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Scotland and the Antarctic

Section 7: The legacy of Bruce

Politics of Antarctica

'The Argentine naval flag was hoisted on the cairn where formerly the Scottish Lion flew; and I presume the South Orkneys are looked on as a possession of that power - the nucleus of an empire, perhaps they may seem to ambitious Argentine expansionists.'
William Speirs Bruce

Bruce was very aware of the politics of the Antarctic. When he handed over the weather station on Laurie Island to the Argentinian meteorological observers they raised the Argentinian flag and produced their own post office with stamps indicating the South Orkney Islands were a department of Argentina. Britain and Argentina were to fight the first land war in the Southern Oceans in 1982.

Territorial claims to the Antarctic were based on areas that had been discovered and explored during the early part of the 20th century. Seven nations in all claimed land on the Antarctic continent - the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, France, Norway, Argentina and Chile. The claims of Argentina and Chile (made during the second world war when there was a lot of sympathy for Germany) overlapped that of the United Kingdom. The USA and the former USSR made no claim on the Antarctic - although they claimed the right to do so if they wished.

The year 1958-59 was designated International Geophysical Year in the Antarctic. Twelve countries took part in expeditions and research work during that time in complete co-operation with each other. The great success of this international venture led to the signing of an Antarctic Treaty in 1961.

The 12 countries which took part in the International Geophysical Year were the first to sign the treaty which was to cover all the land south of 60S. They were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the former USSR. The treaty has now been signed by 43 countries representing 85% of the world's population. The islands north of 60S were not included in the treaty.

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Glasgow Digital Library Voyage of the Scotia BRUCE PEOPLE SHIP ANTARCTIC INDEX