Beagle Channel Dispute

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Beagle Channel Dispute

Beagle Channel Dispute, the territorial conflict between Argentina and Chile that brought the two countries to the brink of war in 1978. The Beagle Channel (named after Charles Darwin's ship) lies at the tip of South America, just south of Tierra Del Fuego. An 1881 treaty between Argentina and Chile established the Beagle Channel as their international border for part of the Tierra del Fuego area, but the treaty did not specify the exact location of the channel. Of particular interest was whether the Beagle Channel—and thus the border—ran north of the three key islands of Picton, Lennox, and Nueva (which would make them Chilean), or south of the islands (which would make them Argentine). The issue was not the islands themselves, which are cold and barren, but rather that ownership of them might allow Chile to claim sovereignty or establish an exclusive economic zone 200 miles into the South Atlantic, inhibiting Argentina's ability to project its influence into that region, its key islands (including the Falkland Islands), and Antarctica.

In July 1971 Argentina and Chile agreed to accept Great Britain as arbitrator in an arrangement under which the crown would either accept or reject the recommendation of an expert panel of international jurists. The panel decided in favor of Chilean sovereignty of the three islands, and in May 1977 the British government accepted their recommendation. Argentina rejected the award on narrow technical grounds, and both countries began to prepare for possible conflict. At what seemed to be the last minute before hostilities broke out, the two nations agreed to Vatican mediation in December 1978. This mediation led to the 1984 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which awarded the islands to Chile, but prohibited Chile from claiming sovereignty or establishing an economic zone in the South Atlantic.

See alsoBoundary Disputes: Overview .


Jack Child, Geopolitics and Conflict in South America: Quarrels Among the Neighbors (1985), esp. pp. 77-85.

Michael A. Morris, "Southern Cone Maritime Security After the 1984 Argentine-Chilean Treaty of Peace and Friendship," in Ocean Development and International Law 18, no. 2 (1987): 235-254.

Philip Kelly and Jack Child, eds., Geopolitics of the Southern Cone and Antarctica (1988), esp. pp. 36-39 and 75-77.

Additional Bibliography

Benadava, Santiago. Recuerdos de la mediación pontificia entre Chile y Argentina, 1978–1985. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1999.

Passarelli, Bruno. El delirio armado: Argentina-Chile, la guerra que evitó el Papa. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1998.

                                           Jack Child