Tag Archives: Antarctica

John V.H. Dippel, To the Ends of the Earth: The Truth behind the Glory of Polar Exploration (New York: Prometheus Books, 2018)

To the Ends of the Earthis a magnificent lost opportunity. Dippel takes his readers on a journey to the poles, describing the suffering, passions, delusions, ambitions, and cultural absurdities of the 19thcentury and early 20thcentury expeditions. But he does it in a tumultuous way.

Discovering the poles is not a “regular” discovery/exploration. Conquering the poles is not like conquering any other territory. The poles have an environment that is not simply inhospitable for humans, but that brings out the worst in them.

Explorers would head either North or South by boat, until their ship would get stuck in ice. The ships may or may not be crushed by the pressure of the ice. The men would spend the winter on the ice, in the hope to have a better start in the spring, assuming they survived the winter.

The months of darkness, freezing temperature, lack of food, and isolation from the known world bring almost inevitable depression and madness, aside from frostbites, malnutrition, and diseases. Having other people around in confined spaces drives people out of their minds. Having nobody at all, equally drives humans out of their minds. Deadly boredom would be alleviated with repetitive tedious scientific measurements, which eventually were doomed as irrelevant, but done nevertheless, in deadly conditions, in an attempt to keep a routine in a place that felt timeless.

The conditions on the way to the poles in the 19thand early 20thcentury were such that it is estimated that one in every two explorer died on expeditions.

Why go facing almost sure death? Or why facing conditions that may scar one for life, assuming one makes it back? Dippel offers a variety of answers, all of which are not necessarily flattering. Mostly, they boil down to greedy personal ambition. Scientific knowledge was just an excuse as testified by some penguin eggs collected risking human lives, and then left to gather dust in a box for decades in the British Museum.

Being a “successful” explorer meant fame and money. The glory to be recognized as “the first” and the royalties from the books one would publish upon their return (which often amounted to millions of today’s dollars). But the money was more often than not just instrumental to finance the next expedition. Glory remained the driver.

19thand early 20thcentury public fascination with polar expeditions, which drove the sale of books and newspapers, and most importantly drove the blind desire for glory, was often linked to nationalism and a craving for heroes, especially in times of peace.

But the attempted conquests of the poles were approached with the same attitudes people used to approach situations at home. British explorers would show up at the poles in their leather boots, flannel pants, and wooden coats. They would refuse to learn from indigenous people and wear snow shoes and animal skins. Indigenous people could not possibly have anything to teach the “obviously superior” British. Social status and ranks ought to be respected at all cost. Even when forced to live in a hand-made ice cave for several months. A line should be marked on the floor to divide lower-rank and higher-rank people. The superior and impeccable morals of the West implied both a divine investiture to conquer the poles, and thus a superiority over nature. Nature should be tamed by human will.

Not at the poles. At the poles, or on the way there, “success” was merely surviving; it was enduring indescribable suffering; it was still being a gentleman. Expedition after expedition would fail to arrive at the poles, or to discover the Open Polar Sea (an alleged warm and open body of navigable water at the North Pole), and would even fail to bring back men alive. Yet, these failures were heroic and thus were the celebrations of the cultural superiority of the explorers. So much so that even the disappearance of the Royal Navy officer Sir John Frankin and his 128 men was transmuted into a heroic gentlemen’s tale, so strong in the popular mind than when, after several years of search for him, evidence was brought back that he and his men may have engaged in cannibalism in the futile attempt to survive, the popular uproar discredited the evidence (and its discoverers) and not the Royal Navy officer or the inhuman conditions of an ill-equipped journey to the pole.

Dippel attributes the first arrivals at the poles by Norwegians (South Pole) and Americans (allegedly to the North Pole) to their more democratic and less stuffy culture, which allowed them to more easily adapt to this alien environment and to learn from past mistakes as well as from the Inuit.

But while Dippel remains almost silent on the Antarctic success of Ronald Amundsen, he describes the Arctic alleged successes built on the lies of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary. Both Cook and Peary were so driven by blind ambition and hunger for glory that they both willingly lied and falsified their records and accounts to claim something they did not achieve. The truth was only dug out later when, after the Vietnam War, the myth of an immaculate hero was no longer sustainable.

