China on the Offensive
How the Ukraine War Has Changed Beijing’s Strategy
THE recent Imperial Conference gave some consideration -- at the instance primarily of Australia -- to the question of British policy in the Antarctic. Political rights in the Antarctic are much less complicated and much less important than those involved in the Arctic, with which the writer dealt in FOREIGN AFFAIRS for October, 1925. At London vast areas were mentioned "to which a British title already exists by virtue of discovery," namely: the outlying part of Coats Land (viz., the portion not comprised within the Falkland Islands Dependencies), Enderby Land, Kemp Land, Queen Mary Land, Wilkes Land, King George V Land, and Oates Land. These are in addition to earlier British claims to the Falkland Islands Dependency (20° West to 80° West. Letters Patent of July 21, 1908, and March 28, 1917), and to the Ross Dependency of New Zealand (160° East to 150° West. Order in Council of July 30, 1923).
It may be assumed that each "Land," while not capable of precise delimitation and perhaps referring primarily to the coast, is intended to include the segment to the south as far as the Pole, the hinterland or "hinter-ice," so to speak. Taken all together, with the Ross Dependency and the Falkland Islands Dependency, they would include nearly all of the Antarctic Continent.
The seeming exception is the region known as Adélie Land in the neighborhood of 140° East, 66° South, which the French claim by reason of the discoveries of D'Urville in 1840. No precise statement of the limits of this region has been made. Publication of the claim was made in the Journal Officiel of March 29, 1924; but it seems to have been notified to the British and perhaps to other Governments as early as 1912, when the region was spoken of as "that portion of Wilkes Land known as Adélie Land." Terminology here may cause some confusion; in the report of the United States Geographic Board, Wilkes Land is described as the region between 155° East and 96° East; the British list above speaks of Wilkes Land as the area west of Adélie Land; while the French decree of 1924 says "Adélie or Wilkes Land."
Later French decrees (November 21 and December 30, 1924) indicate increasing interest of the French Government in the whale and other fisheries. Kerguelen Land or Desolation Island and the Crozet Archipelago, as well as Saint Paul and Amsterdam Islands, lonely and remote points in that vast stretch of ocean between South Africa and Australia, are placed under the Fisheries Regulations with special provisions made for conservation of animal life; and all of them, with Adélie Land, are attached to the Government of Madagascar. The phraseology of the British White Paper indicates that the French claim to Adélie Land is not contested by London, although it seems that Australian sentiment would be quite reluctant to admit it. However, as yet there has been no express international recognition of the French and British claims.
No other claim to sovereignty in the Antarctic has been made public, though there are various other countries that might conceivably rest on the exploration of their nationals. However, any German rights were renounced in the general language of Article 118 of the Treaty of Versailles; and there are similar clauses in the Treaties of Peace with Austria and with Hungary.
Our Department of State has never acquiesced in various suggestions made that this country should claim sovereignty over Wilkes Land because of the discoveries of the Wilkes Expedition (1840), which was official in the strict sense, having been authorized by Act of Congress of May 18, 1836. As recently as 1924 Secretary of State Hughes wrote to an inquiring citizen as follows: "It is the opinion of the Department that the discovery of lands unknown to civilization even when coupled with a formal taking of possession, does not support a valid claim of sovereignty unless the discovery is followed by an actual settlement of the discovered country. In the absence of an act of Congress assertative in a domestic sense of dominion over Wilkes Land this Department would be reluctant to declare that the United States possessed a right of sovereignty over that territory."
Knowledge of this Polar Continent and its surroundings is as yet very incomplete. Commander Byrd has expressed the opinion that exploration by the air, while difficult, would not be impossible; but such voyages as those of the "Discovery," which sailed in September, 1925, on a three years' expedition under the auspices of the Government of the Falkland Islands, are more likely to be of scientific value.
The Antarctic region is of present importance only in connection with sea life; there is no question of future air transit, as in the Arctic; any form of mineral wealth is no more than a remote possibility of the unknown; nor can we today visualize any settlement or occupation, in the ordinary sense, of any part of the Antarctic Continent. National territorial jurisdiction, if exercised, could seemingly touch only those visitors engaged in whaling or sealing or in exploration.
Such diplomatic discussion of the Antarctic as may have taken place is unpublished and doubtless not important; perhaps because of the fact that there has been no attempt at a rigid administration of any system of control of the fisheries. However, if certain marine species are not to become extinct, international discussion and agreement, which will include the Antarctic region generally, are a necessity. Various valuable forms of sea life are in question; but in particular, because of whaling in the Southern waters, a highly profitable and very active industry, the whale seems destined to extinction within a brief period. The very learned and interesting report made to the League of Nations Committee of Experts by M. Suarez in December, 1925, on exploitation of the products of the sea, tentatively estimates the remaining number of whales at not over 12,000, with at least 1,500 killed in Antarctic area every year.
In no part of the globe are claims to sovereignty over land areas of as little apparent consequence as in the Antarctic; but the waters of the Antarctic, which seem to be a natural refuge for the whale and other habitants of the sea, are now the scene of a ruthless and reckless slaughter of those creatures of the deep whose protection from extermination is a matter of interest to mankind generally. From this point of view alone the Antarctic is a part of the problem of international cooperation.