Polar Record


The United Nations and Antarctica, 2005: the end of the ‘Question of Antarctica’?

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

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In November 2005 the ‘Question of Antarctica’ was taken up yet again by the UN First Committee. Following formal placement upon its agenda in 1983 by the Malaysian government, the UN has discussed the topic regularly, initially annually, then biennially, but more recently upon a triennial basis. As usual, in 2005 UN members were guided by a lengthy report produced for the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in order to outline recent developments affecting Antarctica and the Antarctic Treaty system (ATS). In November 2005 the UN First Committee, acting upon proposed amendments advanced by the Malaysian delegation, agreed to a major change of course. Thus, resolution L60, adopted by the committee without a vote, stipulated that the UN, though remaining ‘seized’ of the ‘Question of Antarctica’, would not place the topic upon the agenda of the 63rd. session in 2008. Nor would the UNSG be required, henceforth, to produce a report on Antarctica for members. In December 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted draft resolution L60 as resolution 60/47, once again without a vote. As a result, for the first time since 1983, the UN is no longer scheduled to return to the ‘Question of Antarctica’. Meanwhile, the episode has raised interesting questions about future developments: the UN's role, if any, in the ‘Question of Antarctica’, the direction of Malaysian policy towards the ATS, including membership thereof; the continued ability of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCPs) to manage Antarctica in a democratic, transparent and accountable manner without attracting criticism from the broader international community; and the relevance of the common heritage principle to the Antarctic region.

(Published Online August 2 2006)
(Received February 2006)