The Falklands Test


Executive Summary:
– Argentina has recently escalated its long-running dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands, over oil drilling in the Falklands’ waters. Argentina has sought to prevent shipping from going to the Falklands, and to do all it can to obstruct the drilling operation.
– Argentina’s claim to the Falklands is historically weak, and goes against the clearly expressed wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands. Their right to self-determination should be paramount.
– Despite this, Argentina has succeeded in acquiring unanimous support from Latin American and Caribbean leaders for its territorial claim to the Falklands. The United States has also publicly supported Argentina’s call for the British government to negotiate over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, leaving Britain diplomatically isolated.
– Britain must defend its territory and the democratic rights of its people on the Falkland Islands. An increased naval presence around the islands and firm diplomacy should demonstrate that Britain will not give in to Argentine demands.
– The Falklands dispute should be looked at on the basis of democracy and human rights, yet Latin America and the USA have failed to do this, ignoring the rights and wishes of the Falkland Islanders. Britain’s isolation over the Falklands reflects badly on the international community’s commitment to these principles. On the Falklands, the western hemisphere has failed the test of democracy.
Recent Tensions

The long-running dispute over the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory, was reignited by Argentina as preparations were being made for a British company to begin drilling for oil in the waters surrounding the Falklands. Argentina protested after it became known that Desire Petroleum was to begin drilling for oil in the North Falkland basin. On 2nd February, The Argentine foreign ministry issued a statement saying that it “strongly rejects the United Kingdom’s intention to authorize energy exploration and production in part of Argentina’s continental platform.” Foreign minister Jorge Taiana told reporters: “What they’re doing is illegitimate… it’s a violation of our sovereignty. We will do everything necessary to defend and preserve our rights.” [i]

Argentina went beyond verbal protest, and attempted to stop shipping to the islands. On 12th February, Argentine authorities prevented the ship Thor Leader from leaving the port of Campana, north of Buenos Aires, believing that it was going to deliver a cargo of pipelines to the Falklands. Argentine officials said that the ship had previously been in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, which Argentina calls ‘Puerto Argentino’. Argentina’s foreign ministry said: “There is evidence that the ship was being used to supply material linked with the oil industry activities that are being illegally promoted by Britain in the Malvinas (the name Argentina uses for the Falkland Islands).” Argentine officials described the area as “illegally occupied”. [ii] In a move tantamount to economic warfare, Argentina announced that any company involved in the drilling operation or providing services in support of it would be blacklisted.

Argentina then went further on 16th February, with president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner signing a decree declaring that all ships travelling through ‘Argentine waters’ to the Falkland Islands would require a permit from the Argentine government. [iii] Since Argentina had the previous year laid claim to a vast expanse of the South Atlantic Ocean well beyond the Falklands and Britain’s other South Atlantic dependencies, this would mean that any ship going to the Falklands from any direction would require an Argentine permit. This decree was a blatant violation of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, which states that “the coastal State shall not:(a) impose requirements on foreign ships which have the practical effect of denying or impairing the right of innocent passage; or (b) discriminate in form or in fact against the ships of any State or against ships carrying cargoes to, from or on behalf of any State.” Argentina, of course, does not have the rights of a coastal state for ships travelling from other countries to the Falkland Islands, which are legal British territory, and has no grounds for claiming an exclusive economic zone in the waters around the islands as they are over 300 miles away from Argentina, well beyond the internationally recognised 200 nautical mile limit. [iv]

Drilling began on 22nd February, despite Argentina’s attempts at obstructing shipping. [v] The legislative assembly of the Falkland Islands stated: “Currently, all the supplies the industry needs are located here in the islands and drilling will commence as planned, weather permitting,” adding: “It is no surprise to anyone that Argentina is behaving in this way but it is nonetheless disappointing when they do.” [vi] The assembly also reiterated that: “The Falkland Islands Government has every right to develop a hydrocarbons industry within our waters. The British Government has clearly stated that they support our right to develop legitimate business.” The UN Convention also makes this right clear, stating that: “The coastal State exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources… The coastal State shall have the exclusive right to authorize and regulate drilling on the continental shelf for all purposes”. [vii]

As well as Desire Petroleum, the oil rig is also due to be leased to two other British companies and an Australian one – Rockhopper, and Falklands Oil and Gas; and BHP Billiton – which also have exploration contracts. [viii] Argentina’s attempts to prevent this from happening have no legitimacy or legality, and amount to an attempt to force its will on the issue by attempting to blockade the islands. Argentina is taking all these actions in support of what it has described as its “permanent claim” to the islands. [ix]

A Brief History of the Falkland Islands

It is worthwhile to examine the history of the Falkland Islands, and the competing British and Argentine claims to them, as Argentina’s argument rests on this history.

The first recorded sighting of the islands was made in 1592 by English captain John Davis, in the ship Desire. In 1594, they were sighted by English explorer Richard Hawkins, who gave them the name ‘Hawkins Maidenland’, after himself and Queen Elizabeth I, the ‘Virgin Queen’. The first recorded landing was made in 1690 by English navigator John Strong, in the ship Welfare. He named the channel dividing the two main islands ‘Falkland Sound’ after Viscount Falkland, the Treasurer of the Royal Navy.

In 1764, French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville established a settlement at Port St Louis on East Falkland. The French named the islands Les Iles Malouines, after the French port of St Malo. This is the origin of the Spanish name ‘Las Islas Malvinas’. In 1765, British Commodore John Byron landed at Port Egmont on West Falkland and, unaware of the French settlement, claimed the islands for the British crown. The next year Captain John Macbride established a settlement at Port Egmont. In 1766, Spain made an agreement with France to take over its settlement, which it did in 1767, renaming Port St Louis ‘Puerto Soledad’ and placing it under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Captaincy-General of Buenos Aires. In 1770, the Spanish governor of Buenos Aires sent a force which captured Port Egmont from the British, although the British were allowed to restore their base there the following year. In 1776, with the onset of the American War of Independence and facing economic pressures, the British force was withdrawn from Port Egmont, leaving behind a plaque claiming British sovereignty. The islands were then governed by Spain from Buenos Aires until 1811 when, facing the pressures of the Napoleonic War and rebellions in South America, Spanish forces also withdrew. The islands then came to be used as a shelter by predominantly British and American sealers and whalers, with no government.

