Sunday, 27 May 2012

Who do the Falkland Islands belong to?

by Ross Watkins

British soldiers in the Falklands, 1982
(image source: Daily Mail)
Recently, tensions between the UK and Argentina have risen over the small islands in the Southern Atlantic Ocean off Argentina’s East coast called the Falklands Islands. 30 years ago, in 1982, Argentina decided to invade them because its military government (or "junta") desperately needed public support and they thought that restaking their claim to the islands would be a means to achieve this. They optimistically thought that Britain would let the islands go. With the British Empire gone, defence cuts on the horizon and the islands being 7,877 miles away, there was seemingly nothing to gain by Britain keeping them. What Argentina didn’t foresee was the strong will of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who sent a task force of ships and troops to retake the Falklands. In the ensuing conflict, Britain won control of the islands with a loss of 258 men and a number of vessels, while Argentina lost 649 men and was forced to sue for peace.

Cristina Kirchner
(image source:
The dispute over control of the islands has continued since the Falklands War; Argentina is no longer a military dictatorship but a democratic state. Argentina has added its claim to the islands to the Argentine constitution and successive Argentine governments have stated their intention to pursue their claim by peaceful means. When President Cristina Kirchner was campaigning for president of Argentina, she regarded the islands as a top priority, taking actions such as banning flights to the Falklands through Argentine airspace. Confrontation seemed inevitable.

Cristina Kirchner and Gordon Brown
(image source: Daily Mail)

In 2007, 25 years after the Falklands War, Argentina reasserted its claim over the Falkland Islands by asking for the UK to resume talks on sovereignty. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated in a meeting with President Kirchner that there would be no talks over the future sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. As far as the governments of the UK and of the Falkland Islands are concerned, there is no issue to resolve. The Falkland islanders consider themselves entirely British and have no wish for a change of sovereignty.
In 2010, the Argentine government announced that ships travelling in Argentine territorial waters en-route to the Falklands would require a permit, as part of a dispute over British oil exploration near the Falklands. The British and Falkland governments stated that Falklands-controlled waters were unaffected. These arguments over oil exploration have escalated recently. The predicted oil reserves around the Falklands could result in potential revenues in the billions of pounds. The Argentine government claim the oil exploration by British companies around the island is illegal and that they may take legal action against the companies looking for oil. The British government has replied by saying that the Argentine government are illegally intimidating these companies. Whatever happens, the dispute over the sovereignty and natural resources will probably continue for many years. At the moment, though, the Falkland islanders want to remain British, and they should have the democratic right to do so.

Oil rights in and around the Falkland Islands
(image source:

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