Defence wants south pole setup
Australia's Defence Force wants to install technology in Antarctica, but the Antarctic Treaty explicitly bans military activity.
Media investigations have uncovered detailed assessment of threats and “military opportunities” in Antarctica, presented by Defence's strategic policy branch at a private “future strategic leaders’ congress” in June.
However, the plans are expected to run up against the 60-year-old Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits measures of “a military nature”.
The Defence briefing states; “there are a range of valuable opportunities to enhance military capability by implementing certain technologies in the Antarctic”.
“Australia and other likeminded states need to maintain a collective influence in the Antarctic Treaty System in order to prevent the gradual undermining of its strength,” the document declares, according to reports.
“This does not mean that we cannot, or should not, utilise the opportunity for implementing dual‐use capabilities where we can, but priority should always favour legitimate scientific utility.”
It is unclear exactly which technologies Defence is looking at, but China, Russia and the US have satellite navigation capabilities in Antarctica that can be used for military purposes but are not strictly banned by the Treaty.
Even setting up such dual-use military technology in Antarctica would stand in contrast with the military’s public record on the frozen continent.
Australia's own 2016 Antarctic Strategy strongly backs the Antarctic Treaty’s principle of non-militarisation, describing Australia’s Antarctic legacy as one of “heroism, scientific endeavour and environmental stewardship”.
However, the private presentation confirms Defence is looking at new military threats and opportunities.
“Antarctica is especially useful for command, control, communications, computers, surveillance and reconnaissance system capabilities, as well as missile timing and missile positioning,” it said.
“Perhaps most important is Antarctica's ideal environment for basing satellite receiving and processing stations.”
Australia has a territorial claim on 42 per cent of the continent, recognised only by New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway and France. One major aspect of the Antarctic Treaty it to block all new territorial claims.
Defence is concerned that a drive for resources will require military response in coming decades.
“Perhaps the most important expected driver of strategic competition is the resource potential in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, and how this interest might increase in the future as resources elsewhere become scarcer,” the document states.
“For now, states can only undertake preliminary exploration of resources under the pretence of scientific research. The extent to which this actually occurs is a topic of debate.
“For those who are looking to undermine the treaty framework and reap a significant strategic benefit from Antarctica, you are going to need to set up camp and wait for all the right elements to align.
“In contrast, for other states without clear Antarctic connections, there may be advantages in pushing the boundaries of the Antarctic Treaty System.
“This may come in the form of things like overfishing, not declaring military activities, and not declaring certain kinds of scientific research.”
The document outlines some specific diplomatic risks.
“We have been trying to bind China to norms of international engagement, and its Antarctic activities are certainly fulfilling that objective. Accusing it of nefarious actions could be highly counterproductive,” it said.
It comes just weeks after reports of opposition from Australia to a China’s plan to manage an area inside the Australian Antarctic Territory.