Podcast #18: Falklands trouble

Three decades after British forces fought a war over them, the future of the Falkland Islands is once again very much in the news. This week we're asking: what price is Britain paying for clinging hold of this small archipelago?

 

Argentina's culture is steeped in its historic grievance against Britain for the islands it calls the Malvinas. Its government may not be realistically considering another military adventure against them, but is prepared to use more subtle means to put pressure on its inhabitants.

This is far from just an issue between Argentina and Britain. The Falklands has the potential to upset the UK's entire diplomatic agenda for South America, which is focused on opening up export markets among emerging Latin American nations – particularly in Brazil.

There are already signs that attitudes towards London are distinctly frosty. Argentina struck a major blow when it succeeded in persuading the Mercosur trading bloc to agree to preventing ships using the Falklands flag from using the docks of member states.

Now Argentina is pressuring the Chilean airline LAN to cancel its weekly flight between Punta Arenas and Port Stanley. This means its supplies would be limited to the twice-weekly flight from London – a small matter of 8,000 miles.

Argentinean war graves in the Falklands would not be accessible to relatives, while the 250 Chileans who work in the islands would only be able to return home via Europe.

There is the military factor, too. There are over 1,000 British troops stationed at Mount Pleasant Complex, 35 miles from capital Stanley, and talk of a nuclear submarine in the region too. But the Islands' defence is used against the government's defence cuts, which involve going without an aircraft carrier until at least 2020.

Prince William, deployed on a six-week mission to the Islands, has ruffled feathers. So has the dispatch of HMS Dauntless to the region. So much so, in fact, that Argentina has complained to the UN security council about the "militarisation" of the region.

Given all this trouble, you have to ask yourself: beyond national pride, what's in it for Britain to keep hold of these islands? One Argentine writer compared the 1982 war over the islands to "two bald men fighting over a comb", and he wasn't far off. But that was before oil. Drilling began in 2010 but has not yielded any results – yet. After raising some more cash, Falklands Oil and Gas has now begun drilling deeper wells. It may be able to locate reservoirs containing nearly five billion barrels of oil or gas.

As always, please do let us know what you think!