The Falklanders: Masters of their own destiny

Since 1982, the economy of the Falkland Islands has grown steadily. The unemployment rate is a mere 1% and there is a strong sense of community spirit and pride. Plans are underway for the development of an oil industry by 2017, with the potential production of 350 millions of barrels(yearly). There are also plans to boost tourism, enhance local infrastructure and improve public services. The Falklanders are creating a self-sufficient and sustainable economy for the future. The next challenge is to achieve a final solution to the sovereignty question.

When sovereignty over the Falklands is discussed in the press, attention is focused on the rhetoric coming from the British and Argentine governments: ‘Is British commitment wavering?’ Or, ‘Are the Argentines making new threats?’ Yet relatively little interest is taken in what the Falklanders are saying.

 The right to self-determination

The opening session of the UN Fourth Committee on decolonisation was dominated by a verbal assault on Britain by South American countries over the sovereignty issue. The UK was once again called on to enter into dialogue with Argentina. The British representative told the committee that Britain attaches great importance to the principle of self determination and added: ‘There can be no negotiation on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the islanders so wish.’ David Cameron also stated that: ‘When it comes to sovereignty, there will be absolutely no negotiation.’

For Britain to take any other line would be unthinkable. The Falkland Islanders are British citizens and, as such, must be free to enjoy the same liberties that are afforded to people living in the UK. Britain’s relationship with all of its overseas territories is based on partnership and shared values. To sell the islanders out to a populist and increasingly authoritarian regime would be a gross betrayal.

Yet Britain’s support for self-determination was not always so steadfast. Nicholas Ridley, a former minister with responsibility for the Falklands, was sent to the islands in November 1980. His brief was to persuade the people to accept a ‘leaseback.’ Nominal sovereignty was to be given to Argentina, whilst British administration was maintained for a number of years until the final handover. The Falklanders, however, would not accept this. In a similar vein, Britain later proposed sharing sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain. This too was rejected by an overwhelming majority (99%) in the 2002 referendum.

The proposed referendum

The motto of the Falkland Islands is ‘desire the right.’ In relation to the issue of sovereignty, this is rather apt. Dr. Andrea Clausen, a spokesperson for the Falkland Islands Government (FIG), says that: ‘We have chosen to be British and we need people to respect our right to self-determination.’ On 12 June 2012, the FIG announced a referendum on the political status of the islands, to be held in the first half of 2013. This will give the people an opportunity to send a clear message to the international community – that the Islanders alone will decide their destiny.

UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 states that: ‘All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’ The Resolution also states that: ‘All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations…and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity.’ Thus, the outcome of the referendum will be binding on Argentina, and any action to disrupt or ignore the political wishes of the islanders shall contravene international law.

Mateo Estreme, Argentina’s representative to the UN, rubbished the Falklanders’ plan to hold a referendum. He said that: ‘To allow the British population on the islands to become the arbitrator of a dispute to which their own country is a party distorts the principle of self determination. There are no colonised people, merely a colonial situation. In this sense, the announced referendum is an illegal and spurious exercise as it is promoted by the British to ask British citizens if they want to continue to be British.’

However, labelling the Falkland Islanders ‘British colonists’ is disingenuous at best. A significant proportion of the population can trace their Falkland ancestry back six generations or more. The Falklanders feel distinctly different from their fellow citizens who reside in the UK. As FIG councillor Mike Summers stated: ‘We are as much a people as those in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile and many other South American countries whose inhabitants are of principally European, Indigenous or African descent.’

It is the duty of the British government to ensure that its citizens, no matter how far away, are able to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms. Indeed, that is surely what the 1982 conflict was all about. The 2013 referendum will announce to the world that the Falklanders are masters of their own destiny.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Tom
    The French did indeed supply the AM39 Exocets used by the Argentine Etendards. The Super Etendards were also French. However they were supplied before the war, along with 2 Type 42 destroyers from Great Britain, Roland missiles from France & Germany, Agusta 109s from Italy and IAI Daggers from Israel. Most of the bombs that destroyed British ships were purchased in Britain. Armament sales come from all countries, it is a worldwide trade which means that sometimes, you may be fighting someone who is armed with the same weapons bought from an arms supplier in your own country.