The first Argentine claim on the islands was made in 1820, when American privateer David Jewett arrived on the ship Heroína and claimed the islands for the United Provinces of the River Plate, the predecessor of modern Argentina, which had declared independence from Spain in 1816. However, no new settlement was established until 1826, when Louis Vernet established one at Puerto Soledad. Aware of the British claim to the islands, Vernet asked for permission from the British consulate in Buenos Aires before he departed for the islands, and got the British consul to countersign his land grants on the islands. In 1829, Vernet was formally appointed commander of the Falkland Islands by the United Provinces, which claimed all rights in the region which were previously exercised by Spain. The British consulate formally protested, asserting British sovereignty over the islands.

In 1831, after Vernet seized three American sealing ships, the USS Lexington destroyed Vernet’s base at Puerto Soledad, and declared the islands “free of all government”. In 1832, the United Provinces appointed a new commander of the islands, Esteban Mestivier, who arrived with a small garrison and a group of convicts. Within a few months, they had mutinied and killed Mestivier. Meanwhile, British Captain James Onslow arrived at Port Egmont. In 1833, Onslow arrived at Port Louis on HMS Clio and claimed the islands for Britain once again. New Argentine commander José María Pinedo protested but, heavily outnumbered, left the islands. Since then, the islands have been under British control, with settlers arriving from the British Isles, the British Empire and South America through the nineteenth century. The first Lieutenant Governor was appointed in 1841, and Stanley was established as the capital in 1842. [x]

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, eight hundred miles to the southeast of the Falklands, were discovered and claimed for Britain by Captain Cook in 1775. They were governed as dependencies of the Falkland Islands until 1985, when they were classified as a separate British dependency. Unlike the Falklands, there was never any Spanish claim to these islands or any Argentine involvement whatsoever. Despite this, Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927 and claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. Argentina also claimed the South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands and British Antarctic Territory, which Britain has claimed since 1908, in 1943.

Disputes over Sovereignty and the Falklands War

Several things should be clear from this brief account of the history. Firstly, the islands were not ‘originally Argentine’ and then stolen by the British. In fact, the islands changed hands several times. Argentine control of the islands was brief, tenuous and without international recognition. The British discovered the islands and were the first to claim sovereignty over the islands. The British claim to sovereignty actually pre-dates the existence of Argentina as an independent nation by fifty years. To put it into context, Britain has had possession of the Falkland Islands for longer than most members if the United Nations have been independent countries.

Despite the weakness of its claim to the Falklands, in 1965 Argentina successfully persuaded the UN General Assembly to pass Resolution 2065, which called on Britain and Argentina to conduct negotiations over the islands and requested that they report to the UN’s Decolonisation Committee. Britain and Argentina held discussions, and in 1971 a Communications Agreement was signed between the two governments, by which communications and transport to the islands would be provided by Argentina. In 1976, after a military junta took power in Buenos Aires, Argentina illegally established a base on Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands. The British government did nothing to reverse this situation. In 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. This time, with British subjects on the Falklands under occupation, a British military taskforce was despatched to the islands and defeated Argentine forces, ending the Argentine occupation of the Falklands, South Georgia and Southern Thule. Since the Falklands War, negotiations over sovereignty have been off the agenda and out of the question.

There is a supreme irony in Argentina bringing the case of the Falklands before the UN Decolonisation Committee, an irony which comes from a factor that is far more important and far more relevant than the islands’ history and the competing claims of sovereignty. That is the indisputable fact that the people of the Falkland Islands overwhelmingly wish for the islands to remain British. They are staunchly opposed to the islands coming in any way under the control of Argentina. The views of the islanders were made very clear during the Falklands War, when the islanders resented the Argentine occupation and did all they could to support the British forces sent to liberate them. The islanders have the same democratic rights as everybody else, including the basic right to self-determination. Argentina’s claim to the islands involves the wholesale rejection and dismissal of these basic rights, so much so that it is fair to say that Argentina’s entire argument is based on complete contempt for democracy and human rights.

It is therefore perverse that the United Nations should call for negotiations over sovereignty, when Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations states that its aim is to “develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. [xi] The UN is denying these equal rights to the Falkland Islanders. Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” [xii] Argentina and its supporters at the UN are actively seeking to deny the islanders this most basic right.

The Falkland Islands are democratically governed by a legislative assembly, which has made the views of the islanders on the subject of sovereignty clear. It is ironic that Argentina continues to bring the case of the Falklands before the UN Decolonisation Committee as it is Argentina which acted as an aggressive colonialist power in 1982, and which continues to do so. Trying to take possession of another country’s territory, militarily in 1982 and through other means ever since, against the express wishes of its population is colonialism in its most base and crude form. This point was made forcefully and simply by Falklands legislative assembly member Jan Cheek, who wrote: “Argentina’s endeavours to force its colonial ambitions on a small country, against the freely expressed wishes of its people, ignore our basic right to self-determination.” [xiii] Neither Argentina nor anyone else has come up with a satisfactory argument against this point, because for anyone who respects democracy and human rights there is no valid argument against this simple statement. The Falkland Islanders want the Falklands to remain British. If we believe in democracy and self-determination, no-one else’s territorial desires can overrule that.

Argentina’s Attitude

In Argentina, the claim to the Falkland Islands has become a national obsession. The country’s constitution of 1994 declares that their ‘recovery’ is “a permanent and unrelinquished goal of the Argentine people”. That is not to suggest that there are not other political considerations at play in Argentina’s most recent escalation of the dispute. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been facing mounting press criticism over her handling of the Argentine economy, including political intervention in Argentina’s nominally independent central bank, and her closeness to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, including allegations that the Venezuelan leader provides funding for her election campaigns. Attacking Britain over ‘Las Malvinas’ is an easy way to stoke nationalist anger and court popularity with the Argentine public. [xiv] This interpretation of events is widely shared on the islands themselves, with Jan Cheek of the Falkland Islands legislative assembly commenting: “A very strong view in the islands is that they (the Argentine Government) are using us, as they have done many times in the past. When a government is in trouble it does tend to try to deflect attention to the Falklands issue, on which they think they can unite the people.” [xv] There has been some evidence of success for Fernández de Kirchner’s strategy, with the newspaper El Argentino venting its anger at those who dared to criticise the government “while the dagger of the colonial empire stabs us in the chest with an oil platform to keep robbing our seabed”. [xvi] Such poetic and exaggerated rhetoric is also a reminder of the fact that much of the Argentine argument is based not on the rational political principles which are now taken for granted in much of the Western world but on “old fashioned blood-and-soil nationalism” and irredentism, according to British historian Dominic Sandbrook, in a column aptly titled “Argentina is living in a nationalist dreamland”. [xvii] Argentina’s aggressive rhetoric has yet again spilled over into violence, with a crowd of masked protestors armed with petrol bombs attempting to storm the British Embassy in Buenos Aires on 10th March. [xviii]

