Australian academics have pointed to dangers that Antarctic bases are for the first time being militarised, despite the continent officially being called a land of peace and science.
Satellite systems at polar bases could be used to control offensive weapons, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and little could be done to prevent it due to the loose nature of the Antarctic Treaty rules.
The report highlights a Chinese base inland in the Australian Antarctic Territory for its satellite intelligence gathering potential and also flags Iran’s recent interest in establishing a polar presence.
Abuses of the treaty’s strict controls on any use of military personnel are said to have already occurred with many countries not reporting their use in Antarctica, while Australia is neglecting to use defence assets there.
The report, “Cold Calculations”, released on Monday, warns that the increasing militarisation is occurring just as Australia’s Antarctic efforts face crippling budget restrictions.
The latest Defence White Paper said there was no credible risk to Australia’s national interests in the Antarctic that might require substantial military responses over the next few decades.
“But in the decades to come, military conflict between the major powers could well have an Antarctic dimension, given the possible role of Antarctic bases in surveillance and satellite monitoring,” Dr Bergin said.
Professor Bateman said it was likely that Antarctic bases were being used increasingly for military research involving space and satellites.
“We could be moving towards the increased weaponisation of Antarctica through the use of Antarctic bases to control offensive weapons systems,” he said. “That possibility is worrying.”
The clear, interference-free skies of Antarctica make them suitable for space observation, and Professor Bateman pointed to China’s third Antarctic station, Kunlun, at one of the highest and coldest points on the continent.
“It’s ideally suited for sending, receiving or intercepting signals from satellites,” Professor Bateman said.
He said both China and India had active government programs and were seeking to increase the number of their bases – yet neither currently reported the use of military personnel and it may be time for the treaty to tighten reporting requirements.
“This might include, for example, widening reporting of introductions of military personnel into Antarctica to recognise the possible employment of private security contractors and other civilian personnel in activities of an essentially military nature.”
Iran’s foray into Antarctica as a maritime power was recently confirmed though the government’s semi-official Fars News Agency, which reported Rear Admiral Khadem Biqam as saying its first phase would involve co-operation with another nation.
Full article: Militarisation warning for Antarctica as China and Iran show increasing interest (The Sidney Morning Herald)