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Bringing Antarctica into the new Cold War

Written by: (Contributed) on 30 April 2021


A report tabled by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) at the highest levels in Canberra in April will have far-reaching implications if implemented by the Australian government next year.

The report, part of a US-led Cold War military and security package, is aimed at transforming logistics with Antarctica for rapid access and egress with a continent of vital strategic significance and rich in minerals.

There are two important considerations:
the moves will introduce a wave of militarisation into a continent which is supposedly neutral;
the potential environmental damage including rare plant, wild and animal-life.
Neither consideration has been addressed in the report, which has followed a line typical of US-led regional Cold War military planning.
In late April the ASPI forwarded its report to Canberra. It was primarily concerned with Australia's hegemonic presence across the vast frozen continent and the plan to construct a 2.7 kms paved concrete runway for international flights near the Vestfold Hills area adjacent to the Australian Davis Station. (1)
The Davis Station was established during the previous Cold War in 1957. It now looks set to become a vital strategic asset with the present Cold War; the ASPI report stated fears existed that China might also lodge territorial claims and establish its own landing strips. (2) No evidence was provided about any serious plans by China to develop interests on Antarctica. The ASPI, likewise, are no strangers to the Cold War political muck-raking against supposed Chinese influences in Australia; previous examples have included targeting people of Chinese ancestry with highly questionable motives and levels of accuracy about the subject matter. (3)
At present there are seven countries with territorial claims which include: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK. A number of other countries also have stations on Antarctica although they work through one or more of the main seven countries. The US, for example, makes extensive use of Australia as the conduit through which they conduct their interests on Antarctica.
There are already at least 55 different landing strips on the continent to serve various
interests; most, however, are only operational for part of the year and covered with gravel and not capable of being used with 'heavy airliners'. (4)
Historically, Antarctica has had numerous research and weather stations, although few serious territorial claims. Most of the continent is hardly inhabitable for lengthy periods of time; there are no Indigenous peoples.
Plans, however, for increased Australian development of Antarctica now appear under-way.
It is interesting to note, therefore, that the ASPI report stated the Davis Station 'requires long-term funding and political commitment' based upon Australian 'influence on Antarctica'. (5) The report, furthermore, also noted 'the proposed Davis aerodrome will increase Australia's strategic weight in Antarctica, where we claim 42 per cent of the continent'. (6)  
It is also interesting to note the proposed aerodrome is planned for all year operations with heavy airliners in a small area of the continent which is usually ice-free. Due to the area being about twenty kms from the continental ice-field, it is rich in marine and bird-life. The proposed major aerodrome will obviously have a serious effect upon environmental issues; it has been noted 'pollution, dust, noise and carbon emissions are further problems'. (7)    
The Australian Antarctic Program also rests upon strong strategic links with Hobart. The airport in Tasmania is regarded as 'a leading gateway to Antarctica', by Australian military officials. (8) Plans, therefore, for a major $100 million upgrade of Hobart Airport for international flights, to double capacity reveal longer-term planning with Antarctica in mind. (9)
Elsewhere in the coverage of the proposed aerodrome a brief reference is made in passing to possible competition for Antarctica's resources and possible potential military uses. (10) The  
Australian Casey Research Station already has a program to study bedrock geology and marine biology although official websites reveal little information about any of their findings.
A study of the 77 Australian registered mining companies, likewise, has revealed nothing of their interests or plans on Antarctica.
It would appear, nevertheless, the Casey Station is important as a satellite tracking facility and was upgraded in 2016. It also has its own Wilkins aerodrome about seventy kms south-east of the station.
Many of the projects hosted by various foreign governments based on Antarctica have had other more clandestine operations. During the Apartheid period in South Africa, for example, publicity about Pretoria's Silvermine Maritime Operational and Communications Headquarters had a stated range from Argentina to Bangladesh and North Africa to the South Pole.  Its establishment, in 1973, was regarded by Pretoria as part of a 'current global struggle for power'. (11) Following the demise of the Apartheid regime, South African projects on Antarctica were quietly shelved.
The proposed aerodrome project in Antarctica is, furthermore, part of a much bigger package aimed at re-asserting traditional US-led regional hegemonic positions: it has not been particularly difficult to establish the US quietly pulling the strings of their puppets in Canberra; in recent months the coalition government has implemented the 'foreign arrangements scheme' which has enabled Foreign Minister Marise Payne to review more than a thousand agreements between foreign national governments and their federal and state Australian counterparts together with universities. (12)
An official media release from the Australian Defence Department recently acknowledged there were literally thousands more cases also planned for future investigations. (13)
With the present coalition government in Canberra expected to make a decision over the next year about the proposed aerodrome on the basis that it would provide 'a distributing hub for personnel and equipment', Australians might well ask the question in whose interests will it serve?
It has already been noted the cost outlay for the proposed aerodrome will be likely to be 'substantial' and involve a massive fifteen-year building program. It is said that 'investing in Antarctica logistics is the most effective way to advance our long-term Antarctic interests' which carries little sensible weight when other areas of government expenditure have been subject to cuts and failures to provide adequate coverage and support  for ordinary Australian people.
All the proposed aerodrome will achieve is a further wave of US-led militarism sweeping the Indo-Pacific region and contravening the neutrality of Antarctica.
We need an independent foreign policy!
1.     Game-changer, ASPI., 21 April 2021; and, Antarctica runway 'a good strategic move', Australian, 21 April 2021.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Water licence given to group with China ties, Australian, 27 April 2021.
4.     Australian, op.cit., 21 April 2021.     
5.     Game-changer, ibid., 21 April 2021.
6.     Ibid.
7.     'A real bad precedent', The Guardian (U.K.), 31 December 2020.
8.     Antarctic flights 'a huge success', Contact: Defence Rates, 20 February 2016.
9.     Hobart Airport, ABC News, 9 April 2019.
10.   Australian, op.cit., 21 April 2021.
11.   Maritime Operational and Communications Headquarters, The Star (South Africa), front page, 10 March 1973; and, Security in the mountain, The Star (South Africa), 17 March 1973.
12.   Push to cut more Chinese accords, The Weekend Australian, 24-25 April 2021.
13.   'We must get real on a possible China war', Australian, 26 April 2021.


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