    To be fair, the French helped the UK a great deal by locating all AM39s elsewhere in the world and assisted us by preventing these from being transferred to Argentina. They also provided information to the UK on the capabilities of the equipment they sold.

    Unknown to the French, some engineers from Aerospatiale who were told by the France Government not to assist the Argentines, helped them solve an electronics problem with the AM39. If they had not, HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor would not have been sunk.

    • You have obviously researched this far more than I and have much more knowledge on the subject. It is just that I remember reading at the time of the war that France was sending replacement weapons perhaps this turned out not to be true.

      • Thanks Tom. The French Government embargoed Argentina from any arms purchases & were very helpful to the UK during the Falklands War. Indeed, the French are one of our true allies over the sovereignty dispute, because they also have Overseas Territories which want to remain part of France, but are under attack by the C24 committee on de-colonisation at the United Nations.

        It could be that if Argentina did attack again, before our new super carriers are ready and the Americans refused to assist, the UK might just swing a deal with the French for use of their carriers, in return for a contract to buy French aircraft to equip our carriers when they are ready. Although the present government decided to purchase the F35B against the advice of the Royal Navy & Falklands veterans, the super carriers could be modified to fly fixed wing.

  2. Interesting article, thank you. However, I feel you may have glossed over the significance of the development of the oil industry and how this would guarantee the Falkland Islands rights to self determination.

    A number of large American companies are heavily investing in Falklands oil exploration. This is partially down to the US Government’s geo-political drive to become independent of oil supplies from the unstable Middle-East. Even without the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, it is easy to see that tension over Iran could develop into a full blown war, with resultant reduction in oil supply. This is why the United States under the Obama administration has been actively seeking stable and friendly producers closer to home.

    The Falkland Islands represents an almost perfect partner. Not only English-speaking, but politically stable, US-friendly & positive financial incentives as well. The same could not be said if the Falklands were ever to come under Argentine administration. Not only is CFK in the pocket of the US-hating Chavez, but her record regarding the rape of YPF from the ownership of Repsol indicates that Argentina cannot be trusted to pay their debts, let alone maintain the American interests in oil fields.

    The United States Government has a duty to protect US strategic interests. Not just the money invested by US firms, but also the continued supply of oil. The US is still the world’s biggest consumer of petroleum. Up until now, it has been the duty of the British Government to protect the Falkland Islanders from invasion by Argentina. As Falkland Islands oil production increases, it will become more important for the US forces to share the protection of these vital assets.

    It is true to say that the United States has long played a hand in the history of the Falkland Islands. It was the costs associated with various wars, including the American War of Independence that forced the British Government to redeploy the initial settlement at Port Egmont on West Falkland. The Spanish like to believe that the British withdrew by agreement after the Falklands Crisis of 1770-1, but this was only discussed, never formalised in any treaty.

    Subsequently, American whalers & sealers continued to visit the Islands and as a result of the Lexington Raid, the British were compelled to re-establish the sovereignty held from 1765 or 1690, depending on your point of view. The Lexington Raid has several parallels with today’s situation, in that the United States, to protect the interests of their citizens, were forced to intervene over disputed territory. The ‘Argentine’ colony (the Argentine Republic did not exist as a country until 1860 and was at that point the United Provinces of the River Plate) was a business venture by Louis Vernet, a German born, Frenchman, who assumed first US nationality and then Argentine. To protect his business from predation by the Argentine dictatorship, he sought British permission to be on the Falklands and readily accepted that the Islands were indeed sovereign British territory. Ironically, it is through Vernet’s colony that Argentina bases much of their claim to the islands, even though Vernet considered them British.