Dippel’s account of polar explorations is potentially a magnificent account of the darkest parts of the human soul that the darkness of the poles brings out. But his narrative, at least in the eyes of this reader, renders it into a polar storm. Each chapter swipes back and forward and without warning from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from one ship to another, from an explorer to another, from a time to another, leaving the reader disoriented. Not all explorers are present or presented with balanced importance, and no explanation is given for this. The volume does not provide a chronology of events or a list of explorers to aid the reader. It does not even have a map. It does instead have some period pictures, which do not quite help a reader not deeply familiar with all the expeditions. The constant back and forward makes several parts repetitive, without any necessary gain in clarity.

It is a book worth reading, if only because it may whet the curiosity to read more, to read something written more linearly on the topic.

Klaus Dodds, Alan D Hemmings and Peder Roberts (eds.), Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

Nordicum-Mediterraneum may not seem like the most obvious title in which to find a review of the Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica. Nevertheless, given the increasing focus on Arctic issues in this journal and the comparisons to the opposite pole that they invariably generate, a review of this large (both physically and figuratively) contribution to polar social science is fitting. Iceland became a party to the Antarctic Treaty in 2015 but Antarctica has long been constructed through the actions, discourse and interpretations of European states, in particular Norway by virtue of the explorations of Roald Amundsen and later as a claimant state.

The edited collection – containing an impressive thirty-seven chapters by leading scholars on Antarctic law, geopolitics, social science, and even art and literature, is one of the latest in an emerging trend of “handbooks” that bring together contributions from different perspectives on topics of wide academic interest. The usual approach is to mix a fairly descriptive account to aid newcomers to the field alongside cutting-edge analysis of contemporary and – for the brave – future developments. On these terms, the Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica does not disappoint.

The Antarctic regime is sui generis. In a certain sense, any region of the World can be considered sui generis to the extent that each will have unique features that are not replicated elsewhere. However, in the Antarctic, the very foundations of international relations since (at least) the Peace of Westphalia are turned on their head. While the rest of the World has been subjected to exclusive sovereignty claims (albeit, sometimes overlapping or contested), since 1959, the sovereignty claims in the Antarctic have been frozen. This is just the first and most obvious difference between the governance of the Poles. Nevertheless, Antarctic governance is not entirely separated from other legal regimes including the United Nations, the law of the sea, and international environmental law. Further, the international regime of the Antarctic cannot be kept entirely insulated from global changes and challenges, including the rise of the Asian states, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the renaissance of Russia, and, closer to the Antarctic continent, the festering sore of Las Malvinas/the Falkland Islands. The Handbook presents Antarctic issue areas in a global light – it is not a simple textbook on the Antarctic Treaty System, isolated from the external international relations that construct it.

Following an introduction that outlines the basics of the Antarctic system and summarises the contents, the book is presented in four parts. The first part, “Conceptualizing Antarctica” presents the Antarctic of the imagination, including political imaginations and constructions. Part Two, “Acting in and Beyond Antarctica,” explores events and participants – how are Antarctic politics performed? “Regulating Antarctica,” the third part, examines the frameworks for governing activities in the Antarctica, with emphasis on environmental norms (both hard and soft law), law of the sea (especially fisheries management), tourism, and heritage. The final part, ambitiously titled “Futures in Antarctica,” considers where current political imaginings of the Antarctica will lead, especially in light of global power shifts.

The Poles are generally imagined as the ends of the World – a vision that only makes sense if you start in the middle. The Antarctic is imagined as an uninhabited wilderness. If there are no people there, then perhaps there is no need for law, let alone political theory. However, this view only makes sense if you assume the Antarctic is a pre-defined natural space, not one constructed by law, politics, selective historic records, and literature. The emphasis on science as one of the tools to maintain the peace in Antarctica has led to an impressive body of natural scientific research in a notoriously hard-to-reach location. However, the extent of natural science, its existence in the first place, can only be understood using political science. Why does the treaty prioritise science and scientific cooperation? Answer: to maintain peaceful relations. Whyare so many countries sending scientific missions down there? Answer: to earn the right to partake in decision-making for the continent and, in some cases, to maintain territorial claims. Social science regarding the Antarctic is lagging behind natural science and this Handbook is a major contribution as well as proof that you do not need a generous fieldwork budget to study the Antarctic.

