BOOK REVIEW: Who saved Antarctica? The Heroic Era of Antarctic Diplomacy by Andrew Jackson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021)

Written by Henry Burmester



The legal regime governing Antarctica has always been a subject of interest to Australian and New Zealand international lawyers, both in and outside government. Much has been written on the sovereignty claims and the treaty regimes governing the Antarctic, including the ill-fated Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources(CRAMRA) and the subsequent Madrid Protocol on Environment Protection.

In Who Saved Antarctica? Andrew Jackson, a former Australian Antarctic Division officer, provides a detailed and enthralling account of the diplomatic effort to address the question of possible mining in Antarctica. He does a masterful job drawing mostly on Australian archives. He shows how the shift from a resource management to an environmental view of Antarctica was the result of multiple circumstances and events, both pre-existing and serendipitous. No single politician, whether Bob Hawke or anyone else, can claim the credit. There is no single hero.

The book provides a gripping account of the CRAMRA negotiations led by Chris Beeby of New Zealand, the background to the decision by Australia not to sign CRAMRA and the subsequent frantic effort to put a substitute regime in place to restore stability and consensus to the Antarctic Treaty system. It demonstrates the complex interaction of events and individuals involved in the search for acceptable outcomes in a treaty regime governed by consensus.

Jackson does more than provide an account of what happened- he seeks to explain the why. He does this by reference to theoretical approaches (by Robert Marks) that seek to characterise circumstances which precipitate historical events, and by seeking to evaluate the influence of individual players through Oran Young’s typology of leadership styles.

The book provides, through a case study, an invaluable insight into how treaties are made and the enormous contribution of individuals in achieving solutions that governments find acceptable. The book, as well as being an engrossing read, is an excellent resource for diplomatic trainees, and international lawyers who may too often just focus on the final treaty text and not the story behind it.

Photo of Henry Burmester
Henry Burmester

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