This is not the first time that Fernández de Kirchner has raised the Falklands issue. In the run-up to last year’s G20 summit in London, she called on Gordon Brown to open up negotiations on sovereignty over the islands. Her Foreign Minister, Jorge Taiana, added: “President Fernandez said very clearly in the petition that Brown ought to do what the United Nations has asked and open the negotiation on the sovereignty of the disputed Malvinas Islands. The president stressed with clarity, that in the 21st century, a persistent vision of colonialism is not in concordance with the on-going tendency of the world.” [xix] When in London, she attended an event at the Argentine embassy to commemorate the anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in 1982. [xx] At the event, she made a speech which was broadcast across Argentina, in which she declared her wish to “reaffirm once again our sovereign right over the Malvinas”. [xxi] One of the most disturbing aspects of Argentina’s approach to this issue is its failure to show any consideration of, let alone remorse for, the unprovoked war of annexation launched by its military junta against the peaceful island community in 1982. It is perverse to say the least that Argentine can continue to portray itself as the victim of ‘colonialism’ after that disgraceful episode, which included human rights abuses against the Falkland Islanders such as the imprisonment of the civilians of Goose Green in an unmarked hall with no protection for several days. Argentina’s behaviour suggests that its strategy is simply to achieve the ‘unfinished aims’ of the war through other means. The attitude of the government does not seem to have changed at all since democratisation, with one government source saying: “Common sense implies that reason will be on our side. After the war, we’ve always known it would take a long, long time to get the islands back.” [xxii] On the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War, Fernández de Kirchner’s predecessor, her husband Nestor Kirchner, declared that Britain had won a “colonial victory” and that the British “may have won the battle because it’s a world power but they will never win by reason or justice”. [xxiii] This intransigent attitude undermines Argentina’s calls for ‘dialogue’ and negotiations, which could only be fruitless because Argentina will not be satisfied with anything less than a British surrender of sovereignty. While Fernández de Kirchner tells international bodies that Argentina wants a ‘dialogue’, she tells her own supporters that the Falkland Islands are “an illegal colonial enclave”. [xxiv] That does not leave much room for constructive negotiations.

Behind Argentina’s anti-colonialist and nationalist rhetoric, there is another motive for its pursuit of the Falklands issue. In April 2009, Argentina formally laid claim to a huge expanse of the southern Atlantic Ocean, well beyond the 200 nautical miles of continental shelf lying off Argentina’s coastline. Argentina’s claim encompassed and stretched beyond the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and reached down to the Antarctic. [xxv] This was followed by a law in December 2009 claiming ownership of the Falklands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. [xxvi] As South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a thousand miles away from Argentina, and have no historical connections with either Argentina or colonial Spain whatsoever, this claim is a clear example of Argentine expansionism. Laying claim to such a vast expanse of ocean is to claim the right to exploit any oil and natural gas reserves and fish stocks, as well as any mineral reserves that are discovered in Antarctica. That the Falkland Islands have got there first without Argentina has caused heightened frustration and envy in Buenos Aires, making it a matter of ‘national resources as well as national pride’. [xxvii]

Britain’s Response

The British response to Argentina’s actions has been calm but firm. The British government has consistently refused to initiate negotiations over sovereignty with Fernández de Kirchner’s government. In response to Argentina’s 2009 claim over the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, foreign office minister Chris Bryant made a written statement insisting that there was “no doubt” on British sovereignty over the territories. There has been cross-party political unity on this issue, with the Conservatives giving “full support” to the government’s position and Shadow foreign minister David Lidington adding that the Conservatives would “condemn attempts by any foreign governments to assert otherwise”. [xxviii]

After Argentina’s recent escalation of the Falklands dispute, the Foreign Office stated that Argentina’s decree on shipping “does not affect Falkland Islands territorial waters, which are controlled by the island authorities.” [xxix] Prime minister Gordon Brown made it clear that “We have made all the preparations that are necessary to make sure the Falkland islanders are properly protected,” while a Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that the government was “fully committed” to the Falklands and that “a deterrence force is maintained on the islands.” In contrast to 1982, there are now a thousand British military personnel based on the Falklands. [xxx]

However, it was rightly observed by Dr Alan Mendoza, the director of the Henry Jackson Society, that Argentina’s move “may have been spurred by recent discussions in the UK about scything the defence budget of items that would allow the possible defence of the Falkland Islands in the future. The next Government will have to think very carefully about how any desire to streamline the defence forces will impact on their ability to mount defensive or offensive operations.” Cutting back on defence commitments in the south Atlantic would run the risk of history repeating itself, as the withdrawal of Britain’s south Atlantic patrol ship before the Falklands War led the Argentine junta to assume that Britain would not, or could not, make a serious effort to defend or retake the islands should they be overrun, encouraging Argentina to carry out its invasion. While there have not yet been cuts, a report released in February by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee warned that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have left more than half of Britain’s military aircraft, ships and ground units with “serious or critical weaknesses.” [xxxi] The renewed threat in the Falklands, which was not predicted in Britain, is a reminder of the danger of making cuts to the defence budget on the risky assumption that conventional territorial threats of this kind will no longer pose a serious danger. It should also serve as a timely reminder of the importance of the planned new Royal Navy aircraft carriers being delivered as promised.

