Argentina, a bicontinental and oceanic country

By Sandra Pitta (Article published on Nodal).

Foreign policy is inextricably linked to the vital space of the State. The geography of a country is a determining factor in the construction of its identity and in the construction of its projection to the world. Within this framework, it is necessary to think of Argentina as a bicontinental country. Its territory occupies part of America and also a portion of Antarctica. It is located at the southern extreme of South America and extends to the south pole on the Antarctic continent.

In line with this, the Senate of the Argentine Nation passed Law 26,651 (dated October 20, 2010), that establishes the obligation to use the bicontinental map of the Argentine Republic at all levels and modalities of the educational system and its public display in all national and provincial organizations. In this way, the maps prepared by the National Geographic Institute show Argentine Antarctica in its real proportion in relation to the continental and insular sector.

A true awareness of Argentina in geographical terms also implies showing the immensity of its maritime coastline. The Argentine maritime coastline measures 4,725 km, whereas the length of the  coast of the Argentine Antarctica and the southern islands is 11,235 km (Source: NGI).

Argentina also has the eastern mouths of three strategic bioceanic passages: the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel and the Drake Passage.

The identity of being a bicontinental country points put some clear axes of Argentine foreign policy: integration and complementarity with the countries of the South American region, a strong Antarctic presence that promotes a strategic relationship with countries that share Antarctic interests and the consolidation of a foreign agenda that takes into account its great maritime potential (in terms of biodiversity, preservation of the marine environment, natural resources, energy and sea routes, among others).

A coordinated policy for the sea

It is clear that the development of a foreign policy that takes into account the issues related to the sea cannot be carried out in isolation from the development of a national policy in the area.

Now, more than ever, we know that a systemic approach to maritime, insular and Antarctic spaces must be part of the national development agenda.

The Argentine sea constitutes one of our country's most significant natural resources . It is a large supplier of food, associated jobs and has a great hydrocarbon potential. In addition, the primary productivity of Argentine maritime spaces plays an important role in capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key factor in fighting Climate Change. In particular, the Patagonian continental shelf and slope absorb large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide and help mitigate the effects of global warming. The sea is also a key element of foreign trade, almost 80 percent of our exports are transported by sea.

All that wealth demands sustainable national policies.

The preservation of the oceans must be a national and international priority based on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations. In this framework, Argentina instituted a National System of Marine Protected Areas (Law 27037 of 2014, complemented by Law 27490 of 2019).

The establishment of Marine Protected Areas, a wide fishing ban area, the National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, the management regime based on individual transferable catch quotas (ITCQ) and the application of an ecosystemic approach to fisheries and the sustainable exploration and exploitation of non-renewable resources are some of the pillars of the national policy for the protection of our maritime resources.

A clear state policy has been the creation and sustained work of the National Commission on the Outer Limit of the Continental Shelf (COPLA in the Spanish acronym), created in 1997 by Law No. 24815. COPLA elaborated the final presentation of the outer limit of the Argentine continental shelf before the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) at the United Nations. The CLCS adopted by consensus the Recommendations on the Argentine presentation made on April 21, 2009 (with the exception of those areas subject to a sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom, as well as the sector that is governed by the Antarctic Treaty). In line with the work carried out, the Executive Power has announced the presentation of a bill on the demarcation of the outer limit of the Argentine continental shelf that will contribute to consolidate sovereign rights over the resources of the seabed and subsoil of the shelf.

Furthermore, it is key to develop marine scientific research. In this area, the “Blue Pampa” initiative has been a sound policy to coordinate all areas of the public sector related to the sea in order to increase knowledge on the South Atlantic ecosystems, protect and preserve the ocean and manage its natural resources better.

Another significant development is the Argentine Microwave Observation Satellite system (SAOCOM in the Spanish acronym), which provides a valuable source of information on coastal areas and the ocean.

The maritime agenda in foreign policy

With the ultimate goal of protecting the oceans and their resources, Argentina has followed a faithful tradition of active and consistent participation in international forums of international Law of the Sea, mainly within the United Nations. The immense maritime coastline and an efficient national policy supports an active participation in the current international discussions with the greatest impact on maritime issues: the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the oceans, the development of a new agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBJN), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.

Likewise, the participation of Argentina in the International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that works on central issues such as the safety of human life, marine pollution, the training and certification of seafarers and the search and rescue of people in distress at the sea. Argentina is part of the IMO Council and carries out a coordinated work from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with other State agencies, mainly the Navy, the Prefecture and the Ministry of Transport. Argentina is a very relevant actor in the FAO Committee on Fisheries and within the International Whaling Commission.

Beyond international forums, Argentine maritime wealth is a strategic premise of bilateral cooperation.

