Obama administration not neutral on Falkland Islands

Far from remaining neutral, under Obama’s leadership the U.S. has started backing Argentina’s calls for Falklands talks

Luke Coffey
On 13 March 2013 17:55

Dr. James Boys writes in his latest article “Explaining America’s stance on the Falklands” that there is no difference between the position of President Obama and his predecessors regarding the Falkland Islands. His argument is backed up by two main claims. First, that America, under President Obama’s leadership, is indeed a neutral actor in the dispute. Secondly, that U.S. policy on the Falkland Islands can be explained by the Monroe Doctrine. Both points are simply incorrect.

Thanks to multiple statements made by senior officials in the Obama Administration calling for talks and negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom the U.S. has abandoned its long held position of neutrality in the dispute over the Falkland Islands. Negotiations over the status of the Falkland Islands is the official Argentine position. Instead of keeping quiet (neutral), under Obama’s leadership the U.S. has started backing Argentina’s calls for talks.

This was not a simple slip of the tongue. Calls from the Obama Administration for talks and negotiations are well documented and some can be found here, here, here , here and my favorite instance here.

As a recent report on the Falkland Islands from the Washington-based Heritage Foundation stated:

“Over the past three years, the U.S. has repeatedly called on Argentina and Britain to negotiate the status of the Falkland Islands…This is not the same as taking no position on the dispute. Under the guise of neutrality, the U.S. echoed Argentina’s position.”

Dr. Boys goes on to argue that many have been wrongly criticizing the Obama Administration’s policy on the Falklands due to “ignorance about the manner in which nations adopt stances on the international stage coupled with a flawed appreciation of history and geography.” To back this argument, Dr Boys cites the Monroe Doctrine. However, his comments about the Monroe Doctrine are misleading, if not incorrect.

Often, defenders of the U.S. position on the Falkland Islands incorrectly refer to the Monroe Doctrine to justify America’s neutrality. Even if President Obama was neutral (which as stated above he clearly is not) the source of American neutrality on the Falklands issue could not be traced back to the Monroe Doctrine.

When President Monroe delivered his speech to congress, which later became known as the Monroe Doctrine, he made it clear that the United States would not interfere with existing colonies or dependencies of any European power in the New World:

“We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere.”

The last sentence is the most important. The speech was delivered in 1823 and the original British claim to the Islands dates back to 1765 (and was reaffirmed again before 1823 in 1771 and 1774). Therefore, the British had already declared sovereignty over the Falkland Islands by the time of President Monroe’s speech. Consequently, the Monroe Doctrine, as outlined to Congress by President Monroe, would not have been applicable to the Falkland Islands. 

The U.S. frequently takes no position on territorial disputes, apart from stating that they should be resolved peacefully and without coercion, intimidation, threats, or the use of force. Argentina has clearly failed to live up to that standard: It used force in 1982 and is currently waging a campaign of coercion, intimidation, and threats.

By failing to back the right of self-determination the Obama Administration has strayed U.S. policy away from one of its founding principles. By backing Argentine calls for a negotiated settlement the administration has abandoned its neutral position.  Instead of making excuses for the administration we should be pointing this out. 

The issue is not about who owns a bunch of rocks and islands in the South Atlantic – it is about the rights of the people living there to choose their own future. If President Obama cannot back this fundamental right then his administration has some soul searching to do. 

Luke Coffey is the Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and previously served as a Special Adviser in the Ministry of Defence

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