    It was Vernet’s greed that led to his piracy on US whalers & that piracy forced the US Navy to intervene. The British were then compelled to act for fear that the US would establish sovereignty and they asked the recently arrived Argentine garrison to leave the Islands, whilst Vernet’s business was allowed to continue. The Argentine Government frequently claims that the British expelled all Argentines in 1833, but this is not true. More than half the population that remained under British control was Argentine and more Argentines left after the Lexington Raid than in 1833.

    Subsequent to the raid of USS Lexington, Argentina made a formal protest and tried to claim restitution for the destruction of their colony. However, the United States has refused these claims ever since. If the US were ever to support Argentine sovereignty over the Islands, they would be incurring liability for a (by now) massive compensation claim.

    During the Falklands War of 1982, the United States provided armaments to their NATO partner to assist in the liberation. US support even extended to discussions about lending an aircraft carrier should the British need one.

    If the estimates of oil reserves are true, then it will be increasingly important for the United States to guard the Islands against any aggression. It could be very much in the interests of the Falkland Islanders to declare formal independence from Britain, but maintain dual-nationality under the joint protection of the United States and United Kingdom. This would guarantee a prosperous future for the Falkland Islanders, as well as preserve the natural beauty of the islands.

  3. Thanks Tom. I do agree with you – it is certainly possibly that a future British government will try to sell the Falklanders out. History has taught us as much…

  4. Andrew, Brillian Piece, We need the current british government to pass legislation now, before their is another general election, guaranteeing the rights of all british colonies and protectrates the right to self determination as and when they feel ready, so that no shody deals can be done in the future. They can still sign up for our protection if they wish to do so.

  5. It’s amazing how the Falkland Islanders’ self-determination is ‘paramount’ (to use a very popular word from 1982), while the only freedoms the people of actual Britain have been allowed is to vote in a different traitor ever 4 or 5 years to deny us of our self-determination.

  6. The Argentine claim over the Falklands is based, to a large extent, on geographical proximity. But, if we were to apply that logic to North America, Canada should have sovereignty over Alaska. Of course, Argentina is interested not in the islands themselves (and certainly not in the islanders), but in the potential oil resources.

    The irony is that Argentina pushes the Falklands toward Britain every time it notches up the rhetoric. If a different approach was taken – and if the 1982 conflict had not occurred – I believe the Falklands handover may well have occurred during the time when Hong Kong was handed back to China. As I mention in the article, plans were underway for ‘leaseback’ prior to 1982.

  7. I’ve been a huge fan of the Islands even since before the invasion in 1982. The final solution to the sovereignty question (other than telling the Argies where to go) could be to allow a million or two UK citizens to live there. There’s plenty of room. I would rather it was left as it is, but perhaps that’s selfishness when the land could provide for so many families.

    Some years ago, the Argies flew a pregnant woman to Antarctica in an attempt to claim it for themselves (or at least the segment they dispute with the UK and Chile), so by their own standards, the 2,000 or so Falkland Islanders (excl. forces) with a couple of centuries of settlement history behind them should settle the sovereignty question.

  8. “However, labelling the Falkland Islanders ‘British colonists’ is disingenuous at best. A significant proportion of the population can trace their Falkland ancestry back six generations or more.”

    While I generally agree with you on your message that it’s the islanders’ who should decide, it’s still technically a “colonial project” as that’s the context in which it was set up, and of course the descendants of those British colonists will ‘feel British’.

    Europeans stayed in colonial territories across the world for generations, but they were still colonists and had to leave when independence came round due to their association and privileges over the native population.

    But anyway, this isn’t Israel/Palestine. There wasn’t a native population who were displaced. And while southern European colonists tended to mix more with the locals than the northern Europeans, there’s still a racial hierarchy even now in Argentina which the whiter Spanish descendents don’t like to acknowledge.

    I hope there’s not another war. It doesn’t do anyone any good!

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