With the current celebrity-endorsed popularisation of the view that the Falkland Islands ought to be gifted to the Argentines in what its advocates, such as the increasingly insidious George Galloway, pass off as a mere diplomatic offering, I thought I'd tackle The Falklands Question.
There are three main considerations on both sides of this dispute:
- Rightful ownership
- Natural resources
I will discuss them in that order. As far as I am aware no one questions that the inhabitants of the islands wish it to remain a British Overseas Territory, this is clear. It appears that the significance of this fact differs depending on which side you are on, and it must, because one cannot hold the view that the islands should be Argentinian if one also supports the notion of self-determination - they are conflicting. So if, like me, you do support a island nation in unanimous agreement, deciding their own fate, you need not read on.
I hold in no regard any any claim for the islands on a purely geographic basis, and I would question the motives of anyone who poses that. The Spanish have a far stronger claim over Gibraltar on that basis and much to their grievance it remains British because that is what the people want, as demonstrated in the 2002 referendum in which over 98% voted against shared sovereignty.
The debate over the rightful ownership of the islands could be seen as purely historical and it can be argued ad infinitum, but the real question is whether any of the details actually matter. Essentially, France, Spain, and Great Britain were all taking to the seas to claim lands far away, the Falkland Islands had no native inhabitants and Argentina did not even exist. For me this nullifies any remark that Britain holding on to the islands is in some way "ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology" as Sean Penn so eloquently and memorably put it. Besides, Argentina is the product of Spanish invaders who moved in and killed everyone, so it takes some brass for them to call the British arrogant colonialists. Post World War II, Britain's decline as an empire was done responsibly and policies of peaceful disengagement once stable governments were in place were the norm.
More recently the speculative reports of there being vast oil reserves beneath the seas belonging to the Falkland Islands has added another dimension to the debate, and this one is a little more muddy. There is a long history of South America being exploited of its rich supply of natural resources, even today it is widely considered that the wealth generated from the exportation of these resources is not being felt at all by the continent's poorest. There ought to be communication on this and a deal be struck to share the spoils that the waters surrounding Argentina and the Falkland Islands can provide, after all, we will almost certainly need Argentina's cooperation in drilling for the oil.
I question where this irrational support for Argentina's plight stems from. I can only speculate that it has something to do with the general anti-capitalist mood set during the recent economical uncertainties. Argentina is seen as a cooler, more liberal, less invasive place to be, compared to old imperial Britain. However Argentina, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2011, rank 100th out of 183 countries and territories across the world for public sector corruption (where first place is least corrupt) with money-laundering, drug-trafficking and tax evasion being cited.
What I believe needs to needs to happen is Argentina need to put aside their beliefs over the Falkland Islands, in order to engage in negotiations with Britain over the control of oil reserves, and Britain needs to be prepared to do so too. My fear is, however, this will never lie so long as the Falkland Islands remain British - which they will.