In addition to the patrol vessel HMS Clyde, which is permanently based at the Falklands, the Royal Navy destroyer HMS York has also been deployed in the area, along with the survey vessel HMS Scott and oil supply tanker RFA Wave Ruler. A Navy source described the destroyer as a “deterrent”, saying “She will discourage the Argentines from trying anything with our shipping. If they do, the Navy are there to stop them.” [xxxii] Shadow foreign secretary William Hague called for an increased naval presence to bolster Britain’s position, saying: “It should be made very clear that the wholly legitimate search for oil in the Falkland’s waters will not be affected by unwarranted threats or interference from Argentina. Additionally the British government should state clearly that no vessel operating within the territorial waters of the Falkland Islands will require any form of permit from any other country. Increased British naval presence in the area would leave no doubt as to this position.” [xxxiii]

A consensus has been maintained over the Falklands, with leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman recently affirming in Parliament that “There is no question about the sovereignty of the Falklands, there is no question of their right to self-determination and there is no question that they will be fully defended.” Foreign office minister Chris Bryant stated Britain’s position plainly: “We do not believe that there is any need for a negotiation or discussion because there is nothing to discuss.” [xxxiv]

Latin America’s Involvement

Argentina, of course, was never going to accept Britain’s refusal to negotiate and leave the matter there. Instead, Fernández de Kirchner has sought the support of Argentina’s neighbours and allies in Latin America. Support was immediately forthcoming from Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who declared on Venezuelan television: “When will Britain stop breaking international law? Return the Malvinas to Argentina! Get out of there, give the Malvinas back to the Argentine people. Enough already with the empire.” [xxxv] This was not a new theme for Chávez, who in 2007 called for revenge against Britain for winning the Falklands War, claiming that: “If we had been united in the last war, we could have stopped the old empire. Today we could sink the British fleet.” He also argued, bizarrely, that British history was “stained with the blood of South America’s indigenous people”. [xxxvi]

Argentina was presented with an ideal opportunity to appeal for wider regional support, at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Cancún, Mexico on 23rd February. The meeting included members of Latin America’s Rio Group and of Caricom, the Caribbean regional bloc. At the summit, Fernández de Kirchner accused Britain of escalating the dispute, saying that “the Foreign Office floated the idea of a potential war threat by Argentina”, which was “ridiculous, cynical”. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had in fact done no such thing. She also argued that the Falklands dispute represented important principles beyond Argentina’s interests, claiming that it “not only has to do with a sovereignty dispute but with the whole of the region’s history and, why not, with the world’s history in the last two or three centuries.” [xxxvii]

Argentina pulled off a major diplomatic coup at the summit, receiving unanimous backing for its claim to the Falkland Islands. All the leaders agreed to a statement saying: “The heads of state represented here reaffirm their support for the legitimate rights of the republic of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with Great Britain relating to the Malvinas Question.” The statement called on Britain to “renew negotiations in order to find in the shortest time possible a just, peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute”. [xxxviii]

Argentina successfully presented the Falklands issue as representing a ‘colonial’ challenge to the whole Latin American region. Thanking the leaders for their support, Fernández de Kirchner stated: “If you think of it in greater depth it is but an exercise of self-defence by all of us.” [xxxix] This theme was taken up by the Argentine press, with the newspaper El Argentino leading with the headline ‘The Malvinas belong to Latin America’ and praising the leaders at the summit for delivering “one fist against English colonialism and a love song for the Argentines”. [xl] The anti-colonialist rhetoric and anti-British stance taken in Cancun fitted the broader ‘anti-imperialist’ theme of the summit, where it was also announced that a new regional body was being established which would exclude the United States and Canada. [xli] Support for Argentina over the Falklands against Britain therefore fitted with the theme of Latin American and Caribbean unity against outside powers.

Unsurprisingly, this stance was pleasing not just for Argentina but for the radical leftist regimes of the region. Chávez launched a bizarre verbal tirade against the Queen, saying: “Look, Britain, how long are you going to be in Las Malvinas? Queen of England, I’m talking to you. The time for empires is over, haven’t you noticed? Return the Malvinas to the Argentine people.” He also promised that Venezuela would support Argentina in any future war, saying: “The British are still threatening Argentina. Things have changed. We are no longer in 1982. If conflict breaks out, be sure Argentina will not be alone like it was back then.” [xlii] He also took the opportunity of the summit’s support for Argentina to relaunch his own claim over the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire, which he complained were being kept under Dutch control “in the noses of Venezuela”. [xliii] Cuban president Raul Castro also voiced his support for Argentina, saying: “Cuba has always backed Argentina’s justified claims to the Islas Malvinas. Today we firmly support the legitimate rights of our sister nation over her natural resources.” [xliv] Britain also came in for criticism from Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who called for “Britain to return the territory of the Malvinas to its real owners – to return it to Argentina”. [xlv]

While criticism from these regimes is to be expected, it is not just from Argentina and the leaders of the radical left that Britain has come under rhetorical fire. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, the region’s leading economic and political power, also hit out at Britain and its position on the UN Security Council, saying: “Our attitude is one of solidarity with Argentina. What is the geographical, political and economic explanation for Britain to be in the Malvinas? What is the explanation for the United Nations never having that decision? Could it be because the UK is a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council where they can do everything and the others nothing? It is not possible that Argentina is not the owner while Britain is, despite being 14,000km away.” [xlvi] The irony is that the UK has been a strong and public supporter of Brazil’s bid to be a permanent member of a reformed UN Security Council. [xlvii] In the light of Brazil’s support for Argentina’s expansionist claims against British territory, its condemnation of Britain and its obstructive attitude towards dealing with Iran, this is surely a position which the British government should reconsider.

