Cold war in the South Atlantic?

Thirty years on from the Falklands war the case for ending British rule in the Falklands has never been stronger.

Bill Bonnar Posted by on February 10, 2012. Filed under International. Posted with the tags:, ,
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Cold war in the South Atlantic?

Argentinian prisoners guarded by soldiers from 2 Para

As the 30th anniversary of Britain’s imperial adventure in the Falkland Islands approaches things are starting to hot up in the cold South Atlantic.

Britain has engaged in a gesture of flag waving by despatching Prince William to the islands as a kind of modern day Richard the Lionheart; leaving aside the fact that Richard the Lionheart was actually French.

More sinisterly, Britain has also sent its most powerful warship to the region; a ship that has the capability of destroying the combined air forces of a number of Latin American countries.

This added to the fact that President Obama has doubled the capability of the South American deployed Seventh Fleet over the past three years demonstrates a flexing of imperial muscles in the face of emerging Latin American governments no longer willing to display subservience to their former masters.

The issues around the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands are fairly clear cut. The island, properly known as the Malvinas, are geographically and historically part of Argentina.

They were seized by Britain in the mid-nineteenth century during the time when Argentina was emerging from Spanish control; the seizure a combination of gun boat diplomacy and international piracy.

To give a veneer of legitimacy to this act, British settlers were settled on the islands to legitimise Britain’s claim to the islands. Not surprisingly Argentina has never accepted this state of affairs, neither has the international community; the vast majority of countries in the world support Argentina’s claim to sovereignty.

For the people of Argentina and indeed all of South America the issue of the sovereignty of the islands has always been of high importance; in contrast most British people would struggle to find the Falklands on a map.

Thirty years ago the then Argentinean military junta launched an offensive to try and win back the islands. The aim was to end decades of fruitless negotiations, win domestic support and force Britain into a genuine dialogue over the future of the islands.

The junta, facing overwhelming military odds, was defeated and shortly after collapsed returning Argentina to civilian government. While the Junta was certainly unpopular support for the return of the Malvinas remained strong and has done so ever since.

Thirty years on the case for ending British rule in the Falklands has never been stronger. Argentina has had thirty years of democratic government demolishing the argument used at the time that giving in to Argentina was tantamount to giving in to dictatorship.

They have the active support of almost all South America; a reflection of political change in that continent is the past decade.

They also have the support of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

So why is Britain so keen to hold on to the Islands? Partly it is the legacy of the war thirty years ago. No British government wants to go down in history as the one which surrendered the Falklands; despite evidence that prior to 1982 successive British governments were actively negotiating just that scenario with their Argentinean military friends.

Britain is also strongly supported by the United States in its current stand as part of a wider strategy to contain anti-imperialist sentiment on the continent.

There is also the question of oil. Huge oil reserves have been discovered in the South Atlantic with the Falkland Islands an obvious base of operations. Control of the islands is seen as a key part in control of these resources.

One argument regularly trotted out is that the overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders want to remain British. This is certainly true but has to be put into context.

Most Britons on the Falkland Islands are either guest workers or soldiers with few ties to the islands. The actual number of ‘native’ islanders is tiny and as has been shown elsewhere, were deliberately transported to the island in order that Britain could make this case.

The national aspirations of an entire country cannot be held to ransom in this way. It would be a bit like Argentina occupying the Shetland Islands, removing the British population, transplanting some Argentinean settlers and then declaring that the Shetlands were for all time part of Argentina while eyeing up the North Sea oil reserves.

The movement to restore the Falklands to Argentina is strong and growing and renewed military conflict cannot be ruled out in the future. For the Left the issue should be clear cut. Full support for Argentina’s legitimate demands and an end to British colonialism in the South Atlantic.