole

Who Owns Antarctica? (Bizarre Borders Part 3)

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    Emily posted on 2016/02/15
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