Argentina’s twisted sense of humour over the Falklands
Argentina may be a democracy, but it is behaving like a country with a twisted sense of humour when it comes to its own record over the Falkland Islands, whose security cannot be left to trust
Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner must have a unique sense of humour in complaining to the United Nations over the UK’s presence in the Falklands and the ‘militarisation’ of the South Atlantic. As anyone with any the most basic understanding of the situation would know, the reason for the UK’s current level of military presence in the South Atlantic is that Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, and has continued to maintain its claim to the islands ever since.
It takes a lot of brass neck to complain to the UN about a country after invading it - in an unprovoked attack and against the wishes of the population – and losing. Perhaps next Iraq should complain to the UN about Kuwait?
The UN should of course give Argentina short shrift due to Article 1 of the UN Charter, which highlights the principle of self-determination. But Argentina is not without a chorus of support. Unsurprisingly, Hugo Chavez offered Argentina military backing, declaring: "I'm speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won't be alone this time." Cuba's Fidel Castro chipped in with a joke, saying: "Somewhere is the English ship sailing to the Falklands but the English only have one little boat left." Rafael Correa of Ecuador got more serious, adding: "We have to talk about sanctions."
Of course, this week, Fernandez de Kirchner received additional support from the actor Sean Penn, who accused Britain of "ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology," and called on the UK to negotiate over "the Malvinas Islands of Argentina," – which sounds like it would be a rather one-sided negotiation.
Clearly, it is in fact Argentina’s approach, claiming sovereignty over the Falklands against the wishes of the population based on its brief control of the islands in the 1830s, which is “ludicrous and archaic”. Sean Penn’s argument is about as logical as arguing that the United States should give Puerto Rico back to Spain or California back to Mexico, or just hand itself back to Britain.
As for the ‘militarisation’ of the South Atlantic, all that the UK has done is replace one Royal Navy ship with another: HMS Dauntless.
Sending one of the Navy’s most modern warships is hardly unreasonable when Argentina’s behaviour is considered: the on-going claim to the Falklands, the refusal to recognise the rights of the Islands’ population, the claim that British sovereignty is an ‘illegitimate occupation’, the attempt to economically blockade and isolate the Islands, the Argentine demonisation of the British as ‘pirates’ and of Prince William as a ‘conquistador’. This is hardly the behaviour of a peaceful neighbour and can hardly be the basis for the ‘negotiation’ Argentina says it wants, even if there was anything to negotiate – which there isn’t.
Aside from which, how the UK deploys its military resources in defence of its own sovereign territory is none of Argentina’s business.
Argentina’s attempt to portray the UK as the aggressor is laughable, as is the attempt by Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman to escalate the dispute by accusing the UK of deploying nuclear weapons near the Falkland Islands. How he could know this is a mystery, since - as the UK’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant pointed out - the location of the UK's nuclear deterrent submarines is a closely guarded secret that he certainly was not privy to.
Prince William’s presence on the Falklands has also upset Argentina and its supporters, with Sean Penn complaining: “It's unthinkable that the United Kingdom can make a conscious decision to deploy a prince within the military to the Malvinas.” An RAF pilot being deployed as a search and rescue pilot in his own country is hardly unthinkable. It should be a matter of pride that royal princes are deployed in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in defence of their nation.
Sean Penn also complained, "My oh my, aren't people sensitive to the world colonialism, particularly those who implement colonialism”, seemingly oblivious to the irony that it is Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands in direct contradiction of the wishes of the Islanders, and its desire to win the Islands back through bullying, which is entirely colonialist.
Similarly, the small number of unsavoury commentators in the UK who believe that the Falklands are an inconvenient ‘colonial hangover’ and that we should 'negotiate' a transfer of sovereignty or 'leaseback' arrangement to appease Argentina, fail to recognise that handing over a population and bargaining away their homeland for the sake of cost or diplomatic advantage would be the most contemptible form of colonialism, and utterly unacceptable in the modern world. That would be the case even were it not for the fact that 258 Britons died liberating the Falklands after the Argentine invasion thirty years ago.
Both the Government and Opposition in the UK are entirely right to remain firm in their determination to defend the Falkland Islands and the rights of the Islanders. It is encouraging that HMS Dauntless has been deployed to the area and that the National Security Council has had detailed discussions on the security of the Falkland Islands, which is more reassuring than some of the complacent arguments shortly after the Strategic Defence and Security Review that Argentina was now a democracy so we no longer needed to worry about any possible attack.
Argentina may be a democracy, but it is behaving like a country with a twisted sense of humour when it comes to its own record over the Falkland Islands, whose security cannot be left to trust.
Peter Cannon is a Research Associate at the Henry Jackson Society
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