I was just reading an article in the Times Online on Saturday which took an interesting angle on the Russians having claimed a large chunk of the Arctic for themselves, by sneakily dropping a flag on the bottom of the ocean under the arctic ice. Is it just me, or is it a bit strange in this day and age that such a gesture should lead a nation to lay claim to something as precious as a country or piece of land? I suppose it's just a bit primitive and not particularly sophisticated, but then it's really about the symbolism of what a planting a flag entails. That's how it's been done since the beginning of civilisation I guess!
The article in the Times looks back to when the race was on for Antarctica (which was probably one of the last great races to lay claim to land). Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), which was established in 1961 and still holds to this day, territorial claims originally submitted were neither acknowledged or disputed. The main objective of the ATS (explained here on the British Antarctic Survey's website) is to ensure in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord. The treaty forbids any measures of a military nature, but not the presence of military personnel per se.
The original ATS allowed for a review meeting to be convened 30 years after the Treaty's initial introduction (ie. in 1991), however no such conference has yet been called. Russia clearly has her sights on the huge oil and other mineral resources thought to lie beneath the Arctic ice. There have already been rumblings that the Australian government is interested in exploiting mining opportunities in Antarctica. With so much public interest in the environment and climate change let's hope that the Antarctic Treaty holds fast and the white continent at least will remain pristine and untouched.