Antarctica: Conclusion

Today, the prime purpose of the ATS is no longer the containment of the East–West confrontation of the Cold War. Technological developments and steadily expanding economic/commercial interests imply that certain actors are looking to realize economic benefits from the region. So long as human activity in the Antarctic was of a limited scale, science oriented, and perhaps largely under the direct control of partner governments, practical challenges to the legitimacy, authority, and effectiveness were minimal as well as manageable. Whereas the ATS continues to provide regionally focused responses to various current and emerging activities in Antarctica, there is a growing realization that the period of Antarctic exceptionalism is over and effective regulation requires a greater engagement with global trends, instruments, and norms.

The most significant continuity and the legacy of the colonial past in the Antarctic relates to the array of territorial claims on the continent which, despite Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty, seems to have acquired new dimensions of complexity. The claimant states have asserted sovereign rights over their claimed territories, by way of issuing postage stamps, increased activity by their national scientific expeditions, increasing their Antarctic budgets, and the application of domestic or territorial laws to the claimed sectors. In clear defiance of the end of the nation state thesis, the unresolved and obviously intractable sovereignty dispute continues to hamper the evolution of the ATS. It is not without reason that, in all the instruments negotiated and concluded by the Antarctic Treaty powers thus far, ''the special legal and political status of Antarctica'' is invariably highlighted as a reminder to those within or outside the ATS that every policy pursued must avoid prejudicing the position of claimants or nonclaimants in Antarctica.

Within this context, the perceptions of Antarctica in individual Southern Cone countries are strongly conditioned by their respective geographical locations and overall geopolitical visions, and are frequently different from those held by not only more distant nations but also other Southern Hemisphere countries, for example, Australia. A frequently overlooked source of conflict in the Antarctic is the geopolitical thinking that has flourished in the past quarter century, if not more, in South America – especially in Argentina and Chile, where Antarctica has already become an integral part of national consciousness and identity. An appreciation of the manner in which South American geopolitical thinking influences attitudes to Antarctica will continue to be an invaluable guide to understanding of both perceptions and realities for the quadrant located between the Greenwich and 901 W meridians.

Whereas the supremacy of the member states within the ATS is hard to ignore, political pressures exerted in recent years on the member governments, individually and collectively, to acknowledge and cooperate with a range of NGOs, especially ASOC and International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), is beginning to produce results. The success of the NGOs in opposing CRAMRA, and in forcing some of the ATPs to reverse their position on this issue, has contributed significantly toward making the ATS more tolerant of the presence of the NGOs on the Antarctic geopolitical scene. However, the co option of some of the NGOs could be made possible only by changing the core values of the Antarctic Treaty itself and by introducing a new environmental ethic into Antarctic geopolitics. Whether these changes would eventually lead to more dramatic institutional change in the ATS, so that some of the NGOs would be granted consultative status, is difficult to predict. What does appear certain is that Antarctic geopolitics can no longer be as state centric as in the past.

During the past decade, a number of human geographers have critically examined the cultures of imperial exploration, mapping, and administration. Some such studies have examined the roles of geographical societies and agencies (such as the Royal Geographical Society) with regard to the production of knowledge and imperial networks, which contributed to the colonization of spaces (both material and discursive) outside Europe and North America. The term 'postcolonial', therefore, does not refer to the ending of European imperialism in the post 1945 period; rather, it invites critical attention to how systems of colonial domination (whether in the form of varied geographies of colonialism or knowledge production) persist in the contemporary era and continue to resist the demand for decolonization of imaginations. There is no reason why the critical gaze of 'postcolonial' research agenda should not penetrate the realm of Antarctic studies.