The World-View 04/07/11

The Falklands/Malvinas debate continues to bubble away, as Kirchner, Timerman, Cameron and Fox trade blows and international bodies condemn UK approach.

The debate between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands or Islas Malvinas has reignited over the past few weeks.

On Monday 27 June, the British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said: ‘those in politics on the other side of the world can huff and puff but it will not change our resolve politically to retain the independence and the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands nor to come to their defence and to maintain deterrence as best we can’.

Fox’s comments came in response to remarks made by Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman to the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation and by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The latter called British Prime Minister David Cameron ‘arrogant, mediocre and stupid’ for his statement that ‘as long as the Falkland Islands want to be sovereign British territory, they should remain sovereign British territory—full stop, end of story’.

Political interests are paramount in both sides’ posturing.

Fox’s comments will have been driven in part by recent concerns about the impact of the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review on the UK’s military capability.  Certain senior figures in the armed forces and some within the ranks of the Conservative party have used the Falklands as an example of what the UK stands to lose from defence reforms.

Kirchner rebuked these as colonial views, remarking that ‘it is ridiculous to hold sovereignty of something that is 14,000 kilometres away’.

Such refrains have been a common feature of Kirchner’s presidency, indicating a commitment to the subject.  However, the current escalation in rhetoric has coincided with the recent declaration of her candidacy for October’s presidential election, leading the cynic to conclude that this latest episode is electorally motivated.

These politically strategic issues aside, Argentina appears to be in a stronger position than ever in the long‑running debate, which at its peak in 1982 saw the two countries fight a short war over the territory.

In an identical move to that taken by the UN decolonisation committee, on 7 June the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States unanimously approved a declaration that the UK and Argentina should resume negotiations on the sovereignty of the islands.

This has been seized on by conservative commentators in Britain as particularly significant for the fact that it refers to the Malvinas rather than the Falklands and bears the approval of the United States, indicating that the US would not support any British attempt to use force in defence of its claim.

Meanwhile, the members of Mercosur, the Southern Cone Common Market, and its associates agreed that negotiations should resume and additionally moved to ban vessels flying the Falklands flag from using their ports.

As Pulsamérica has reported previously, the discovery of oil reserves off the coast of the islands has further fuelled the feud.  With this economic incentive, the British government’s insistence that the territory’s inhabitants have no interest in Argentine rule, and the symbolic importance of the islands for nationalistic tendencies within the ruling party, progress on the issue seems set to remain elusive.

However, given the combination of the direction of international opinion and the austerity drive affecting the UK’s military capability, it seems likely that London will eventually end up at the negotiating table.  What further progress can be made there remains to be seen.