Obama disappoints on the Falkland Islands

The Obama Administration needs to make it crystal clear that it backs the United Kingdom over Argentina regarding the status of the Falklands. The sooner it does this, the better

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Neutrality over the Falklands still wouldn't be enough
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Luke Coffey
On 20 March 2012 12:52

This week in 1982, Argentine forces were probably preparing their equipment and checking plans ahead of their invasion of the Falkland Islands, to happen a couple of weeks later. Thirty years on, even after heaping cringe-worthy amounts of lavish praise on the Obama Administration during his recent visit, British Prime Minister David Cameron is still no closer to receiving explicit American support for British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. This is a shameful disregard of the Special Relationship.

The Special Relationship is not about basketball gamesbarbequesstate dinners, or as one U.K. paper curiously described, “bromance.” The Special Relationship, as described by Winston Churchill in his famous Iron Curtain Speech, is first and foremost built on military cooperation, defense and security issues, and hardheaded geopolitical concerns of the U.S. and the U.K.

The fact that President Obama could not bring himself, or his State Department for that matter, to publicly support and acknowledge Britain’s control over the Falkland Islands is, at best, embarrassing for Cameron and at worst, dangerous for the Special Relationship. Especially when the subject of the Falkland Islands is so important to the U.K.

However, Cameron is at fault as well. He should have ensured that the issue of the Falklands was raised publicly so there would be no doubt in the minds of the British, the Argentines, and the Falklanders about where America stands on the issue.

Surprisingly, at the very end of an article on David Cameron’s visit, The New York Times reports:

“On Wednesday, Mr. Obama offered Mr. Cameron some comfort. The United States, he said, would stop prodding Britain and Argentina to talk to each other, but stick to its historic position of neutrality.”

There are two problems here.

First, there is no direct quote from President Obama, the White House, or the State Department. There is no source for these unattributed comments. This is important, because if what The New York Times reported is actually true, then this would mean a reversal of the Obama Administration’s policy on backing U.N. mediation over the status of the Islands.

Secondly, even if the Times report was true, “neutrality” is still not good enough. America should fully back Britain in its claim on the Falkland Islands. The British people should not accept America’s neutrality on the issue but should demand America’s support.

The strongest argument the United Kingdom has for its claim on the Falkland Islands is the inhabitants’ right to self-determination—a principle on which America was founded and in which most Americans believe.

The 3,000 residents of the Falklands overwhelmingly want to be British and not Argentine. Linguistically, culturally, and historically, nobody can deny that they are British. The right to self-determination is guaranteed by the United Nations Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—and Argentina is a signatory to both.

Once again, President Obama has shown how little he cares about the Special Relationship. No number of flights on Air Force One, state dinners stuffed with wealthy political donors, or basketball games in swing states can change this fact.

As previous analysis from The Heritage Foundation has pointed out:

“The Special Relationship is vital to the interests of both the United States and Great Britain, and its preservation is of paramount importance to the defense of freedom and liberty across the world. It is time for Washington to recognize and support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and stand by America’s closest ally, not least at a time when nearly 10,000 British troops are standing shoulder to shoulder with their U.S. allies on the battlefields of Afghanistan.”

An unattributed overture of American neutrality in The New York Times hardly amounts to the policy statement Britain deserves. The Obama Administration needs to make it crystal clear that it backs the United Kingdom over Argentina regarding the status of the Falklands. The sooner it does this, the better.

Luke Coffey is the Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and previously served as a Special Adviser in the Ministry of Defence. This article was originally published on The Foundry and has been used here with the author's permission

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