Britain and Antarctica: keeping the economic dimension in its place

Beck, Peter J. (2016) Britain and Antarctica: keeping the economic dimension in its place. In: Fisher, John , Pedaliu, Effie G.H. and Smith, Richard, (eds.) The Foreign Office, Commerce and British Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century. London, U.K. : Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 323-343. ISBN 9781137465801


Britain’s vast worldwide empire upon which the sun never set is no more, but there remains still a substantial area of the earth’s surface covered by 14 British Overseas Territories. British Antarctic Territory, the last one to be claimed (1908, 1917), is by far the largest of these territories totalling 1.7 million square km in area. It proves the present-day legacy of an abortive British policy seeking to annex the whole of Antarctica. Economic factors, most notably the huge potential value of the region’s fisheries and mineral resources, proved prominent when the policy of Antarctic imperialism was adopted during 1919-20. In the event, the emergence of rival claimants and the refusal of the Soviet Union and USA to recognise existing claims led the British government to work increasingly within a broader international framework, particularly after the Antarctic Treaty was concluded in 1959. Economic factors have proved ever-present, but during recent decades within British Antarctic Territory they have been forced to work alongside, even to be treated as subordinate to, environmental, scientific and other concerns. Over time the continuing reappraisal of British policy towards Antarctica has encouraged the emergence of a more international and a less commercial and geopolitical approach.

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