Avoiding a Second Falkland Islands Conflict
Last month, Argentina and Great Britain commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Falkland Islands Conflict in which Argentina attempted to take possession of the island about 250 miles off its coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Argentina’s claims for the the Falklands, or the Islas Malvinas as the Argentines call them, go back into the 19th century despite British control of the islands since 1833 (with the exception of the short time Argentina “re-occupied” them before Britain forcibly removed Argentina’s forces from the islands weeks later). Although the Falkland Conflict reestablished British control of the islands, Argentina has continued to fight for them in other ways, such as including the territorial claim for the Malvinas in its reformed constitution in 1994.
Within the past year, the issue has jumped into the spotlight again. In February, British-Argentine relations soured when Argentina claimed Britain had deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to the South Atlantic, a move that would break the Treaty of Tlatelolco which prohibits nuclear weapons in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Britain never formally denied the claim, although it denounced Argentina’s complaint. The next month, Argentines protested against the presence of Britain’s second in line to the crown, Prince Henry, because he was stationed in the Falklands as part of his Air Force training. Then, in April, President Fernández stormed out of last month’s Summit of the Americas because she did not find the support she desired for Argentina’s claim to the islands. The issue again appeared last week when the Argentine government released a controversial advertisement displaying an Argentine athlete training in the Falklands for the Olympic games held in London later this year. The advertisement ends with the words “Para competir en suelo inglés, entrenamos en suelo argentino,” which translates to: “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil.”
Analysts argue over the cause of the increased attention to the Falklands, some claiming the focus is a diversionary tactic to distract the Argentine people from the country’s economic problems, including high inflation and capital flight. While the pursuit of the Malvinas may be a diversion from economic difficulties, the problem remains that the cause is very popular in Argentina. It is clear that the Malvinas are an important part of Argentina’s policy at present, and the fact that claims for the islands have not died down after the first conflict is a witness of its passion for the issue.
Because Argentina has written the claim for the Islas Malvinas into its constitution, the world should not expect this conflict to be resolved easily. The solution will only come when the conflict is resolved peacefully as a military solution seems only to set back Argentina’s claims for the islands. A starting point for a long term solution is a push for an independently administered vote among the people living in the Falklands as to whose sovereignty they desire to fall under. Although Argentina would oppose such a vote because a vast majority of the Falklands’ inhabitants are English-speaking descendants of British settlers, this would allow the people there to determine their government.
Because Argentina is a democracy, should a solution involving democratic principles such as self-determination result, Argentines may have no choice but to accept British control of the islands.The continuing escalation between Britain and Argentina has real potential to result in a second military conflict over possession of the Falklands. To avoid future conflict, the U.S. must pressure Britain to refrain from policies that lead to Argentine escalation. For example, Britain moving a nuclear submarine into the area does not present a friendly message to Argentina, and sending Prince Henry to the Falklands for his military training screams “colonialism” in Argentine ears. The U.S. must also hold Britain responsible for upholding its end of the Treaty of Tlatelolco. However, the U.S. should acknowledge to Britain that if Argentina makes a military move to take the island, Britain is within its rights to use force to protect its territory.
The U.S. must focus its diplomatic and political pressure on Britain as opposed to Argentina, despite Argentina being the more aggressive player. This is in large part due to the fact that the U.S. maintains closer ties to Britain than it does with Argentina. While not supporting the Argentine position concerning the Falklands, pressuring Britain not to pursue policies that would lead to escalation may smooth U.S.-Argentine ties, creating an opening for the U.S. to serve as a mediator should a conflict arise as well as assuaging the colonialist view that many Latin American states hold for the United States. Pushing Britain this way does not hurt the U.S.-Britain relationship and, from Latin American eyes, is one colonial power persuading another not to be so colonial. While this would not completely solve the immediate problem, pushing for democratic solutions and urging British restraint may be the only way to avoid another military conflict which could potentially destabilize the region.