The outcome of this summit, while a triumph for Argentina, was a stark warning to Britain of its isolation in the region. Countries that were considered friendly unanimously endorsed Argentina’s claims to British territory, with no regard for the human rights of the British people who live on that territory. Dominic Raab, an international lawyer who worked at the Foreign Office, made the point that whereas Britain enjoyed strong bilateral relations with several Latin American states in 1982, the government’s fixation with the European Union meant that “we have systematically downgraded our diplomatic presence in the region since 1997. We have muted Britain’s voice in one of the rising regions of the world.” [xlviii]

What should be particularly troubling for the British government is that it is not just Latin America that has united against the UK, but the Caribbean as well. Of the thirty two states which unanimously gave their backing to Argentina, twelve were English-speaking Commonwealth nations. Despite their close links to Britain through the Commonwealth, and despite several of these nations sharing the Queen as their head of state, these countries have also endorsed a hostile claim to British territory, against the wishes of the British people who live on the Falklands. While the stance taken by Latin American countries could be argued to be predictable and unsurprising, the position of these Commonwealth members, with not one leader willing to offer any defence of or respect for Britain’s rights, is more difficult to explain away. Sir Ron Sanders, the former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom for Antigua and Barbuda, expressed concern over the Commonwealth countries’ actions, saying that their statement of support “for Argentina’s ‘legitimate rights’ is puzzling. Both the UK and Argentina have claimed the Falklands/Malvinas for almost two hundred years. So what now makes Argentina’s rights more ‘legitimate’ than Britain’s?” He argued that this stance ran counter to the countries’ own national interests, pointing out: “CARICOM’s trade with Britain far exceeds trade with Argentina; investment in CARICOM countries from Britain is much greater than any investment from Argentina; official development assistance from Britain to CARICOM countries directly and indirectly (through the European Union and the Commonwealth for instance) is much larger than any assistance from Argentina.” [xlix]

What makes the Commonwealth countries’ stance so surprising is that several of them have been subject to similar territorial claims from Latin American states themselves, and have relied on Britain for their defence. Guetamala claims the whole of the territory of Belize, while Venezuela claims two thirds of the territory of Guyana. [l] Sanders warned that by taking the position that they have, CARICOM countries run the risk of compromising their own interest: “For instance, where would they stand if Venezuela objected to oil exploration off part of Guyana, despite long-standing international arbitrations and agreements confirming Guyana’s title? Also, where would these countries stand if Venezuela objected to oil explorations that might be granted by some of them near Aves Island/Bird Rock to which Venezuela lays a claim? In the case of Belize where Guatemala claims the entire country, the same argument applies.” [li] The Foreign and Commonwealth Office response to the stance taken by these Commonwealth countries did not inspire confidence, with a spokesman only being able to say: “it’s probably not the first time the Commonwealth countries have done this”. [lii]

What Latin America’s unanimous anti-British stance demonstrated was that regional tribalism and anti-imperialist rhetoric is valued above democracy or human rights, as the right of the Falkland Islanders to self-determination has been unanimously dismissed. Argentine imperialism and expansionism has been thoroughly endorsed. The summit’s actions do not reflect well on the region’s priorities. British commentator Peter Hitchens observed: “Isn’t it interesting that all Latin America’s leaders are willing to lecture us about the Falklands, where the people are free and happy. But most of them won’t dare criticise the disgusting prison island of Cuba.” [liii] Instead of attempting to promote democracy and human rights in the region, the Latin American and Caribbean leaders have chosen to attack them in the Falklands for the sake of Argentina’s expansionist nationalism. What the practical effects of the region’s unanimous pro-Argentine position will be are not yet clear. Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank judged that: “Beyond making Kirchner, and some other Latin American leaders, feel good and perhaps getting a bit of a political bounce at home, the collective regional posture will mean very little on the ground.” [liv] Similarly, a Foreign office spokesman said: “”We’re used to Latin American countries being vocally with Argentina as acts of regional solidarity… But when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is they never follow through.” [lv] Jan Cheek of the Falklands assembly, said she was “not surprised” by the Latin American countries’ statement, as they had historically tended to back Argentina in the dispute, adding: “Argentina does regularly take this issue to the UN but it has very little effect on us, mainly because what they are seeking is to make us a colony of Argentina while we have freely chosen, through self-determination, to be an overseas territory of the UK.” [lvi] Even if the summit’s declaration does have little immediate practical impact, Britain faces a weaker diplomatic position of uniform hostility to its sovereignty across the region. None of the countries nearby, therefore, recognise British sovereignty as legitimate. Britain can therefore hope for no local support, whatever happens, and faces a unanimously hostile regional environment. This will need to be borne in mind when military arrangements are made, and in contingency planning for any new attack from Argentina, particularly considering the bellicose rhetoric from regional actors such as Venezuela.

The Role of the United Nations

The United Nations was Argentina’s next port of call in trying to build up diplomatic pressure on Britain. On 24th February, Argentine foreign secretary Jorge Taiana met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York, and called for the United Nations to bring the UK into talks on sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. [lvii] This meeting was largely uneventful. Ban Ki-Moon merely stated that he “took note of Argentina’s concerns” and was satisfied with “Argentina’s commitment to resolving its dispute with the United Kingdom over the islands in a peaceful manner”. [lviii] Taiana claimed afterwards that his arguments were “highly welcomed” and that Ban Ki-Moon “is to make a phone call to Britain and will take care of our situation.” [lix] Ban Ki-Moon stated that his offices were open to all parties in a dispute, but did not call for any action from the UK. Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s permanent representative to the UN, reiterated that Britain’s position “is underpinned by the principle of self-determination as set out in the UN Charter.” [lx] In another bizarre insult to Britain, Fernández de Kirchner said that Argentina would pursue its claim through ‘the framework of international law’ “because the only thing you can’t do with a cannibal is eat him”. [lxi]

The Position of the United States

The escalating dispute between Britain and Argentina was at first met with silence from Washington. When asked, a State Department spokesman indicated that the United States wished to remain neutral, saying: “We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality.” This was hardly encouraging for Britain, a close ally of the United States, when its sovereignty was coming under attack. The most the State Department could bring itself to say was that: “The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.” [lxii] So while the US recognised the British ‘administration’ of the islands, which has been in place since 1833, it did not recognise British sovereignty as legitimate, despite the clearly expressed wishes of the Falkland Islanders. Their rights were completely ignored. As Dr Mendoza commented: “The Obama administration’s decision to ignore the democratic rights of the Falkland islanders is disgraceful. It can only be motivated by moral weakness in the White House or a misplaced desire to punish Britain for the Binyam Mohamed case and the disclosure of U.S. intelligence documents.” The USA’s position was rightly condemned as “feeble”. [lxiii]

