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Book holds up 50-year old Antarctic Treaty as beacon of hope

By Martin Leggett - 16 Jun 2011 12:50:0 GMT
Book holds up 50-year old Antarctic Treaty as beacon of hope

A new book being launched today - by a keynote speaker at this week's international science conference on Antarctica - looks to the vision of international scientific cooperation, to be found in the southernmost continent, as a guide to the future. The 52 year-old Antarctic Treaty offers an inspirational way forward for a world troubled by environmental woes, says the editor of Science Diplomacy: Antarctica, Science and the Governance of International Spaces, Paul Berkman. He is the one-time Head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Program, at the Scott Polar Institute.

Berkman sees the precedent of an international treaty over managing Antarctica - signed at the height of the Cold War - as a template for dealing with other cross-national issues that have reared their heads in the past two decades. The book - published by the Smithsonian Institution - looks at the origins and influence of the Antarctic Treaty, which was hammered out in a world still recovering from the shock of a second world war, but fearful of a third.

It describes how success in resolving the Antarctica issue helped to move forward international cooperation - in further treaties across the high seas, down in the deep-oceans and out into outer space. Signed in 1959, the 12 signatories of the Treaty agreed to put aside competing claims, and to use the continent only for peaceful and scientific enterprises.

That required the US and USSR having to 'suck it up', agreeing not to test or deploy nuclear weapons in the icy wastes of Antarctica. Overnight, some 10% of the globe was turned into a nuclear-free zone; overlapping claims on big slices of land and resources were also put to one side. It is that spirit of looking to the bigger picture which is needed so badly now, says Berkman.

''For half a century, it has become increasingly obvious that we face planetary-scale phenomena that cannot be solved by any one nation or region, nor solved quickly. Today and forever after, national and international interests need to find the type of balance practiced today under the Antarctic Treaty.'' As he points out, the need for cooperation is paramount in a world where just 30% of the globe's surface sits under national flags.

The book-launch coincides with the 5th Malaysian International Seminar on Antarctica (MISA5), running over the last two days, which discussed 'Rapid Warming in the Polar Regions and its Implication to the Pacific'. Over 500 experts from the physical, biological and political sciences were in Kuala Lumpur, looking at the latest research on two of the fastest changing parts of the globe - the north and south poles.

The importance of the scientific perspective in solving global problems, as adopted in the Antarctic Treaty, was also stressed by one of the hosts. Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia, said ''Most political decision making involves short term perspective when the problems involve results likely to take place decades or even centuries in the future. Science is free of such time-bound blinders and therefore is fundamental to environment-related diplomacy at a global scale.... Science provides the common language, culture and foundation for nations and people to work together in decision-making on shared global interests.''

Top Image Credit: © Staphy