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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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  1. LEPRecon
    July 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm — Reply

    Dr Tenembaum has done a very little research into this matter.

    Although he puts it the appearance of neutrality he is very biased towards the Argentine position. That’s not really surprising as Dr Tenembaum is from Argentina.

    He would have the world believe that the only two participants in this dispute is the UK and Argentina, but he conveniently forgets the people whose opinions are the only ones that matter, those of the Falkland Islanders themselves. A people who can trace their ancestry on the Islands back 180 years and more to a time before Argentina existed.

    His comparison to Hong Kong is ridiculous and ill-conceived, as the Falklands ‘issue’ has nothing in common with these Chinese islands.

    Dr Tenembuam would also have the world believe that the ONLY solution will be the eventual granting of Sovereignty to Argentina. This is not so. To make it easy for Dr Tenembaum I have highlighted the only 3 options that are on the table:

    1. Maintain the current status quo, i.e. the islands remaining a self-governing British Overseas Territory.
    2. Argentine Sovereignty.
    3. Full independence for the Falkland Islands do they become an independent nation in their own right.

    Now in 2013 (something else Dr Tenembaum fails to mention) is that the islanders are going to hold a referendum, with UN monitoring, with these 3 options on the table. All indications are that the islanders will vote for option 1, with the option of becoming fully independent at a later date.

    Argentina burnt any bridges it could have built with the islanders when they illegally invaded the islands in 1982, imprisoning the population, with plans to ethnically cleanse them. In the intervening 30 years the Argentines have done NOTHING to rebuild those bridges, and have just continued to act aggressively to the islanders by applying illegal economic sanctions against them, and employing people to ring random islanders in the night and threatening them.

    Dr Tenembaum also implies that the UK is unwilling to talk with Argentina. This is far from the truth. The UK can’t speak for the islanders on internal matters, only the Falkland Islands Government can. The FIG responded to the Argentine offer to implement flights and talk about fishing stocks/rights etc. and the Argentine government refused to acknowledge them.

    Argentina has no historic, legal or moral claims to the islands, and those arguments they put forwards are based in misinformation. Argentina has never owned the Islands. No Argentine colonists were removed, only an illegal United Provinces military penal conlony that had already been protested against by the British and that had been on the islands less than 3 months, before mutinying and murdering their own commanding officer. Their were colonists on the islands (only 2 of whom were British) and these stayed and their descendants live on the islands today.

    Argentina did not inherit the Falklands from Spain. Spain had already dropped its Soveignty claim, recognised full British sovereignty, 10 years before recognising Argentina as an independent country.

    Argentina’s claims on proximity are ridiculous, as every country in the world could look at their neighbours and claim their land because they happen to be closer to them. And besides, the Falklands are actually 4 miles closer to Chile than they are to Argentina.

    So, Dr Tenembaum, I suggest that you do some proper research next time, or are you just trying to push the Argentina political agenda? Finally in 1850 Argentina signed a treaty with Britiain in which it stated their were no outstanding disputes with Britain. At that time the Falklands were firmly under British control, and the Argentine governemnt was content with that. Indeed maps produced for Argentine embassies and consulates around the world in the 1850’s onwards clearly show that they believed the Falklands to be British territory. They never mentioned the Falklands again until the government of Peron in the 1940’s. Since then successive governments have used this ’cause’ to unite disparate Argentine sections of society under one issue. [Comment edited by PiS editor].

  2. Ken Griffiths
    April 3, 2013 at 6:34 pm — Reply

    Nothing sophisticated to say other than to inform you that I took that picture 16 June 1982 whilst serving in HMS Cardiff – Type 42 Destroyer. Good innit!

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