Polar Record


Twenty years on: the UN and the ‘Question of Antarctica,’ 1983–2003

Peter J. Beck a1
a1 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames KT1 2EE

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The United Nations (UN) has now been involved with the ‘Question of Antarctica’ for 20 years. Divisions within the international community about the most appropriate form of management for Antarctica, which was presented to the UN as a region of global importance, have never completely disappeared, even if the restoration of a consensus approach during the mid-1990s was based upon a broader appreciation of the merits of the Antarctic Treaty System. Both Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties and non-Consultative Parties, pointing to the regime's enduring intrinsic qualities, have adopted an unyielding attitude towards Treaty outsiders advocating a more democratic, accountable, and transparent regime. Even so, the critical lobby, led by Dr Mahathir's Malaysian government, has never gone away. Initially, the ‘Question of Antarctica’ was discussed at the UN on an annual basis, but since 1996 it has been placed on a triennial reference. Following the most recent session in late 2002, the topic is scheduled to be placed on the UN's agenda again in 2005. This article reviews critically the key themes characterising the UN's involvement in the ‘Question of Antarctica’ since 1983, while using successive Polar Record articles on individual UN sessions to provide a framework of reference and an informed basis for further research on the topic.

(Received September 2003)