For the Morning Star, its Communist Party of Britain, and the remaining detritus of official communism, yesterday was a good day. At long last, New Labour has achieved one of the policy goals beloved of British Road'ers everywhere: Britain is finally exercising an independent foreign policy. Sort of. The BBC has reported the Foreign Office has drawn up plans to prosecute its imperialist claims to the Antarctic sea bed.
You could say this has almost become voguish for the remaining great maritime powers. Over the summer we had Russia's ludicrous stunt of planting a flag on the Arctic sea floor to lay claim to the continental shelf on which northern Siberia rests. In recent days, the melting of sea ice has made the North West Passage navigable by boat, leading Canada to quickly lay claim to the route to head off US designs. Global warming, combined with increasing energy demands means the polar regions and the sea bed will increasingly be the focus of an unseemly scramble.
Looking at the new British claims, the government seeks to extend its sovereignty over a thousand more square miles of sea. But as if to allay objections on environmental grounds, the BBC quotes a spokeswoman as saying "It would be a claim in name only, we wouldn't act because doing any mineral exploitation contravenes the [Antarctic] treaty". How nice of them! She goes on, "it is essentially to safeguard for the future and if [the treaty] is abolished in the future we will have safeguarded our claim to that area". Ah, so at the moment Britain will honour its treaty obligations, but reserves the right in the future to allow Shell and BP in to do the dirty if the treaty falls apart. Small wonder the quoted Greenpeace spokesman replied "When the UK is supposed to be leading the charge on reducing carbon emissions, they are in fact leading the charge half way around the world for a new oil rush".
He's not wrong. Foreign office bureaucrats are preparing for similar claims off western Scotland and around the Falklands and South Georgia.
Capitalist states seeking out and securing real or potential resources is nothing new, nor is the spectre of conflict arising from competing claims. All that is different is the peculiar inhospitality of the environments that are the focus of these efforts. If you look at the political geography of Antarctica, already it is divided up between eight states, with Chile and Argentina contesting the vast majority of British-held territory. But there still remains a fairly sizable chunk of territory approximately the size of France going unclaimed, which no doubt is being eyed by various governments as I write. And as claims are being drawn up, it seems likely studies are being undertaken to determine the feasibility of military bases to protect those holdings. In the blink of an eye, the last wilderness on Earth could be turned into an armed camp.
Because militarisation and environmental despoliation are inseparably bound up with the way capital operates, socialists need to be ever more clearer and more imaginative in getting our message across.