The Handbook would perhaps best be described as a collection of essays from different disciplines than as aninterdisciplinary work per se – the individual contributions are rarely themselves interdisciplinary. Not only do the contributors come from different disciplines and reflect the different assumptions at the bases of these, but they reach different conclusions. For example, political scientist Anne-Marie Brady portrays China as a threat to the stability of the Antarctic system and casts aspersions on Chinese motivations (Chapter nineteen). Meanwhile, lawyer Alan Hemmings critiques the “us and them” constructions of Antarctic activities and assumptions about the rightful place of peoples of European origin on the continent contrasted against concerns about new actors. “Science is international and value-free until it isn’t one of us doing it” (Chapter thirty-two). In this reviewer’s favourite chapter, Elizabeth Leane explores the implicit racism in Antarctic fiction that assumes the normality of the white, European, male presence and paints the Asians as the “other” (Chapter two).

Notwithstanding the diversity of approaches and views, some general themes emerge. Sovereignty may have been frozen but the original parties to the Antarctic Treaty (including only one Asian and one African state – and the African state at the time of signing being the white supremacist South Africa) still determine whose voices are heard. Colonialism and the image of the white male conqueror of a hostile frontier were and remain bases for contemporary legitimacy in Arctic politics. Science is a ticket to the decision-making table – something that keeps “troublemakers” from developing countries at bay (108). The “old” Antarctic states must find a careful balance between defending their hegemony and accommodating “new” actors so that the latter do not threaten to undermine the system.

It is perhaps harsh to criticise a text of over 600 pages for what is missing but this reviewer was surprised that the Whaling in the Antarctic case and the broader issue of whaling in the Antarctic was not more directly addressed. However, since the handbook’s publication, Japan has announced its decision to leave the International Whaling Commission and to cease taking whales in the Southern Ocean, changing the basic premises of the legal dispute. Tim Stephens’ chapter on the law of the sea left this reviewer wanting more: each of the subsections could have been the subject of an independent chapter. What is the role of the International Seabed Authority in the Southern Ocean? Does it have one? The tension – and snobbery – between science and tourism might have been explored in more depth (though Chapter twenty-three, by Christina Braun, Fritz Hertel and Hans-Ulrich Peter, presents the depressing reality of the impact of scientific missions and the inadequacy of implementation of environmental protection and implicitly argues that it is not the tourists that are the problem). Ruth Davis (Chapter thirty-five) touches briefly on the precautionary principle but the pre-eminence given to “science-based decision-making” in the Antarctic poses a major barrier to the application of a precautionary approach that could have been more explicitly explored. Some leading Antarctic experts such as Jill Barrett and Kees Bastmeister are also missing. These gaps should not be viewed as criticisms of the Handbookbut rather a reminder to interested readers to go beyond itas they continue their research.

Klaus Dodds & Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles: The geopolitics of the Arctic and the Antarctic (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)

When I begin the writing process, I try to start with a title. I figure that if I get that right, then the rest will fall into place. When I saw the title of this new book by Klaus Dodds and Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles, my attention fixed on the word ‘scramble’, and it immediately resonated with me that this might be yet another polemic on the actions of polar states to shore up favourable access to polar resources in the future. And then I discovered that the authors actually devote a whole page in the Preface to explaining and justifying their use of this (and similar) terms, which was quite simply because they are in use in the everyday lexicon of polar commentary (p.xiii). So yes, in some respects this is yet another polemic – but at the same time, different.

