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The politics of the Antarctic : a case study of the environment in international relations




Elliott, Lorraine M

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This thesis does three things. It describes and analyses the progress of environmental politics in the Antarctic. In doing so, it contributes to a wider research agenda on the environment as an issue in international relations. Finally, it explores questions in international relations theory about the nature of cooperation and change in the international system. The case study of environmental politics in the Antarctic Treaty system focusses attention on the systemic issues of the adequacy of interstate practices on the management of the environment, the need for new thinking on international cooperation and the role of non-state actors (particularly environmental organisations and the scientific community). Traditional realist theory, with its state-centric assumptions, is poorly placed to generate propositions which enable these major themes to be investigated. This thesis therefore employs an analytical framework grounded in the liberal institutionalist tradition of international relations theory. This thesis argues that two dimensions of a regime are important in judging the adequacy of state practice on environmental issues: the prevailing hierarchy of values on security and the environment and the relative weight given to sovereignty or interdependence norms. The Antarctic regime, based on the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, was constructed as a security regime to avoid conflict over competing territorial claims and to avoid tension between the superpowers in the Antarctic. Yet it was increasingly required to function as an environmental protection regime - a purpose for which it was not designed. The hierarchy of values in this regime privileged political (and security) concerns over environmental ones. Sovereignty norms dominated. Thus the process of decisionmaking on environmental issues was, in the final analysis, flawed. The network of environmental rules and procedures adopted was ad hoc, disaggregated and increasingly unwieldy. Implementation of those rules was poorly monitored. The increasing asymmetry between the normative political values of the Treaty system and the demands for comprehensive environmental protection were most in evidence in the debates surrounding minerals activity in the Antarctic. The particular focus of the case study, in its examination of environmental politics in the Antarctic, is the negotiation and subsequent overturning of the Minerals Convention and the negotiation of a qualitatively different agreement in the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. This process of radical change can be analysed in the context of a reordering of the hierarchy of values and a move away from sovereignty norms towards interdependence norms. Non-governmental environmental organisations are a key dimension in mobilising this change. Because they focus critical attention on inter-state environmental practice and, in doing so, bring new values and ideas to the debate, their role needs to find an appropriate place both in the empirical analysis of the Antarctic regime, and in the wider theories of regime-making and change in international relations.






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