Argentina and the impact of the recent Antarctic Agreement between Chile and the United Kingdom

An agreement between Chile and the UK on cooperation in Antarctica has raised concerns about the impact on sovereign claims in the region, especially for Argentina.

Recently, Chile and the United Kingdom, both original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, announced the formalization of the Antarctic Cooperation Agreement through a letter of intent that will cover the next five years (2023/2028). This agreement, unveiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development, reflects the shared commitment between the two countries to preserve Antarctica as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science.

The Secretary of State for the Americas, Caribbean and Overseas Territories, David Routley, played a key role in regional diplomacy, as a key part of this agreement. The letter of intent addresses four specific areas of cooperation, including bilateral dialogue on Antarctic affairs, participation in the Antarctic Treaty System, scientific cooperation and other exchanges.

Cooperation and challenges facing Argentina

The agreement highlights the intention to strengthen the protection of the Antarctic environment, discuss joint initiatives within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and enhance scientific cooperation. This poses challenges for Argentina, which has maintained its sovereign claims in the region since the establishment of the Urcadas base in 1904.

Antarctica, although uninhabited, causes territorial dispute. Seven countries, including Argentina, Chile and the United Kingdom, claim parts of its vast territory. In this context, the recent agreement between Chile and the United Kingdom may affect territorial claims, as both countries partially or completely overlap with Argentina’s claims.

Argentina established its first permanent base in the region in 1904, considering it a natural extension of its southernmost province. However, the United Kingdom, which illegally controlled the Falkland Islands, made its own claim in 1908, overlapping Argentina’s claim. Chile joined in 1940, arguing for the natural continuity of its territory.

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Antarctica Treaty and Sovereignty Claims

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty, signed by Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and the then-Soviet Union, sought to guarantee freedom of scientific research and promote cooperation. International Committee for Peaceful Purposes in Antarctica. Argentina has been a consultative party since its entry into force in 1961.

In order to prevent the claims issue from spreading, the Treaty stipulates that, while it is in force, no new sovereign claims will be made in Antarctica, and existing claims will not be expanded.

Under Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty, sovereign claims are placed under a protective formula, known as a “freeze” of claims. The Treaty states that nothing in the Treaty or activities carried out after its entry into force shall be construed as a waiver or diminution of sovereign rights, the basis of those claims or the position of countries claiming sovereignty. In this way, by neither asserting nor ignoring territorial rights, the treaty preserves the position of claimant states, while harmonizing it with states that retain the basis of their claims, and with those parties that ignore any kind of claim to sovereignty.

As bilateral cooperation between Chile and the United Kingdom strengthens, Argentina faces the task of securing its position and sovereignty in Antarctica.

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