‘Question of Antarctica’ in the United Nations: The Rise and Decline of Alternative Visualization of the Antarctic

The interest of the 'outsiders' in the icy continent arose as early as early 1980s and somewhat in direct proportion to the origins and evolution of minerals issue within the ATS. Malaysia was to emerge as the most vociferous and dissatisfied among the critics of the ATS. The Malaysian position reflected, in part or whole, that of the most of the developing nations, including Antigua, Barbuda, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Egypt, GhanaNigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Zambia, to name a few. All were critical of the allegedly exclusive nature of the system, the membership of South Africa (no longer an issue in the UN debate), and the distribution of Antarctic resource benefits. From 1984 to 1987, Malaysia and the ATCP's positions over the 'question of Antarctica' were polarized. Malaysia was bent upon ensuring that Antarctica and its resources were managed in the interests of all mankind. In other words, Malaysia was persistent in pursuing the interests of developing countries and demanded that the concept of 'common heritage of mankind' should be applied to Antarctica.

The ATCPs, on the other hand, have rejected as 'misconceived' and 'misrepresenting' the accusation in the past that ATS is anachronistic, discriminatory, harbors colonial territorial claims, is exclusive, and thus should be replaced by the common heritage of mankind principle. Whereas the growing membership of the ATS (including the accession to the Antarctic Treaty by IndiaChina, and Brazil, among others) is underlined to refute the charge of exclusiveness, the ''widely observed principle in international relations whereby those countries primarily engaged in particular activity are responsible for management and decision making'' is being emphasized as 'sensible and working' for the Antarctic. From 2002 onward, the debate in the UN on the 'question of Antarctica' can be interpreted as 'constructive engagement'. Malaysia too has increased its direct and indirect Antarctic scientific effort in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Malaysia seems to have accepted the de facto presence of the ATS and joined the SCAR.