Sovereignty of the Falklands Still Under Debate

Fierce debate over ownership of Falkland islands continues.

Cristina KirchnerOn 7 February, President Cristina Kirchner boldly proclaimed that the Falklands Islands were Argentine, reigniting the historically sensitive debate over ownership of the Falklands Islands with the United Kingdom. During her speech Kirchner stated that “it`s not possible to attribute to the Argentine people a decision, and based on that decision to refuse to comply with what the United Nations has ordered, which is to sit down for talks and negotiate about the issue of the Falklands Islands”. The dispute over the archipelago has its roots in the nineteenth century. In 1982 the two countries waged a war that resulted in one thousand deaths and an easy victory for the United Kingdom. Yet despite this outcome, the last chapter in this long history over the Falklands sovereignty has yet to be written, as the Argentine government resumed its claims to the island in 1994. Under Cristina Kirchner, Argentine claims to the Falklands have gained newfound momentum.

The current crisis erupted when the British government gave an oil company permission to drill oil from the shores of one of the islands in 2010. Soon after this, President Kirchner took measures to halt oil exploration in contested waters by restricting shipping in the area, and sought support from other Latin American countries against the British government’s action.

The Falklands issue tends to become a prominent issue in Argentina’s diplomatic agenda when the Argentine government seeks to strengthen its standing amongst the public, as happened under Galtieri’s government in 1982. The current crisis is not an exception. Despite Kirchner’s success in the last elections, where she won with 54% of votes, Kirchner has had to cope with high inflation rates The figures reported by local authorities aren’t credible according to the IMF. The government has to deal with protests throughout the country, some demand salary raise, while others hope to modify national policy towards the mining sector. Furthermore, corruption charges against vice president Boudou are another focus of tension.

Kirchner hyperbolizes British action in the Falklands as imperialistic to divert attention from the grim reality of Argentina’s domestic situation. She alleges that the deployment of HMS Dauntless to the South Atlantic would be a signal of “militarization” of the region. Meanwhile Chancellor Hector Timerman suspects that the the United Kingdom has already dispatched a nuclear submarine to the area. However, the British presence in the archipelago has remained the same ever since the war finished: a contingent of thirteen hundred men and a battleship.

The Argentine President chose the 30th anniversary of the war for her nationalistic approach over the Falklands. To imbue the issue with another layer of international importance, Kirchner intends to take it to the UN Security Council in the coming weeks, despite the fact that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has already requested both countries to avoid further escalation.

Despite the inflammatory language used by Kirchner and her administration, chances that this verbal scuffle leads to war remains slim, as both countries’ armed forces are in no condition to wage a similar war to the one that took place thirty years ago: the British no longer have an aircraft carrier, and the Harrier fleet used during the war was sold to the US, while Argentina has less military power than it did in 1982.

The approach taken by Buenos Aires is likely to continue for the next months, as the government plans to protest during the Olympic Games in London. But the Argentine government should find a better way to deal with domestic issues and avoid setting as a priority an issue that was settled long ago.