It soon became apparent that the US position was worse than feeble neutrality. On 25th February, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley pointedly refused to even call the Falkland Islands by their name, referring to them as “the islands – whatever you want to call them.” When pressed by a journalist for the USA’s exact position “on the Falklands”, he replied: “Or Las Malvinas, depending on how you see it.” [lxiv] This was insulting and insensitive language from a supposed ally of Britain. The refusal to even use the British name for the islands implied that the British presence could not be accepted by the US administration, while the use of the name ‘Las Malvinas’ conferred unwarranted legitimacy on Argentina’s claim and implied that the US believed that Argentina’s anti-British rhetoric might be right. Crowley’s tone implied a deliberate intention not to show any consideration for Britain whatsoever, or any recognition of the islanders and their human rights.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton was due to meet Fernández de Kirchner for ten minutes at the inauguration of the new Uruguayan president in Montevideo on 2nd March. Instead, after Argentine lobbying, Clinton travelled to Argentina to meet Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires on 1st March. [lxv] At the press conference following this meeting, Fernández de Kirchner called on Britain to “sit down at the table and negotiate”. Clinton added: “And we agree.” When a journalist asked how the US intended to persuade Britain to ‘address the Malvinas issue’, Clinton answered: “we want very much to encourage both countries to sit down… So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.” [lxvi]

The US policy had now moved way beyond neutrality into openly taking the side of Argentina against Britain. By publicly agreeing with Fernández de Kirchner’s call for Britain to negotiate, Clinton gave support to Argentina’s claims. By saying that a discussion “needs to take place”, she indicated that the US did not accept the current British position of not negotiating over sovereignty against the wishes of the islanders. The meeting with Clinton was rightly viewed as a major diplomatic victory for Argentina, as the most powerful nation in the Americas and the world had just publicly endorsed Argentina’s calls for Britain to negotiate over the sovereignty of the Falklands. Héctor Timerman, the Argentine Ambassador to the US, said he had never seen “such substantial support” from Washington for his country’s claim. [lxvii]

The Obama administration’s siding with Argentina represented a failure to uphold the basic principle of self-determination. The Falkland Islanders and their rights were not even mentioned by Clinton or the State Department. The administration’s position also represented a gross failure to give even the most basic support for the rights of one of the USA’s closest allies. While British forces are fighting alongside US troops in Afghanistan, the US administration refuses to recognise British territory and gives its support to Argentina in trying to pressure Britain to give up its own land and people. It also shows gross insensitivity towards the fact that Britain fought a war to defend the Falkland Islands in which 255 British soldiers died.

On the Falklands, Clinton’s comments were greeted with fury, with one resident observing: “It’s outrageous, after all the support we have given the United States.” A US resident of the Falklands wrote a letter of protest to president Obama, asking: “How can we not support these people, this country? Have we ceased to be allies of the United Kingdom?” [lxviii] Obama’s stance also came in for some deserved criticism in the British press. Nick Cohen argued that Obama’s “failure to uphold automatically the right to self-determination is fuelling the already widespread suspicion that Obama’s America has more respect for its enemies than its friends,” and undermines Obama’s image as a “liberal” president. [lxix] Attention also turned to Britain’s support for the US in Afghanistan, with one commentator, Peter Hitchens, declaring: “we should immediately take all our troops and equipment out of Afghanistan, and put them on boats and planes to Port Stanley, leaving nothing behind but a few empty baked-bean tins. Any politician willing to pledge this will win the Election, by the way.” [lxx] Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation’s aptly named Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom observed that the ‘disgraceful’ stance of the Obama administration was the latest in a string of insults to Britain which damaged the special relationship between the two countries. [lxxi]

The British government was quick to rebuff the US offer of mediation over the Falklands, with Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant announcing: “We have made absolutely clear that we do not believe that there is any need for a negotiation or discussion because there is nothing to discuss in terms of the sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which should be a self-determined issue and solely a self-determined issue.” [lxxii] It was also revealed that British diplomats had protested to the State Department on at least three occasions over Washington’s response to the escalation of the Falklands dispute. [lxxiii] Labour MP Gerald Kaufman argued that the US administration should have better things on its mind than “whether an assemblage of islanders should be turned over, against their will, to a foreign power that would interfere with their current freedoms.” [lxxiv]

There were some honourable voices of disquiet about the Obama administration’s position raised within the United States. Richard Perle, who was deputy defence secretary at the time of the Falklands War, protested that “using the description Malvinas is offensive to British interests.” [lxxv] Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry said: “The US must stand with the UK on this issue as we did in the 1980s. There should be no doubt where the US should stand.” [lxxvi] Columnist Ken Blackwell asked readers to consider how they would feel if David Miliband called on the USA to negotiate sovereignty over Texas with Mexico, calling it ‘Tejas’.[lxxvii] The Falklands have indeed been British for longer than Texas or much of the southwestern United States have been American, and for far longer than US overseas territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa.

James Corum of the Baltic Defence College argued that “it makes little sense for America to give moral support to the Kirchner government in Argentina. Kirchner is no friend of the US and Kirchner’s government is in deep domestic trouble for its gross mismanagement of the economy and its attempts to suppress the press criticism of the regime at home. One has to wonder what benefit America gets out of hurting Britain on this issue.” [lxxviii] Clinton no doubt had her eye on the USA’s standing in Latin America, and Obama’s declining popularity in the region. It may have been hoped that supporting a Latin American nation in its dispute with a European country would help set a positive tone for Clinton’s tour of the region, while defending the rights of a former colonial power like Britain might undermine what little support Obama’s USA still has. Yet abandoning an ally and ignoring human rights and self-determination for the sake of courting regional popularity is hardly an honourable or ethical approach to foreign policy. Aside from which, such an approach is both misguided and, by now, too late. The USA’s popularity in the region is unlikely to be bolstered substantially by this policy. The radical leftist regimes of the region are not going to alter their anti-US stance, and it is perverse that the USA is taking their side in this dispute against one of its closest allies. The whole region has just taken a more anti-US and deliberately independent turn, most clearly indicated by the founding of a new regional bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries; all the countries of the Americas apart from the USA and Canada. The Obama administration’s stance will not weaken anti-US forces in the region, if anything it will give leftist regimes’ denunciations of and threats against Britain greater respectability. By giving credibility to Argentina’s ‘anti-colonialist’ case, the US is conferring unwarranted legitimacy upon the broader currents of anti-Western rhetoric in Latin America, which seek to blame external ‘imperialist’ powers (including the USA) for all problems in the region.