One of the most fruitful fields for cooperation is marine scientific research. Certainly the oceanic immensity of our country imposes the need to develop marine research for a better knowledge, use and conservation of our natural resources.

Scientific research at sea requires the use of research vessels with adequate interdisciplinary laboratory infrastructure and capabilities for exploration and permanence in the marine environment, to reach far-off distances and operate for long periods of time. Budgetary restrictions in our country make it difficult to achieve these means. Although biological research does not require such high budgets (it can be carried out in closer and shallower areas), it is a priority to make progress in the science of oceanography, on its physical, chemical, and geological branches. In this context, international cooperation is central.

An active policy in this field could stimulate international agreements with the countries that usually carry out oceanographic research campaigns in our exclusive economic zone (the United States, Russia, Germany and Spain), in order to develop joint research programs. So far, a national observer can board the foreign ship, but developing a joint campaign that can be aligned with our priorities and needs has greater benefits for our country. In this way, strategic cooperation could be achieved. On one hand, Argentina has the object of study: its sea; on the other hand, the countries with infrastructure could contribute with their ships and have a budgetary involvement.

Regardless of the possibilities of cooperation with the USA and with European countries, regional integration must be also considered at the sea. Coordination with Uruguay, Brazil and Chile is the priority agenda to develop.

Cooperation in the South Atlantic

It is natural to think of a common agenda on maritime issues between Argentina and Brazil. Both countries have the potential to generate a strong cooperation scheme in resource conservation, environmental protection, and scientific research. Brazil pays special attention to the safety of maritime communication lines and their impact on maritime transport of its imports and exports. Any export strategy of Brazil and Argentina cannot ignore the interest in maritime safety. Besides, it is a priority to move forward in the coordination of a cooperation mechanism for the conservation and protection of the marine environment. This scheme should include Uruguay.

With Uruguay, we have gained experience in the administration of fishery resources on the seafront of the Rio de la Plata, but it is necessary to go further and generate a dialogue on the preservation of the marine environment and the fight against illegal fishing.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a strategic ally: South Africa. Brazil has already taken firm steps to consolidate its approach. In June, 2003, the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum was created with the signing of the Brasilia Declaration. And certainly the BRICS scheme (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), that groupes the countries considered the most advanced among the States with emerging economies.

In addition to a bilateral concertation scheme with South Africa on sea issues (some progress has already been made on this matter), work is being done to resume the Ministerial Meetings of the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZPCAS). This forum was created in 1986 on Brazil's initiative through a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and its purpose is to promote regional cooperation and the maintenance of peace and security in the region, and to prevent the geographical proliferation of nuclear weapons. Apart from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and South Africa, this organization also includes all the African countries bordering the South Atlantic (20 countries more). This has been a forum of great interest to Argentina, where it has promoted issues such as the adoption of measures against Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, peacekeeping operations and the Argentine concern regarding the militarization of the South Atlantic by the United Kingdom has received relevant support.

Southern cooperation

Southern maritime integration with Chile is another essential chapter of the Argentine foreign agenda. The predominance of the logic of integration means enhancing the prospects for cooperation, both in the technological, energetic, environmental and economic fields, so that the different state and private actors engage in a synergy of cooperation capable of promoting the development of the region. The fields of scientific cooperation are broad: preservation of biodiversity, geological prospecting, marine climate change, physical and biological oceanography, and management of coasts and nature reserves, among others. This vision has been reflected in the Argentina-Chile Bilateral Committee on Southern Marine Scientific Research Cooperation, within the framework of which an agenda of bilateral interest has been set and a joint research cruise on the Beagle Channel has been carried out.

Since the establishment of the Yaganes Marine Protected Area in Argentina and the creation of the Diego Ramírez Islands-Drake Passage Marine Park in Chile, more opportunities for research and bilateral cooperation become possible.

Argentine Antarctica, key component of domestic policy and efficient tool of foreign policy

Since the opening of the first scientific station (‘Orcadas’ Base) on Laurie Island, South Orkney Archipelago, on February 22, 1904, our country has a permanent and uninterrupted presence in Antarctica, being the longest continuous presence in that continent. We have six permanent bases (Carlini, Orcadas, Esperanza, Marambio, San Martín and Belgrano II) and seven temporary bases (Brown, Primavera, Decepción, Melchior, Matienzo, Cámara and Petrel).

Regarding its presence in Antarctica, it can be stated without doubt that Argentina has maintained a State policy both at the internal and external level. Its axes have been the consolidation of its sovereign rights and the respect and strengthening of the Antarctic System concerning the protection of the Antarctic environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems, the conservation of fishery resources and the preservation of mineral resources. Its tools have been scientific research, and the establishment and maintenance of its bases. Regarding its external aspect, the main tool has been specialized professional diplomacy. In this way, our country has developed a major role in shaping the various legal instruments of the Antarctic System.

