Chile and Argentina They have committed to resolving their new dispute in a peaceful and dialogue manner, wanting to defuse any international fear that both countries could enter an escalation such as the one that in 1978 placed them on the brink of war over the dispute over the sovereignty of the islands of the United States. beagle channel, which make up the final tip of the American continent.
The Peace and Friendship Treaty that the two countries signed in 1984 distributed the area of interest over the Atlantic and over the Pacific, the first for Argentina and the second for Chile. Thus, until now, that Buenos Aires interprets that this dividing line reaches the Antarctica, while Santiago insists that it only lasts up to a certain point, south of which no division was established.
There is no area at stake that both governments secretly consider to be of special economic value; Neither has there been a strict calculation of political or electoral opportunity in the performance of each one; we are facing the geopolitical reaction of two nations that want to avoid an interpretation of international law that may limit their national expectations in relation to Antarctica and the sea that surrounds it, an especially strategic region for the two neighbors of the Southern Cone.
Differences over the 1984 Treaty
The new discussion, which broke out at the end of August and involved a crossroads of accusations that extended into September, actually directly affects a not very extensive maritime territory – some 5,300 square kilometers (the size of Cantabria) -, but it supposes the questioning for the first time of a nuclear principle contemplated in the 1984 Treaty: that the vertical that is drawn from the Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America –the meridian 67˚ 16 ‘W–, somehow represents the dividing line between the Pacific and the Atlantic and also between the claims between Chileans and Argentines.
For many years, neither country looked at maritime space south of the 200-mile limit of their respective exclusive economic zones. The problem arose when the UN later allowed those areas to be extended to 350 miles if the respective continental shelf extends beyond. Argentina seems to interpret that the dividing line of the binational Treaty reaches as far as Antarctica, while Chile warns that the line only reaches as far as the so-called “point F”, which the Treaty presents as a “definitive and unshakable boundary”, south of which there would be no no pre-established cast. In fact, the Treaty does not speak of the Atlantic and the Pacific but of the “Sea of the Southern Zone.” Both governments have gone on to claim a partially coincident space, mutually violating the other’s interpretation of the Treaty.
Argentina drew up a proposal for an “extended platform” that included an incursion, in the shape of a small crescent, south of “point F” (the 5,300 square kilometers that are now disputed by both countries), “which runs from the spur of Tierra de Fire under Argentine sovereignty to the north of the Beagle Channel ”, and in 2009 he presented it to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLPC). This Commission gave the go-ahead to the Argentine route in 2016, which was later ratified as law by the Argentine Congress and published in 2020 by the country itself as an official map.
Argentina insists that at no time did Chile properly object to the step taken by its neighbor. Chile assures that in 2016 it sent a note to Buenos Aires expressing its disagreement, but the Argentine Foreign Ministry warns that this note spoke of “inaccuracies” and did not raise “objections”, hence its expressed surprise at the official reaction that occurred in the past month of August.
On August 23, the president Sebastian Piñera approved a decree that updated the nautical chart of Chile, with an “extended continental shelf” that, to the south of “point F”, crossed the meridian 67˚ 16 ‘W to the east, prolonging the rights of the Diego Ramírez islands and overlapping the crescent-shaped incursion established by the Argentine map. Argentina criticizes that Chile has crossed the meridian, although the most immediate conflict is restricted to that overlap of 5,300 square kilometers.
On September 3, the Argentine Foreign Minister, Felipe Solá, sent to Chile a formal note of protest with strong criticism of the Chilean government, assuring that Piñera’s decision “evidences an expansive vocation that Argentina is forced to reject.” The Argentine Foreign Ministry indicated that “Chile with this untimely decree appropriates a part of the Argentine continental shelf”; the Chilean Chancellor, Andres AllamandHe replied that “no one appropriates what does not belong to him”, specifying that the exclusive economic zone does not imply sovereignty but only the right to exploitation. Furthermore, Chile argues that the CLPC is only a “scientific body” that examines whether the claims made by different nations are geographically based, but “the Commission does not award rights between states; I could not do it because it is not a court.
In those days there was a special diplomatic suspicion between the two neighboring nations. The visit that the Argentine training ship had to make to Valparaíso on September 1, the frigate Libertad, was canceled due to extreme health measures in the context of the Covid pandemic requested by the Chilean authorities. Argentina saw in this an act of retaliation for its rejection of the Chilean proposals on maritime limits, but the confrontation did not go further. In fact, at the end of September the Argentine Navy held a meeting with its Chilean counterpart to sign new cooperation programs.
The struggle has certainly diminished its tone and it is possible that the dispute could be maintained within a framework of dialogue, but the aspirations of Chileans and Argentines on the southern sea and Antarctica are national imperatives in which any cession is difficult.