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Universalism and Title to Territory in Antarctica

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The debate about whether international law could or should be universal has often centred on the somewhat nebulous phenomena of the relativity of cultural values, ideas, and use of language. While these are important considerations, this paper hightlights the fact that in the international law of Antarctica, universalism has had the practical legal effect of defining the issue in dispute. Prior to World War Two there were two distinct international legal regimes pertaining to territory in Antarctica. For the South American states the issue at stake was the location of their mutual boundary in territory to which they had long assumed sovereign rights; for the Europeans sovereignty itself was the issue with which they sougth to deal. Once the two regimes came into conflict – at least as regards that portion of Antarctica opposite the South American mainland – it was the European regime, under the guise of being `universal' international law, that came to define the issue in dispute. While the issue has never been settled, universalism has functioned to favour the position of the United Kingdom over those of Chile and Argentina. Sovereignty has remained the core issue in Antarctic law and politics. All writers on Antarctic law and politics who fail to recognize the evolution of two Antarctic legal regimes of which one has defined the current issue in dispute deny implicitly the existence of the Chilean-Argentine regime of boundary definition. Through doing so, they also perpetuate the myth of international law as universal.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Lecturer in Politics, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia

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/content/journals/10.1163/15718109720295102
1997-01-01
2016-12-05

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