THE bottom quarter of our planet is its most lonely region, consisting largely of ocean areas and Antarctica. Until the end of the last century no human being, so far as was known, had set foot on the Antarctic continent. Today some ten nations have about 40 outposts in that area and the time has come when the great Powers must decide what is their interest in this little-explored land mass and what to do about it.
Most of the stations there were set up to carry out observations during the International Geophysical Year, which runs for 18 months until the end of 1958. Although the I.G.Y. is supposed to be purely scientific, it is possible that some of these bases, including those of the United States and the Soviet Union, may become permanent. The red flag flies over Mirny and several inland stations, while the Stars and Stripes has been hoisted over six United States bases.
The Antarctic sites to be manned by each nation were agreed upon at an international conference held in Paris in the summer of 1955. Many of the camps were placed in regions claimed by other nations. The Soviet stations are in what Australia regards as part of its Capital Territory--comparable to the District of Columbia. The United States bases are in areas claimed by Argentina, Australia, Britain and New Zealand. The American station at the South Pole in effect trespasses on the territory of all seven claimants, since all the claims converge there, like so many slices of pie.
The I.G.Y. expeditions to Antarctica, which are part of a coordinated study of the earth and its environment, have reminded the world sharply of the existence of this last unexploited continent. Its potentialities, in an era when atomic energy is bringing about revolutionary changes in our concepts, are still uncertain. It unquestionably has mineral resources of great value, if they can be found and extracted. It is of definite strategic importance, especially to our allies
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