Since late 2011 groups within Argentina, and indeed its president, Cristina Kirchner, have renewed their interest over control of the Falklands Islands. Despite a lull in this story for the past month or so, Kirchner’s latest faux pas this week – trying to stuff a letter regarding the Falkland’s Question into the hands of British Prime Minister David Cameron – confirms that this issue is not reconciled to the proverbial waste paper basket. Although Argentina lays claim to the small territory of the Falklands (or Malvinas), citing British ‘possession’ of the Island as “colonialism”, this writer cannot brush off a feeling of hypocrisy surrounding Argentina’s claims to the Island and its accusation against Great Britain.
Historically, the Falklands have never truly been a part of the state of Argentina. Although Argentina did possess the Falklands for a brief period in 1832, they quickly ceded control of the Territory to Great Britain. Before this period the second lengthiest rule of the Falklands, by Spain, occurred; the longest period of rule being that of Great Britain. If Argentina claims its right over the Falklands because of its previous control over the Island from1832-1833, then, by this logic, the United States has equal claim to the Falklands – after all, they controlled the Island the year prior and for the same length of time.
Argentina’s argument that British possession of the Falklands is colonialism has no merit either. Colonialism refers to an active and aggressive policy of expanding a state’s rule over other territories beyond its own. The British Empire has long since ended, and Britain no longer pursues a policy of aggressive expansion – however cynical one’s opinion may be over the recent British campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The British Government explicitly provides the Falklands Islands with the legal instrument of the ‘right to self-determination’; the right to choose whether it stays a part of Great Britain or goes its separate way as an independent state. This is a right that Falklanders are choosing to exercise. In a speech given to the United Nations on June 14th, a senior Falklands representative, on behalf of the Falklanders, made their intentions very clear: they will hold a referendum on whether to stay in the Union to satisfy any questions of colonialism, and they are content staying within the Union. Further, they have no desire to be a part of Argentina. This measure – which should not be taken in light terms – has still not been enough to change Argentine minds, particularly that of Kirchner, over the issue.
What of Argentine ambitions? Argentina is firm that it wants Great Britain to relinquish control of the Island – although Britain only retains minimal control, and largely acts as a support mechanism for an island that could not support itself otherwise – and it desires to assume control of the Island for itself. This rings alarms bells. Argentina – a state – seeks control of a territory that does not want to be under Argentine administrative control – which some may interpret as aggressive considering the referendum about to be held – thus expanding the Argentine territory. Does this Argentine ambition not seem more reminiscent of colonialism than present British control over the Island, which gives Falklanders the right to leave its union with Britain at any point it desires?
This blog post cannot possibly begin to second-guess the intentions of the Argentine Government. But, the commonly known fact that oil, potentially a lot of it, lies within the borders of the Falklands Islands could be a further reason for a renewed interest in the Island. The recent illegal takeover of over 50 per cent of a Spanish petroleum firm’s assets in Argentina points to this.
Whatever the rationale behind Argentina and its Falklands ambitions, they cannot ignore the facts. Britain does retain minor control of the Island, but it does provide them with a legal ‘get out clause’, which Falklanders are in the process of exercising. They have indicated in no uncertain terms that they are content to stay within union with Great Britain. Any aggressive acts by Argentina to change this, and acquire the Falkland’s for itself, (for a second time) likely under much tighter administrative control, can only be seen as the very act they accuse Great Britain of colonialism.