US imperialism and violations of Antarctic neutrality
As United States defence and security planning increasingly concentrates upon the threat posed by China to its traditional hegemonic position, previous decisions taken by the Pentagon during the Cold War about Antarctica have now become problematic.
The problem remains particularly sensitive by being linked to the US space program.
As the military drama unfolds, the US is likely to be exposed for flouting international treaties while expecting other countries to operate within a 'rules-based' environment.
Antarctica has had a unique eco-system from the beginning of time, supposed to have been protected from damage and destruction by whatever country planned exploration of its landmass or scientific discovery of its long history. The US, however, was never one to play by established rules.
Antarctica, for the US, has long been recognised as important for forming the lower border of the southern oceans, used by the maritime and naval fleets of numerous countries. There are three strategic sections of the Southern Ocean, which include: South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, Chile and Cape Horn, Australia and the South East Cape with Tasmania. All three have remained vitally important for US-led military and security planning and its associated involvement in their political systems.
An international agreement signed by twelve countries about Antarctica in 1959 was supposed to provide guidelines to prohibit 'military activity'. (1) In fact, the treaty opened with the statement that Antarctica: "shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord." (2)
Further sections of the treaty also include reference to 'the promotion of 'international cooperation', and Antarctica shall 'be used for peaceful purposes only', with specific reference to the prevention of use of military equipment. (3) Despite the stated intentions of the 1959 treaty, Antarctica, for the US, formed 'the southern-most reach of the US Pacific Command'. (4) The treaty itself was arranged to restrict the former Soviet Union from having ready access to the sensitive southern oceans during the previous Cold War.
During the period of the so-called New World Order, following the demise of the former Soviet Union, however, Antarctica became even more strategically important for the US. Technological advancements required further ground stations and the US imperialists were desperate to maintain their traditional hegemonic position within the increasingly globalised world.
The US placed sensitive Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on Antarctica in 1995. It has been noted in official media releases as a critical enabler 'for the military operations of the US and its strategic partners for two decades'. (5) The system grew out the US space program and the race for technological supremacy in the 1960s. Initially launched in 1973, the original system was composed of 24 satellites 'for use by the US military'. (6)
The original US GPS system rested heavily upon defence and security considerations with the southern oceans. It relied upon support from South Africa and the Silvermine Maritime Operational and Communications Headquarters near Cape Town which opened in March, 1973, the military facilities having a range from Argentina to Bangladesh, North Africa to Antarctica. (7) Despite official sanctions against South Africa because of its apartheid policies, Pretoria maintained direct contact with the US through Puerto Rica, and Whitehall in London through Mauritius. (8) The system was also linked to similar US military facilities based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, linked directly to Pine Gap, Central Australia.
With the renewed US space-race, the US is racing to 'modernise GPS' by 2020. (9) A recent Pentagon report stated an official US Space Command would be established toward the end of the year. (10) The role of the command was defined as being 'responsible for a range of crucial space-based US military capabilities, which include everything from satellites enabling the global positioning system to sensors that can track missile launches'. (11)
With Australia following suit and establishing an Australian Space Agency (ASA) this year, it has been interesting to note developments. The official ASA website noted their priorities include communication technologies, 'ground stations' and 'remote asset management', which leave little to the imagination. It is, therefore, interesting to note the official Australian position about Antarctica.
A recent official Canberra media release noted the 1959 Antarctic Treaty 'continues to serve Australia's interests and that countries needed satellite communications devices to continue scientific research'. (12) The statement also included references to 'technologies that can be dual-use such as satellite communication, geo-spatial devices and remotely-sensed data'. (13)
The deliberate flouting of the 1959 Antarctica Treaty by US-led military forces should never have been allowed to take place. The fact those concerned are now attempting to promote and enforce a “rules-based” global environment in their own favour is ridiculous. We should be on our guard against such duplicity.
The further fact that all the information for this article was openly accessed from readily available source material has revealed two important factors: US-led defence and security planning has taken place within a culture of impunity of their own making; it has operated
on the basis of imperialist arrogance.
We urgently need an independent foreign policy before the US-led military planning for real-war scenarios become reality.
1. Antarctic Treaty, 1959,
3. Ibid., Article 1, Part 2.
4. Cold War's Polar Rivals, Australian, 6 September 2018.
6. GPS – Wikipedia.
7. Maritime Operational and Communications Headquarters, The Star, South Africa, 10 March 1973; and, Security in the Mountain, The Star, South Africa, 17 March 1973.
8. Star, ibid., 17 March 1973.
9. Australian, op.cit., 6 September 2018.
10. Trump wants American space force by 2020, The Weekend Australian, 11-12 September 2018.
12. Warning Antarctica is the new frontier for China's military, Australian, 6 September 2018.