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Meeting Antarctica’s diplomatic challenges: Joint approaches for Australia and the United States

By Evan T Bloom

This report describes current security and environmental policy challenges related to Antarctica and proposes options for Australia and the United States to address them. It assesses the current and potential future actions of strategic competitors like China and Russia, and proposes policy responses.

It suggests ways in which the US and Australian governments can work more closely to protect and promote the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), advancing support for an approach to governance that the two nations have felt for decades is in their respective national interests. This requires both countries (as well as others) to make a clear-eyed assessment of current and future fault lines and move more quickly to address political and environmental challenges that have implications well beyond Antarctica. In particular, this involves determining when it’s necessary to counter the ambitions of strategic competitors, such as China and Russia, in the Antarctic context, and when cooperation may be the more appropriate objective.

The current Antarctic governance regime, while far from perfect... achieves a great deal that’s in the long-term national interests of Australia and the US. The ATS shouldn’t be dismissed as out of date; it can still be effective in addressing core regional concerns of both countries. Both countries can use their influence to insist on the implementation by all countries of ATS rules and can invoke those rules to fight for environmental protection and policies that support scientists. It’s unlikely that a more effective set of treaties could be negotiated today. Australia and the US should spend more time at both senior and working levels to coordinate positions and on outreach to other governments on Antarctic issues.