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Nationalism in Today’s Antarctic

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Whilst nationalism is a recognised force globally, its framing is predicated on experience in conventionally occupied parts of the world. The familiar image of angry young men waving Kalashnikovs means that the idea that nationalism might be at play in Antarctica has to overcome much instinctive resistance, as well as the tactical opposition of the keepers of the present Antarctic political arrangements. The limited consideration of nationalism in Antarctica has generally been confined to the past, particularly “Heroic-Era” and 1930s–1940s expeditions. This article addresses the formations of nationalism in the Antarctic present. Antarctic nationalism need not present in the same shape as nationalisms elsewhere to justify being called nationalism. Here it occurs in a virtual or mediated form, remote from the conventional metropolitan territories of the states and interests concerned. The key aspect of Antarctic nationalism is its contemporary form and intensity. We argue that given the historic difficulties of Antarctic activities, and the geopolitical constraints of the Cold War, it has only been since the end of that Cold War that a more muscular nationalism has been able to flourish in Antarctica. Our assessment is that there at least 11 bases upon which Antarctic nationalism might arise: (i) formally declared claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica; (ii) relative proximity of Antarctica to one’s metropolitan territory; (iii) historic and institutional associations with Antarctica; (iv) social and cultural associations; (v) regional or global hegemonic inclinations; (vi) alleged need in relation to resources; (vii) contested uses or practices in Antarctica; (viii) carry-over from intense antipathies outside Antarctica; (ix) national pride in, and mobilisation through, national Antarctic programmes; (x) infrastructure and logistics arrangements; or (xi) denial or constraint of access by one’s strategic competitors or opponents. In practice of course, these are likely to be manifested in combination. The risks inherent in Antarctic nationalism are the risks inherent in unrestrained nationalism anywhere, compounded by its already weak juridical situation. In Antarctica, the intersection of nationalism with resources poses a particular challenge to the regional order and its commitments to shareable public goods such as scientific research and environmental protection.


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