This is undoubtedly an area where Argentina can have a leading role in the international arena. Argentina, as an Antarctic Treaty Consultative Party, participates in the adoption of the decisions made within this framework. Furthermore, our country, consistent with its Antarctic policy, has managed to host the Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.

Argentina has also a prominent role in Antarctic science, which represents an immense potential for international cooperation with all the countries with similar interests. The scientific activity carried out by the Argentine Antarctic Institute is central to our Antarctic policy. It makes a scientific contribution of the highest level and is one of the most prolific tools for interrelation with other Antarctic science organizations around the world.

True to its identity as a bicontinental country, Argentina maintains a special relationship with the countries of the region also on Antarctic issues. Along these lines, regional schemes have been generated, such as the Meeting of Latin American Antarctic Program Administrators (RAPAL in the Spanish acronym), in which Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay participate.

Antarctic cooperation with Chile occupies a privileged place.

The Magallanes Region together with the Tierra del Fuego Province shares the condition of being a gateway to Antarctica. Due to their proximity and intense traffic, it is convenient for them to work in a complementary way, since the demand for national Antarctic programs and private operators is growing and offers an interesting market, reciprocally convenient for the development of both regions.

A concrete and effective framework for bilateral Antarctic cooperation is the Ad-Hoc Committee to reflect on and promote joint positions in the different forums and regimes of the above-mentioned Antarctic System created in 2012.

Besides, through the Combined Antarctic Naval Patrol, both countries coordinate their efforts in their Antarctic areas of SAR responsibility (Search and Rescue), established by the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue of 1979 (SAR Convention).

An oceanic policy for the Malvinas

The conception of Argentina as a bicontinental country implies becoming aware of all its land, island and maritime spaces. In this framework, special emphasis is placed on the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and their surrounding maritime spaces.

A strong foreign policy in the South Atlantic should generate strategic cooperation links, mainly with countries in the region but also with other countries with similar interests, and result in the members becoming aware of the benefits of belonging to that association and giving their support to the Malvinas Question as part of the same logic of cooperation.

The support of Brazil, Uruguay and Chile are key to avoiding the strengthening of the British military presence and the exploitation of non-renewable resources in the Islands. A cooperation agenda in the South Atlantic should also include addressing issues of concern regarding the Malvinas Islands (preservation of the marine environment, exploitation of natural resources, illegal fishing).

With Chile, the inclusion of the problems derived from the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom takes on special interest. The historical relationship of the Magellan Region with the Malvinas Islands justifies this statement. Contacts are frequently verified on scientific, economic, and educational spheres orchestrated by both the British Embassy in Chile and the illegitimate Malvinas authorities with local authorities in the Magellan Region, which often arouse a keen interest in the area.

It is important to carry out cooperation and integration actions that result in concrete benefits for the Magellan Region, so that support for Argentine interests is part of a strategic partnership.

In this context, it is convenient to develop an active policy to generate a field of strategic cooperation and linkage between the Argentine and the Chilean Patagonian regions so that the rejection of the attempts of British approaches and of the illegitimate government of the Islands becomes natural, evident and unquestionable.


The complexity of international relations in the 21st century urges us to develop a foreign policy that takes into account the bicontinental and oceanic identity of the Argentine Republic. We have to look at the map differently. Our political eyes must see beyond the classic look at the continental territory. It is unavoidable to develop a foreign policy that gives a leading role to the immense Argentine maritime coast, to its extensive continental shelf, to its insular spaces and to its Antarctic Sector. Our vocation is to be a maritime power.

The Argentine sea is a source of great biodiversity, renewable and non-renewable resources, it is a strategic navigation route, key to our foreign trade and it makes a great contribution to the balance of the atmosphere. It is part of our national and vital interests. The extensive maritime coastline and the active presence in Antarctica represent ideal conditions for generating cooperation and complementarity policies with countries that have common interests. And in this approach we can play a true leading role. The National State has the responsibility of carrying out a State policy in an integrated and systemic way with regard to its maritime spaces and the Argentine Antarctic Sector. Argentina is called to give continuity and deepen its participation in Antarctica, this should translate into the development of a Patagonian logistic, the strengthening of its presence in the Antarctic continent, its influence in Antarctic forums and the development of science.

Within such State policy it is crucial to conceive the Question of the Malvinas Islands as part of its oceanic and Antarctic policy. In this framework, the consolidation of strategic oceanic and Antarctic associations with countries of common interests will help to strengthen international support for Argentine sovereign rights over the Malvinas Islands.

Our present and future is a bicontinental and oceanic Argentina.

Sandra Pitta. Diplomat. National Director of Malvinas and South Atlantic Islands of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship.