-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRESArgentina has now had an uninterrupted presence in Antarctic territory for exactly 116 years. The country also has every reason to remain there and thus continue with a national policy that officially began on Feb. 11, 1904, under President Julio A. Roca, and backed by all of the governments — of varying political hues — that succeeded him.

But amid all this continuity, Argentina also faces new challenges in the Antarctic because of global climate change. This change looms inexorably on the horizon and is fueling a rise in Antarctic temperatures on a scale unseen in more than 100 years of constant measurements.

Many will ask with some skepticism what a country with reduced powers in terms of its own historical standards could do to positively impact the Antarctic environment? Quite a bit, in fact.

Let us not forget that Argentina is a founding and active member of the exclusive "Antarctic club" of states. And in terms of diplomacy, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a unique level of experience and ability in the region. That experience is a serious asset, and one that's been used within the complex Antarctic Treaty System to help create, for example, a Protected Marine Area (together with Chile) around the Antarctic Peninsula zone, where human activity in the form of Antarctic krill fishing, tourism and rising temperatures pose a real threat.

It is a means of increasing our country's relative power and prestige.

Separately, Argentina's Antarctic diplomacy enjoys logistical support on the ground provided by our Armed Forces and the Defense Ministry through COCOANTAR (Joint Antarctic Command). This constitutes the backbone of Argentina's material efforts on the sixth continent.

Yet these efforts would have but a partial impact if their objective were not the progress of scientific knowledge. Developing and expanding Antarctic science is not just an important task in academic terms. It is also, politically speaking, a fundamental means of increasing our country's relative power and prestige in the concert of nations with Antarctic interests.

Understanding the functioning of Antarctic ecosystems is a necessary first step toward their conservation, and for that Argentina benefits from the work done by the Foreign Affairs Ministry's Antarctic Institute and other, affiliated institutions.

The priority here, in order to carry out this conservation work and ensure our future presence in the Antarctic, is to assure an adequate budget for Argentine science, allowing it to develop its best potential at our bases, in laboratories and through the logistical means associated with Antarctic research.

* Aguas is a specialist in political science and member of Argentina's Wildlife Foundation (Fundación vida silvestre).


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