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Room for another flag? (Wiki Commons)

The Falklands is a perennial red top tabloid favourite. But aside from providing patriotic copy, it is a squabble with serious diplomatic consequences. What to do (or not do) in the case of the islands remains tricky. Is there a solution?

Theoretically, yes; practically, no.

Theoretically, both countries could agree to a Hong Kong-like lease-back formula, whereby Argentina is accorded legal sovereignty over the islands but the British continue to govern them for a long period of time.

This was a scheme conceived by the Foreign Office prior to the Falklands Crisis of 1982, though it had precious little political support in Britain. In the wake of the war, it became a dead letter.

Another possible solution could be for some kind of condominium, or joint-sovereignty over the islands. This could afford Argentina the opportunity to claim sovereignty (albeit a shared one) while Britain would not be compelled to renounce its own legal rights over them.

Various forms of joint-sovereignty scenarios could be envisaged, from one entailing essentially a symbolic Argentinean juridical presence to one involving a more active role in the running of the islands by Argentina.

A further formula could be advanced for the Falklands/Malvinas Islands to become fully-autonomous within a loose federative structure whereby Argentina would be the sovereign. As a stipulation, no military presence would be allowed, nor mass immigration so as to change their demographic character.

This solution would be somewhat akin to the status devised by the League of Nations in 1921 for the Aaland Islands, disputed at the time between Finland and Sweden. Finland retained a restricted sovereignty over the Aaland Islands and Swedish inhabitants were accorded full autonomy. In the case of the Falklands/Malvinas, this could be guaranteed by an international body, led by Britain, so as to assuage any fears the islanders may harbour.

The natural resource hurdle

The in-theory only gets us so far. One of the main problems with any of the aforementioned solutions relates to the natural resources, principally oil, which Britain is currently endeavouring to exploit.

The problems are easy to identify. Who would own the oil under a new agreement? Why should Britain accept any formula that diminishes its own part of the possible profits to be accrued in the future? Why would Argentina accept a situation whereby legally it might have a foothold in the islands (even if a symbolic one), without being able to claim at least a share in their natural resources.

For some months Argentina has been waging a diplomatic campaign against Britain over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, which has led Britain to harden its attitude against any possible negotiation over their future. The rhetoric of the British government has become confrontational in response to aggressive statements by the Argentinean government.

To be sure, Britain’s position is not determined by the character or volume of the Argentinean diplomatic campaign. It’s attitude, though, is.

If there was any chance of a dialogue over the islands, Argentina’s rhetoric has certainly not enhanced it. The more ‘enthusiastic’ its diplomacy becomes, the more distant the prospect of any dialogue with Britain.

Certainly, Argentina’s campaign is not aimed at convincing the British government to agree to negotiate; its objective is to muster a majority of nations to support its position. This directs attention away from its real problems. One of the motives prompting the present diplomatic campaign is to divert attention away from Argentina’s internal problems.

In a sense, what the Junta under General Leopoldo Galtieri did through the force of arms in 1982, the current civilian government is attempting to do in 2012 through diplomacy — to unite the people around a consensus issue, looking outwards, away from the problems within the country.

But as the war in 1982 led to a hardening of attitudes in Britain, so does the diplomatic campaign lead to a similar outcome in 2012.

For its part, Britain has maintained its firm position since the end of the Falklands War. It would not negotiate the legal status of the islands under any circumstances. And the principle guiding its stance is the self-determination of the people of the islands.

Beyond the well-being of the islanders, the British government knows full well that, politically, it could not afford to agree to any compromise. And, of course, there is the economic potential.

Indeed, the benefits outweigh the costs of Britain’s stance. And even if the cost-benefit balance were to shift, the government (this Coalition or not) would, on principle, do little different.

Thus, theoretically, various formulae may be devised to settle the conflict. But practically, as things stand now, none of these would stand a chance of being discussed by the parties concerned.

Alas, there are international conflicts that remain unresolved for long periods of time. The Falklands/Malvinas conflict is one of them. Rather than look at conflict resolution, the parties concerned and the international community as a whole should concentrate on crisis prevention. 

Dr. Yoav J. Tenembaum is a lecturer in the Diplomacy Program at Tel Aviv University. He received his DPhil from St Anthony’s College, Oxford. You can reach him at this email address.  

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