Continue reading Klaus Dodds & Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles: The geopolitics of the Arctic and the Antarctic (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)

Richard C. Powell & Klaus Dodds, Polar Geopolitics: Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014)

This edited collection brings together 18 scholars from different disciplines to discuss their latest insights into the Arctic and Antarctic regions. While the Antarctic has always been a distinct conceptual space in the World owing to its isolation from inhabited territories, the formation of the Arctic qua region has developed rapidly in the 21st Century. The editors, Richard Powell and Klaus Dodds, have asked the contributors to develop “critical polar geopolitics”, focusing on knowledges, resources and legal regimes. However, the book does not clearly follow these three priority areas but is in fact structured according to three parts: Global and Regional Frameworks; National Visions; and Indigenous and Northern Geopolitics.

Continue reading Richard C. Powell & Klaus Dodds, Polar Geopolitics: Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014)

G. Alfredsson, T. Koivurova (eds. in chief), D. Leary, N. Loukacheva (spec. eds.), The Yearbook of Polar Law (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2010)

 

The symposium is now an established annual affair with the first three held in Akureyri and the fourth scheduled in September 2011 in Nuuk, Greenland. Although the symposia continue to provide rich fodder for the yearbook, submissions are encouraged from all scholars in pertinent areas of research. Submissions are subject to double-blind peer review.

 

The Yearbook has attracted some of the best known experts in their respective areas. A subjective selection of the most noted will always be unfair in such a distinguished field, but scholars of international law will recognise, besides the editors, established experts Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Nigel Bankes and  Asbjørn Eide.

 

The Yearbook of Polar Law responds to the growing strategic and economic importance of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The Arctic is changing rapidly, not only geophysically in response to climate shifts but also geopolitically as human technology and security issues give it new social  meanings. Where the Yearbook departs from other Arctic and Antarctic scholarly publications is that it approaches the challenges of the polar regions principally from a legal standpoint. Nevertheless, studies in these areas require almost invariably an interdisciplinary approach: one cannot assess continental shelf claims under the Law of the Sea Convention without a basic grasp of geography; climate change governance without scientific evidence; nor indigenous peoples’ self-determination claims without anthropological and historical knowledge.

 

In contrast to the Polar Law Textbook which is intended as an introduction to Polar Law, the Yearbook is aimed at academics and policy makers already established in their respective areas of expertise.

 

The second volume includes a new “recent developments” section as well as relevant book reviews. What it lacks that was valuable in the first is an overall review of the symposium and the conclusions and recommendations of its participants. That overall review provided an excellent – and gentle – introduction to the sometimes highly technical and specialist papers that follow, in the manner of an introductory chapter in an edited collection of essays. In it, key general issues were identified, including climate change; human rights; new commercial activities at the Poles; shipping challenges; threats to native species; environmental governance; peace, security and dispute settlement. Then specific pressing issues were highlighted: management and protection of at-risk species; a more proactive approach by the International Maritime Organization in identified areas; the need, if any, for new laws, treaties and processes; and living marine resources management. States were advised of areas requiring immediate attention, such as: implementation of existing law; mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in cooperation with indigenous peoples of the North. Long-term issues were noted:  namely, climate change and environmental governance. Finally recommendations from the symposium’s participants were recorded, aimed towards academics vis á vis needed research and states vis á vis needed action. This summary gives context to the rest of the articles and allows the reader to go on to read any one of the individual contributions with the bigger picture in mind.     

 

While all the articles in the two published volumes could easily have found homes in alternative fora – specialist journals on the law of the sea, environmental law, natural resource law, dispute settlement, human rights, arctic studies as well as general international law and social science volumes – the Yearbook of Polar Law is, as its title indicates, the first journal to draw together all these fields with a specific focus on the Polar Regions. By tying together all these related fields in one publication, it gives scholars, policy makers and stakeholders the opportunity to form a more holistic view of the challenges facing the Polar Regions.

 

At 156 Euros per volume, the Yearbook is presumably aimed at institutional subscribers: law school libraries, governmental institutions and research facilities; principally those focussed on the Arctic and Antarctic. This is a little unfortunate as these perspectives from the Poles are informative not only to specialist researchers at the World’s ends, but for people all over the World facing challenges such as climate change, resource management, territorial disputes and indigenous claims. One can only hope that, price notwithstanding, the Yearbook’s contents will nevertheless reach the wide audience that they merit.

