Friday, December 9, 2011

Bald Man's Comb Redux

The brief 1981 war between Great Britain and Argentina over possession of the Falkland Islands, a pair of rocky, windswept pieces of land in the stormy South Atlantic that are home to more sheep than humans, was once famously compared to two bald men fighting over a comb.  It seems like at least one of the bald men is up to his old tricks again.

Earlier this month, Argentine patrol vessels boarded and detained 12 Spanish fishing vessels off the Falklands as part of what Argentina contends is a “legal” blockade of their islands (Las Malvinas, to the Argentines), which are currently being illegally occupied by the British, stating that the Falklands, along with the even more remote South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are a “integral part of Argentine territory.”.  The Spanish replied by saying that they had legally-issued fishing permits from the government of the Falklands and contested the legality of Argentina's boarding.

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner though is unbowed, slamming the British for “occupying” Las Malvinas, and recently calling Great Britain a “crude colonial power in decline.”  Her comments and the boarding of the Spanish vessels have brought a stinging rebuke from British foreign policy analyst, and frequent American TV pundit Nile Gardiner.  Nile typically provides a hawkish, right-wing point-of-view (no surprise since he is also the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center at the Heritage Foundation), so perhaps it’s no surprise that his suggested reply to Pres. Kirchner is for Great Britain to go in guns a-blazing.  Gardiner says that the boarding of the Spanish vessels, licensed by the government of the Falklands to fish in their waters, should be regarded as “an act of war” and that the British should dispatch an infantry brigade, Typhoon warplanes and an attack submarine to the Falklands immediately, lest Argentina “strangle the Islands economically.”

Argentina raises the issue of sovereignty over the Falklands/Malvinas periodically; critics have charged that Pres. Kirchner uses the nationalistic fervor over the Islands to drown out critics of her domestic policies, particularly her economic ones.  Complicated the matter at the moment though is the fact that Prince William is due to be stationed in the Falklands next year as part of his tour of duty with the Royal Air Force – it is hard to imagine that the Brits would want to send the likely savior of the royal family into harms way, of course not sending him could send a message to Kirchner that maybe the British aren't all that serious about the Falklands after all...  Still, it is hard to imagine that Kirchner would want to do anything to put her country in a position of actually getting into another shooting war with Great Britain, considering how badly Argentina lost the first one and that the Argentine military really hasn't gotten much better since.
The whole sovereignty issue is a murky one since neither Great Britain nor Argentina have a particularly strong claim to the Falklands/Malvinas.  Typically, the preferred way a case like this would be solved is with a referendum among the disputed territory's residents, allowing them the right of self-determination.  But Argentina has steadfastly opposed this option since almost all of the Falklands 3,000 residents are of British ancestry and would surely vote for union with Queen and country, thus losing the Falklands as a nationalistic talking point for Argentine politicians for good. 
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Pablo said...

It is true that CFK uses Malvinas for internal purposes but it should be noted that Cameron does the same and so had been from both sides politicians for decades. Falklands are 10K miles from UK and 200 miles from RA. Both distances are to large and in the shorter case people does not share the language of its neighbour. So self-determination has only two rational choices INDEPENDENCE or INTERNATIONALIZATION under UN control like all other unpopulated South Atlantic islands and the Poles. I think the first will be more fair for and interesting to the islanders.

Ed Hancox said...

Thanks Pablo. I too think a vote of the Falklanders would be the best way to settle the matter. But given the ethnic background for most, they are likely to vote to remain part of GB (which is why Argentina opposes the vote idea). Going for independence is unlikely, since there are so few Falklanders, the total pop. is around 4,000, I believe, and since recent attempts to prospect for oil in the waters around the islands have not had great results.