If you relied on our mass media for information you might imagine that Britain’s position on the Falkland Islands is an open and shut case, and that only some sort of rogue state could take a contrary view. So, I admire the Daily Telegraph for giving space to Argentina’s London ambassador. On 20th April Alicia Castro wrote under the headline ‘Warmongering won’t settle this old dispute’ that the sovereignty issue over the Malvinas is 179 years old.
In 1833, apparently, Britain invaded the islands which, until then, ‘had been ruled by 32 Spanish governors’ and then by Argentina, after that nation gained independence. On taking the Malvinas by force we expelled the Argentine authorities and population, implanted our own people, then strictly controlled immigration. Between 1965 and 1982 we discussed several options regarding sovereignty and agreed significant measures which improved the islanders’ lives. Subsequently the UN and other international organisations have urged both sides to continue the search for a negotiated solution.
Now, I can’t judge the accuracy of the Ambassador’s account, and I don’t know what answers Britain’s representatives give to those points, but I do know that I’d like to have heard both sides of the argument before our young men were sent to kill and be killed in the South Atlantic. And I clearly recall our government declaring that the possibility of oil exploration in that area had nothing to do with our determination to hold on to the Malvinas – a claim which sounds ever more dubious.
Yes, I do know that the invasion by Argentine forces in 1982 was unpardonable. The Ambassador recognises it as a military junta’s attempt to improve its domestic image and remain in power – she describes the subsequent war as ‘stupid and cruel’. However, there is an argument that when negotiations break down due to the intransigence of one party, military action may be justified. I didn’t support that argument when Argentina invaded the Malvinas any more than when the USA and Britain invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
It will be difficult to re-open negotiations with Argentina, given the sacrifices made by our armed forces, but it seems shameful that Britain is wasting an opportunity to give the world a lead by showing that disputes can be resolved by peaceful means. I suspect that Falkland Islanders will find that they can reach a beneficial accommodation with their neighbours, once it becomes clear that they can’t have an indefinite veto over British government policy. Sadly, it seems likely that our intransigence will be bolstered in the short-term, as a result of Argentina’s disputed takeover of a Spanish oil company. How ironic that we might be standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Spain, notwithstanding the small matter of Gibraltar.