Comment: The thuggery of Argentina's Falklands claim

Ian Dunt: 'The protection of peoples' self-determination to choose their own government is the protection of the weak from the strong.'
Ian Dunt: 'The protection of peoples' self-determination to choose their own government is the protection of the weak from the strong.'

We are protecting the people of the Falklands from a foreign government whose claim to the territory is at the intellectual level of a five-year-old child.

By Ian Dunt

Argentina's (mostly illusionary) economic resurgence has a disappointing side-effect. It prompts regular bouts of sabre-rattling over the Falklands Islands.

Its glamorous president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is prone to issuing tetchy attacks on Britain, not least of all her insistence that the UK is "a crass colonial power in decline". That last point is neither entirely false nor particularly interesting, but it is about 50 years out of date.

It's been getting worse recently. British licensed fishing boats are being intercepted by Argentina. It announced last year that boats sailing to or from the Falkland, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands would require permission to pass through Argentine water.

Kirchner's neighbours, eager to win the approval of a country with a strong economy and a long history of cultural and political dominance in Latin America, have helped where they can. Uruguayan president Jose Mujica last week announced a ban on Falklands boats using his country's ports. Last night, in a move that surprised the Foreign Office, the Mercosur bloc, which includes major players like Brazil, voted to close their ports to ships flying the Falklands flag.

Thanking her allies, Kirchner painted a picture of a predatory British state patrolling the waters of the world, looking to snatch up land. "Malvinas [the Argentine name for the islands] is not an Argentine cause," she said. "It is a global cause, because in the Malvinas they are taking our oil and fishing resources. And when there is need for more resources those who are strong are going to look for them wherever and however they can."

Stereotypes of the British as Victorian-era imperialists are as cack-handed and ignorant as jokes about the Germans still being Nazis, but they play well to her domestic audience, who are still bruised by the war and Argentina's perpetual obsession with its own cultural superiority - a sort of Japan of the Latin Americas.

Given that the islands are of very little strategic or resource value, one might wonder why Britain should bother to spend considerable money and diplomatic capital just so everyone can assume that we're violent imperialists in the Braveheart vein. The reason is very simple. We are protecting the people of the Falklands from a foreign government whose only claim to the territory is at the intellectual level of a five-year-old child: namely, that it is close by.

Historians are uncertain who landed on the islands first, but it was either the Portuguese, the Spanish or the British and it happened sometime in the 16th century. The Patagonian Indians may have, and indeed probably did, visit earlier. They weren't there when the Europeans got there. These were uninhabited islands. After much coming and going, the British set up a naval station in 1834, and a permanent colony six years later. It's from this colony that the inhabitants of the islands come.

Part of the British stake is therefore that it has overseen a continuous administration of the islands since the 19th century. But its real claim is that it is protecting the islanders' self-determination. There is one person on the Falklands islands who wishes to be Argentinean. His names is James Peck and he is 43 years old. Everyone else is a British citizen, wishes to remain under British government, and is entitled to our protection.

The Argentine claim, that it acquired the islands from Spain when it became independent in 1811, is a telling signal of who the imperialists really are. By piggybacking on the contested properties owned by its former colonial master, the Argentine case shows how superficial that bluster about the 'rule of the powerful' really is.

The ownership of small islands does not derive by geographical proximity, or else we had better start redrawing the world map. Perhaps Cuba should be enveloped by the US. The idea that small islands near larger countries should be folded into their control is international relations reduced to mere thuggery. That is the real rule of the strong over the weak. The protection of peoples' self-determination to choose their own government is the protection of the weak from the strong.

With so cheap a reasoning behind its continued claims, the Argentine case for the Falklands can be seen for what it really is: an aspiration to express national pride through territorial ownership. It is no coincidence that a far-right military junta decided to try to take the islands by force in 1982, partly to distract from its own economic inadequacies and partly out of the need for right-wing dictatorships to gather momentum by virtue of perceived strength.

This bullying approach has always been a feature of Argentine aspirations towards the islands. They appealed to the UN in 1945 to establish their sovereignty but when the UK tried to submit the case the international courts of justice at the Hague two years later, Argentina refused the offer. Of course it did. The court would have put the rights of the islanders first, a factor which instantaneously dismisses Argentina's claim.

This is not a profitable venture for Britain. Reports of oil in the 1970s proved to be over-enthusiastic, even though, according to some histories, their promotion in the British press encouraged moves in Buenos Aires. There was an agreement between Britain and Argentina to explore for offshore resources in 1995 after some optimistic geological surveys, by the Latin American country pulled out two years later. Climate conditions make exploration difficult and test well results are mostly disappointing. It doesn't look commercially viable.

British protection of the Falklands is not about money or resources or strategic advantage. After all these years and the temporary humiliation of the Falklands invasion, of course there is an element of emotion about it. Losing the Falklands after all Britain has sacrificed for it would lose face as well. It would be absurd to pretend otherwise. But this is primarily about self-determination, the rights of people to live free from the expansionist folly of their arrogant, stronger neighbours.

Any Latin American with a sense of history should know what that is like. For over 100 years, the US has overthrown democratic left-wing governments in the continent. It has trained genocidal paramilitaries, it has funded tyrannical murderers, it has invaded and privatised and tested chemicals on the people of Latin America. It has watched the region turn into a hotbed of crime and anarchy due to its imposition of social-Darwinist economic policies.

To daub Britain in the colours of the US for doing the precise opposite, for respecting people's self-determination, is a historical irony of extraordinary cruelty. Argentina's claim to the Falklands is that of the bully towards his victim.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners. 
 

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