The European Union, at least, has steered clear of statements that would undermine Britain’s position. Argentina had been hoping for some support for negotiations from Spain, which holds the rotating EU presidency. However, responses from both the EU and the Spanish government emphasised that this was a bilateral issue between Britain and Argentina, and there would be no mediating role for the EU. [lxxix]

Where now for the Falkland Islands?

The issue of the Falklands should be an open-and-shut case, based on the simple principle of self-determination. Unfortunately, ideological and diplomatic factors mean that in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, self-determination has been overruled and support given to Argentina’s unjustified call for Britain to negotiate sovereignty. Britain has found itself diplomatically isolated, with Latin American and Caribbean leaders lining up to unanimously to support Argentina’s territorial claims, and the United States refusing to recognise British sovereignty and calling on Britain to negotiate. For Argentina, its recent escalation of the Falklands dispute has achieved a string of diplomatic victories, so that in the diplomatic field, this time Argentina “holds the aces”. [lxxx]

However, Britain’s diplomatic isolation on the issue does not alter the fundamental justness of its cause. The democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders must trump Argentina’s dubious and outdated historical claim to the islands. Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, complained that the Falklands were a “post-colonial anachronism” and “expensive nuisance”, and that “2,500 colonists cannot enjoy an unqualified veto on British government policy”. [lxxxi] Yet ‘colonists’ are still human beings, therefore they are still entitled to the same human rights as anybody else. These ‘colonists’ did not replace any indigenous or established population on the islands, in contrast to the ‘colonists’ who established Argentina, because there were none. And these British ‘colonists’ arrived in the Falkland Islands in 1833 and the years after. Their ancestors have lived on the Falklands for longer than most Argentineans’ ancestors have lived in Argentina, the population of which grew fivefold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through immigration from Europe. The imperial background to Britain’s possession of the islands is irrelevant to the current situation. The Falklands have now been British for longer than most countries in the world have been independent countries. Britain’s claim is based upon self-determination, whereas it is Argentina’s claim to ownership which is based on past Spanish colonial possession of the islands. [lxxxii] Argentina’s claim is also expansionist, with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a thousand miles away and with no historical connection to Argentina or Spain, being claimed as part and parcel of the ‘Malvinas’.

Proposals for a compromise arrangement such as a ‘leaseback’ where the islands would remain under British control under a long-term lease but return to Argentina at a future date, aside from having no justification, do nothing to address the fundamental question of self-determination, as such an arrangement would involve the two governments going over the islanders’ heads, and would merely delay the surrender of British sovereignty against their wishes. Any guarantees from Argentina about ‘respecting the rights’ of the islanders under such an arrangement or under a straightforward handover of sovereignty are meaningless, as the imposition of Argentine sovereignty against the islanders’ wishes is in itself the ultimate violation of their most basic rights. Given their historical experience with Argentina, and Argentina’s inflexible and bellicose attitude, expecting the islanders to trust Argentina would be both an insult to them and an example of extreme naïveté. There is no moral justification for asking the islanders to compromise their rights in order to satisfy the nationalist ambitions of Argentine politicians. Making a deal with Argentina over the heads of the islanders for the sake of better commercial relations would, of course, be the height of irresponsible colonialist behaviour. If we believe in democracy and human rights, and that these are principles that are worth defending, then these must be upheld in the case of the Falkland Islands. Distance, cost and size have no bearing on these universal principles. To deny these to the Falkland Islands is to deny that human rights should be universal.

Negotiating over sovereignty would also be a perverse course of action to take now, given that in 1982 Britain defended the islands against Argentine aggression at the cost of the lives of 255 service personnel. General Sir Peter de la Billiere, chairman of the Falkland Islands Association, observed: “We have demonstrated our intention to fulfil the islanders’ wishes and support them if they are threatened. I can see no reason or justification or political will in the UK to do anything other than that. We did not lay down 255 lives just to give up and walk out a few years later.” [lxxxiii] Having fought Argentina and won, there is no justification for handing Argentina an easy victory years later, in contempt of the sacrifices made by British soldiers and sailors.

Aside from the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the British Antarctic Territory, there are eleven other British overseas territories. Their status and security must also be considered when discussing the future of the Falklands. If the Falkland Islands are given away to Argentina, then that could call the future of other territories, most notably Gibraltar, into question. Handing over the Falklands would be a sign of weakness on Britain’s part, and a failure to defend Britain’s own people before the eyes of the world. Not only could such a precedent create a mood of ‘open season’ against British overseas territories, it could also lead to greater pressure against other countries with overseas territories, such as France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Just as British sovereignty and the rights of the islanders are clear, so is the right of the Falkland Islands to drill for oil, according to Article 77 of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea. With Argentina challenging British sovereignty and seeking to isolate the islands economically, the case for the islands exploiting their natural resources and trying to become more self-sufficient is all the more compelling. The Falkland Islands government has also offered to contribute a portion of any oil revenue directly towards the cost of the defence of the islands. Britain has previously attempted to cooperate with Argentina on oil exploration, with the two governments signing a joint declaration on the issue in 1995, but Argentina renounced this, along with an agreement on fishing, in 2007. [lxxxiv]

It is of course vitally important that the Falklands are fully protected. The sending of a Royal Navy destroyer and other vessels to the area was certainly the right decision, but more warships beyond the single destroyer would be highly desirable to provide strong defence and to demonstrate that Britain means business. For the long-term security and viability of the Falklands, and to uphold the Falkland Islands’ rights, the Navy must not only provide protection but also ensure the freedom of the seas, so that shipping can travel to and from the islands unimpeded. As well as warships, the deployment of Navy submarines is one of the best ways to provide security. According to the Sun newspaper, HMS Sceptre, a Swiftsure-class nuclear powered attack submarine, has been deployed and is operating around the islands.[lxxxv] This is highly welcome, as it provides one of the best deterrents against any Argentine attempts at interference.

