In the recent times, one of the most uninhabited yet contentious regions in the world is the Arctic Circle. The countries that directly claim their sovereignty over major areas in the region include Canada, United States of America, Russia and all the Scandinavian countries in the Northern European belt. These countries call themselves as the direct claimants to all the resources in the region and all the sea-way movements. However, over the years, due to the increasing multi-polarity in the international politics, countries like China, India, Australia, Japan, etc. have also expressed their critical interests in obtaining a fair share in the resources that lie in the region. For example, China has openly claimed itself as a near-Arctic region and wants to establish its military and economic base there.
The Arctic Circle has millions of tons of natural gas in its soil. It is one of the most untouched patches of the world. Given the spree for economic development that most of these emerging and developed markets are engaging in, the demand for fuel is clearly high in the coming future. That is the reason why these countries are trying to diversify their importing pockets. There are a several reasons why the Arctic Circle has gained geo-strategic and political importance over the last few years. One of them is that the world cannot anymore rely on Iran, Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries for the oil-imports due to immense unpredictability in the world-prices.
In this article, we shall compare these two regions in the globe which occupy the northern and the southern circumpolar world– that is, Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. This comparison shall be on the lines of the various national interests that lie in these regions. The article opines that there are a few reasons why the Arctic Circle has over the years become more contentious a territory than Antarctica, although it is much larger in terms of the area, laden with umpteen amounts of natural resources multiple folds greater than the entire Arctic Circle.
The Arctic Circle Council is an inter-governmental organization that was formed in the year 1996 in the Ottawa Declaration. However, the Antartica Treaty was signed in the year 1961. It is a highly structured entity with multiple binding clauses that protect any kind of human activity such as mining, extraction in the continent of Antarctica. However, this is not the case with the Arctic Council. The Council is a partially structured establishment with a lack of mechanism to ensure accountability and enforcement of the various clauses. A lot of scholars agree that the latter lacks the comprehensive regime requirement and binding factors which are preset in the former.
The next important reason is the very location in the geo-political environment. In the north, there are a lot of countries that are powerful and very realistic in their foreign-policy approach. There are also countries that have a huge history of enmity and intolerance towards each other. For example, Canada and United States share a very pessimistic relation where they are in a state of avoidance of each other, as do Russia and United States. Finally, the Scandinavian economies which are one of the economically most powerful countries in the continent of Europe also remain in competition.
However, the same factors are not present in Antarctica or rather the Southern hemisphere. The Southern hemisphere is comparatively peaceful for several reasons. The number of countries is very less. The countries that have a geographical proximity to the region are the countries in Oceania, Pacific Ocean, Africa and South American countries like Argentina. The profile of these countries is largely peaceful. Hardly any country among them has a direct national interest in the region. The region is far more secluded than the Arctic Circle. Most importantly, it is far away from super-powers like China, United States and Russia.
The factors are very dissimilar among the two regions; however, given that the climatic, physiographic situations are common, the Arctic Council can take quite a few lessons from the Antarctica Treaty. One of the most important lessons is the suspension of the clause of sovereignty over territories in the region. The Council has eight signatories who claim their ownership over certain land in the region. These are the directly affected ones of the region. Recently, territory claimant has also spread to the near-Arctic countries. On the other hand, the Antarctic region was initially claimed by 12 countries who were also the signatories to the treaty of 1961. However, the treaty suspended all such claims. Also, acting on its commitment to peace, the treaty banned all military activity and weapons testing, nuclear explosions, and radioactive waste disposal– successfully denuclearizing and demilitarizing the continent. This kind of initiative is however absent in the Arctic Council.
Picture Credits : https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/11703