Natalia Loukacheva (ed.), Polar Law Textbook (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2010)

In conjunction with the programme and with the financial support of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the programme director, Natalia Loukacheva, solicited and collated these articles from leading academics, practitioners, politicians and indigenous peoples working in associated disciplines to compile the first ever “textbook” in Polar Law. The four designated aims of the textbook are to promote interdisciplinary education; to disseminate current research and developments; to improve Nordic and Arctic cooperation; to facilitate long-distance education on Polar Law and to encourage Nordic and Arctic collaboration in education (Summary).

 

Polar Law as a concept requires some working definition, even if it is constantly evolving and taking on new fields of inquiry as it matures. This definition is provided by Loukacheva in the introduction who advises us that, “broadly speaking, ‘polar law’ is a developing field of law that deals with the international and domestic legal regimes that are applicable to the Arctic or the Antarctic or both” while also taking into account the normative force of “soft-law” instruments (13).

One immediate question that springs to mind is “why polar law?” What is special about the polar regions that justifies such specialized attention? And despite some superficial similarities between the Arctic and the Antarctic, geologically, politically, sociologically and economically they are, if one will pardon the expression, “poles apart.” Loukacheva raises these questions in her introduction, drawing attention to the most significant differences between the two regions as well as areas of common concern and lessons that one region might have for the other.

On reading the textbook, it becomes apparent that these areas are of ever increasing strategic and political importance and facing challenges of governance and deployment that have serious consequences in much more temperate climates. The focus on polar law suggests a preference for legal regulation to solve problems, but in reality, the approaches taken are all interdisciplinary to greater or lesser extents. Only the chapters on the law of the sea and on human rights and indigenous peoples rely principally on legal sources and even in these chapters, the law is explained in social and environmental context. In other words, whilst to some extent it is assumed that law is one useful tool to address the relevant issues, it is nowhere assumed that law is the only tool, nor even the preferred one.

Although marketed as a “textbook”, the essays do not provide a superficial account of the issues they each address. Instead, the book is packed with information, providing knowledge and analysis that will serve well scholars, scientists and policy-makers in, inter alia, international law, international relations, development, governance, natural resources law and climate change, whether or not they seek a specific focus on the polar regions. Where it shares a “textbook” approach is in the inclusion at the end of each chapter of suggested material for further reading (useful to researchers at all levels) and a pedagogically-focussed list of questions for reflection by the reader.

The content is weighted towards the Arctic, which can be understood to the extent that there is a necessary focus on the social sciences (e.g., economics, Arctic governance) and emphasis is rightly put on indigenous peoples (4 of 11 chapters). The human issues pertaining to the Arctic have no equivalent in Antarctica. There would be scope, however, for further development of Antarctic issues in a future volume, such as questions of governance of the South Pole, legal and political claims to territory, potential exploitation of non-living resources, and other economic interests.

The textbook taps into the most contemporary information available, containing numerous references to developments in 2010. However, the effort to publish the state of the art developments in polar law have come with some editorial costs that might be rectified in a second edition, or a future second volume with new essays dealing with yet to be identified topics. First of all, a non-specialist approaching this textbook may feel at times bombarded by acronyms and it can become difficult to keep these all in focus. Furthermore, the acronyms are not consistently used by different authors, for example, the Law of the Sea Convention is abbreviated to LOSC (45) and later as UNCLOS (214). The inclusion of a simple table of acronyms could make it much simpler for authors to use the same acronyms and for readers to check these quickly when memory fails. The styles of the questions also vary between chapters, with some being answerable by reflection of the contained text alone and others requiring further research. There are formatting inconsistencies, with most chapters listing questions at the end of the text, but chapter six including these after subsections within chapters, and some typographical and layout errors. Ultimately, however, the technical detractions of the textbook should not detract from its innovative content.

Finally mention should be made of the open-access nature of the project and the willingness to make this content available to as wide an audience as possible without the barrier of cost. The book is available for purchase in hard copy, but can be downloaded in its entirety in pdf form free of charge, something that cash-strapped students and universities in developed and developing countries alike will no doubt embrace enthusiastically.

* Online pdf version: 

 http://www.norden.org/en/publications/publications/2010-538