While many have argued that Argentina, which is now a democratic country, would not go so far as to attempt to take the islands by force again, this cannot be ruled out. Argentina’s aggressive nationalist attitude, its economic problems, its attempts to isolate the islands and obstruct oil drilling operations, Latin America’s unanimous backing for Argentina’s claims, the promised support of Venezuela, the possibility of large oil reserves being discovered and Britain’s complete diplomatic isolation on the issue make this possibility more plausible than at any other time since 1982. The British government did not expect an invasion in 1982, and Argentina’s assurances that it will use peaceful and lawful means are meaningless when it continues to insist that Britain is ‘illegally occupying’ the islands and seeks to undermine Britain at every opportunity. There has naturally been speculation in the British press as to whether Britain would be able to repeat its success of 1982 if Argentina was to attack the Falklands again, particularly given British forces’ heavy commitments in Afghanistan. This time round, a significant portion of Britain’s armed forces are tied up on the other side of the world, and Britain could not count on support from Chile or the United States. Britain must also take into account the possibility of intervention on Argentina’s side from Venezuela and other hostile states. Yet former chief of the defence staff Lord Guthrie argued: “The Argentineans would be mad to invade – they would get a beating again and they know it. We still have the power to retake the Falklands, just like we did before. And that’s the case despite what’s going on in Afghanistan as our Navy isn’t committed there.” Former SAS officer Andy McNab argued that British forces were more experienced now than in 1982, “even the lowest ranks have at least one tour of Iraq or Afghanistan under their belts,” so that taking back the Falklands would be “a piece of cake”. [lxxxvi] The islands are much better protected than they were in 1982, with a permanent garrison of one thousand British forces personnel. The presence of the Royal Navy, and in particular of the nuclear submarine, would make an Argentine attack much more difficult than in 1982, giving Britain the opportunity to literally scupper any seaborne invasion force sent by Argentina.

Yet the latest conflict over the Falklands looks set to continue to be fought out on the diplomatic battlefield. Here, Argentina is widely recognised as beating Britain so far. [lxxxvii] A Guardian editorial which accused Britain of “strutting about boasting of sovereign rights” and striking a “militaristic pose” was entirely wrong: Britain’s approach to the dispute has been characterised by silence in the international arena. [lxxxviii] While it was revealed that British diplomats have privately complained to US officials about the USA’s stance, David Miliband did not even publicly mention the Falklands issue on a recent visit to the US. Britain must not be shy about defending its entirely rational and justified position on the Falklands, lest Argentina be allowed to win the argument by default. Britain should make clear to Latin American, Caribbean and other countries that its stance is based on protecting the self-determination and human rights of its people on the Falklands, which should count for more in the modern world than Argentina’s weak arguments of geographical proximity and historical grievance. While Commonwealth countries are of course free to pursue whichever foreign policy they wish, Britain should also quietly make it clear to the Caribbean Commonwealth countries, and any other countries in the region which receive British assistance, that they cannot expect to endorse a hostile territorial claim against Britain and continue to receive British aid. In the case of the United States, Britain should not shy away from expressing its disappointment in Washington’s stance. The importance Britain attaches to the Falkland Islanders’ self-determination and human rights should be openly stated, and the US administration should be challenged to give a response to this. The White House should also be left in no doubt that while Britain regards the NATO mission in Afghanistan and the UK’s role in it as absolutely crucial to its security, the defence of Britain’s own territory must be a preeminent priority, and that consequently any threat to British security in the south Atlantic may ultimately necessitate the temporary redeployment of British forces and resources away from Afghanistan to Britain’s south Atlantic territories. It should not be this difficult to persuade a close ally to respect your sovereignty, but unfortunately the Obama administration seems to treat enemies better than allies, and has certainly dispensed with the notion of the special relationship.

Britain must be robust in its diplomacy, as Argentina is unlikely to let the matter rest. If oil is discovered in commercially viable quantities, Britain can expect more frantic activity from Argentina, along with increasingly hysterical rhetoric about ‘colonial’ Britain plundering the resources of Latin America. Yet, despite its diplomatic successes, Argentina has not had things all its own way. Its appeal to the United Nations has so far yielded no more than Ban Ki-Moon saying that he noted Argentina’s concerns. Argentina’s attempt to get the European Union involved on its side has come to naught, despite the rotating presidency being held by Spain, which has close links with Argentina and which has its own territorial dispute with Britain over Gibraltar. Britain certainly faces a more difficult situation than in previous years, with Latin America united behind Argentina and against Britain’s presence in the Falklands, and with the Unites States publicly endorsing Argentina’s calls for negotiations. However, there is still little that Argentina can do to force Britain to give up the Falklands. Britain has the naval power to provide security to the islands and to keep shipping going. Any economic measures taken by Argentina are unlikely to have a significant impact on the UK, while there is no indication that economic measures taken by Latin America as a whole against Britain are planned, although this cannot be ruled out. If Britain holds its nerve and sticks to its position and its commitments, then the Falklands will remain British. As long as Britain does not give in to any diplomatic pressure, which there would be no good reason to do, the Falklands should remain safe.

If the dispute over the Falkland Islands is taken as a test case for respect for human rights and democracy in the international arena, then so far much of the world has failed. Countries have put more weight on nationalist rhetoric than on the most basic rights, and have lined up to endorse Argentina’s territorial designs against a peaceful island people. Argentina’s expansionist ambitions have been held to be more important than the lives of the people who actually live on the Falkland Islands. No one is having their rights denied as a result of British sovereignty over the Falklands, yet the people of the Falkland Islands are being told that there freedom should be given away to satisfy the dreams of the Argentine government. Discussion of the Falkland Islanders, their rights and their wishes has been conspicuously absent from the debates about the Falklands in Latin America and the United States. By endorsing Argentina’s call for negotiations with Britain over sovereignty, the US administration has implied that it does not care for the human rights of the British people of the Falklands, or that it believes that their rights somehow do not count. This calls the commitment of the current US administration to human rights and the cause of liberty into question, as it suggests that these principles can be disposed of for the sake of currying favour with Latin American regimes. The Unites States and the other nations involved have failed the test of democracy. Whereas Argentina has support for its aggression, Britain has little or none for its self-defence. It is a sad commentary on the state of the world that Britain is being forced to defend the democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders alone and in the teeth of massive opposition, but fortunately it has the political will and the ability to do so.
Peter John Cannon is the Latin America Section Director of the Henry Jackson Society.


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