The two countries intensify the dispute for an area of 5,302 km² on the continental shelf, accuse each other of appropriating the territory of the other, and prepare for a diplomatic and legal battle.
The first strategic moves by both sides aim to obtain unanimous domestic political support in order to reach the next phase of the conflict: the diplomatic one, strengthened.
“Chile wants a rational and constructive dialogue with Argentina. It considers it ineffective to enter into a greater public debate,” indicated Chilean Foreign Minister Andrés Allamand.
Despite the polarization that characterizes the current political scenario in both Argentina and Chile, the two governments have obtained the support of their respective parliaments, government officials and opponents.
“With an untimely decree, Chile wants to take over our territory,” said Argentine Chancellor Felipe Solá during a presentation this week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“It should be clear that we are all on the same side of the country,” he asked.
In response, government senators and opponents agreed next week to unanimously approve a forceful declaration rejecting the Chilean government’s decision to extend its domains over a maritime area in the South Atlantic that the Argentines consider their own.
The declaration will accuse Chile of “attributing illegitimate powers to design its continental underwater platform in an arbitrary manner, violating existing international treaties and not respecting the 1984 Peace and Friendship Agreement”.
The accord of 37 years ago was the flag of peace that Argentina and Chile signed, after nearly starting a war six years earlier for reasons similar to today’s.
In 1978, a territorial dispute over the islands in and south of the Beagle Channel on Tierra del Fuego’s southern shore left Argentina and Chile on the brink of war. Argentine troops already had the order to invade the islands when a sudden political decision decided to accept one last possibility: the mediation of Pope John Paul II.
The negotiations led to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship that Argentina now accuses Chile of disrespecting.
“Chile manifests an expansive vocation that Argentina rejects,” accused the Argentine foreign minister.
On the other side of the Andes Mountains, Chilean senators have already unanimously approved the decision of President Sebastián Piñera to include in the Nautical Chart of Chile an area that Argentina had already incorporated into its maps.
“Lawmakers support the actions taken by the Chilean government to assert their rights,” says the text presented on Wednesday by the president of the Chilean Foreign Relations Commission, Jorge Pizarro.
war without weapons
The only common point between the two governments is the willingness for dialogue, although, due to the degree of divergence, the dispute tends to end up in international courts, an instance provided for in the 1984 Treaty.
“The ways to resolve the controversy are bilateral negotiations or an arbitration court. There is no third way,” stated Argentine Chancellor Felipe Solá, dismissing the possibility of an armed conflict.
Last Saturday (27), the Chilean government published a decree that redefines its maritime space, covering an area that Argentina considers its own.
“Chile intends to appropriate part of the Argentine continental shelf and an extensive area of oceanic seabeds, a maritime space that forms part of the Common Heritage of humanity, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”, reacted the Argentine Chancellery, in a note.
However, Chile’s decision was ratified by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and defended by its foreign minister, Andrés Allamand.
“What Chile is doing is exercising its right to declare its continental shelf,” Piñera said.
“No one appropriates what belongs to them. The designated area, the so-called legal continental shelf, which reaches 200 miles, belongs to Chile in its own right,” added Allamand.
the disputed area
The Chilean government decree expands its continental shelf by more than 30,000 km², with 5,302 km² east of the 67º 16’0 meridian, considered by the 1984 Peace and Friendship Treaty as the boundary between the two countries.
“Chile cannot intend to project its sovereignty beyond what is established in article 7 of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which defines the Chilean right to the west of the meridian; not to the east”, criticizes Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Solá.
And to the west, even if not over its territory, Argentina also accuses Chile of appropriating another 25,000 km2 of seabed and subsoil, which is a heritage of humanity.
UN approved the rights of Argentina
In 2009, Argentina presented at the United Nations studies on the extension of its territory on the continental shelf. The UN allows a country to demand an extension from 200 miles to 350 nautical miles, provided that it is justified.
Between 2012 and 2016, the CLPC (Continental Shelf Limits Commission), linked to the UN, evaluated the technical material until the approval of Argentine rights in 2016, establishing a definitive maritime limit in accordance with Convemar (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea).
In August of last year, this outer boundary of the Argentine continental shelf became national law.
Silence gives consent
Argentina guarantees that Chile has remained silent all these years; which, in international law, implies a tacit recognition of Argentine rights.
“And never, during all these years, neither during the presentation nor during the Commission’s decision, did Chile contest the Argentine position. The only avenue that international law recognizes for an objection is Annex 1 of the UN CLPC Regulations.” highlights Felipe Solá.
The Chilean government, on the other hand, claims to have questioned the Argentine exposure a few times.
“It is important to make it very clear that the Argentine authorities were duly informed in 2009, in 2016 and in 2020. Chile stated that the matter was unenforceable and that it reserved its rights,” countered Chilean Foreign Minister Andrés Allamand.
The Argentine Chancellery guarantees that the Chilean note, sent in 2016, only mentioned “inaccuracies”; he had no objections.
At the end of 2020, the Chilean government sent a diplomatic note to the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in which he said “it does not recognize the route in the area” currently in dispute, and indicated that it “reserved its right over this zone”, but he also admitted that he “did not contest the Argentine presentation in due course”.