World Peace, Oil, and the Falklands

It hardly seems like it can be thirty years since the Falklands War. I was still at school at the time, and I guess that foreign policy and the rights and wrongs of nations were not my strong point. All I knew was that it was scarey, yet morbidly exciting. Thirty years later, with more inclination to understand these things, the conflict, the ongoing war of words and the history of the islands has me puzzled and not a little concerned about human nature.

Having read some of the news articles on the subject (such as BBC’s roundup of the sovereignty debate), read through the entry on Wikipedia (there is no page for the “Malvinas”, it links to the Falklands entry – is nobody in Argentina concerned enough about that to change it?), and done the usual Googling (check out Roberto C Laver’s book via Google books which covers the competing claims well and fairly I believe) I feel I’ve probably got as good as view as anyone on the subject.

The upshot?

I’m flabbergasted. Utterly confused. Why, why, why would anyone really care about ownership of a small island in a remote ocean? It’s not a sun-licked, green, sandy idyll where living is easy. It’s a rough, cold, isolated place which is home to a few thousand people, and therefore treasured by them, but not likely to make your top 100 list of places you’d rather live if your home happens to be elsewhere.

The only people who really ought to care are the islanders. It’s their home, and it was their parents’ home and their parents’ too. People have lived there for 200 years, through several generations. Surely it’s theirs and nobody elses?

The war of words is a great excuse for people to get all jingoistic, fly their national colours and glorify bloodshed in distant lands. Come on lads, you’re the finest of the fine, dressed up in your military regalia, go win these islands for King and Country! But that’s a pretty poor attitude to life in the 21st century. In every war there are losers on all sides. Nobody really wins, even if they come away with the spoils. Isn’t it better to find common ground and live together?

I guess that’s what George Galloway was trying to say on “10 O’Clock Live“. Although what he actually said was that defence of the Falklands costs us a fortune, we should be nice to Argentina and give them the islands and re-locate the islanders to the wilder parts of northern Britain. Yes, that’s actually what he said. But then, George Galloway has always been something of an idiot even if his heart is in the right place.

Reaching agreement with Argentina is important, because we don’t want (another) large group of foreigners hating us. Giving them someone else’s home isn’t an option though. When David Cameron referred to Argentina’s “Colonialism” in the matter, he really got the Argentine’s backs up (so not great diplomacy, though it may help his ratings at home). But he’s not far wide of the mark. The British contention is that the Falklands is governed by and the property of it’s people, and that they should be the ones to determine it’s future. As a British dependency, Britain will defend that right. Argentina’s claim appears to be that that’s all well and good, but the island is theirs and they want it back regardless. Argentinians want to uproot the inhabitants of the islands and install their own people (presumably the Argentinian mainland is surging with people desperate to live on the Falklands) as a new colony. Isn’t that colonialism?

So is it theirs? Nobody knows. It’s been discovered and re-discovered, populated and abandoned many times over the centuries since the 1400’s or 1500’s (nobody can even agree who sighted it first). It was originally given away to Spain, along with most of the Southern hemisphere, by the Pope for God’s sake. Literally for God’s sake. The fact that it was never the Pope’s to give away is the clincher there for me.

Go back 200 years and it is argued that the British forcibly took the islands. But go back 200 years and you can find far bigger sins that have been committed by one country against another and which have been set aside in the spirit of peace.

The only conclusion can be that Argentina wants the islands in order to take ownership of the oil that lies beneath. And frankly, that should not be reason enough. This should be about people, not about oil, money and power.

As I understand it, the people of the Falklands own the oil and will benefit from it. There’s an agreement to share some of the revenue with Britain in return for past, present and future protection. That seems reasonable, but we shouldn’t care. The Falklands are a British dependency and are our responsibility whether they are rich or poor. Personally, I’d be very happy to see the Falkland Islanders share their wealth, should it eventually appear, with Argentina rather than Britain. I suspect Argentina needs it more.

Which brings me to the actual point I wanted to make. Cameron has stated, rightly, that the British government will not negotiate with Argentina over the matter of ownership of the Falklands. The Argentine government, and a large percentage of its people, are up in arms about that. But they shouldn’t be. What Cameron has said is that if Argentina feels so strongly about it, then they’re talking – or trying to talk – to the wrong people.

If Argentina wants the islands, then the Argentinians need to talk to the islanders.

The fact that the islanders overwhelmingly want to remain British is simply a reflection of the fact that Argentina has not played very nicely with them in the past. Things could have been different. I’ve been reading Shackleton’s book “South”, where Argentina is mentioned several times, with fondness I’m sure, as a friendly local nation. In other parts of the world, British outposts located close to friendly local nations have, over time, tended to  become very close to those nations. I’m thinking, from my very limited experience, particularly of the Cayman Islands which feel much more American than British. I’m sure there are better and stronger examples.

Courting friendships takes time, but even previous invasions are forgotten as past sins of dead ancestors. The Argentinian government, if it wants the Falklands, needs to take that on the chin and move on.

So forget the UN, forget UK<>Argentine talks, forget Sean Penn (please). The solution, if one is ever to be found, lies closer to home for the Argentine government.

About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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