UK/Argentina: An Exchange of Words

It probably was to be expected that this year’s anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April would see some increase in Argentine rhetoric, given that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will step down in the Argentine elections at the end of the year.

Mrs de Kirchner used her speech at Ushuaia to claim that Argentina represented no military threat to the Falklands, repeating her accusation that the UK was increasing the militarisation of the Islands unnecessarily. Yet a careful analysis of the UK Defence Secretary’s recent parliamentary announcement – see entry below – shows that there are no troop reinforcements as such, merely some long overdue infrastructure modernisation and the return of two Chinook helicopters from redeployment in Afghanistan and the replacement of the Rapier air defence system when it goes out of service in a few years’ time. It is disingenuous for Mrs de Kirchner to suggest that Argentina represents no threat when it invaded in 1982 and seeks now to put diplomatic and economic pressure on the Islands whenever it can. The UK’s military posture in the Falklands is the minimum necessary to deter any future Argentine military intervention.

The Argentine President also called the announcement of another oil discovery in the Falklands’ northern basin - see entry below - as a ‘provocation’. Charges have now been laid in Buenos Aires against the oil companies concerned for acting without an Argentine licence. The FCO has summoned the Argentine Ambassador, Ms Alicia Castro, to reassert that Argentine law does not apply to the Falkland Islands and that it is for the Islanders to develop the natural resources of the Islands as they see fit.

Revelations by Edward Snowden, the former US NSA operative currently in exile in Moscow, that the UK may have spied on Argentina to monitor its efforts to achieve sovereignty over the Falkland Islands have also sparked a diplomatic protest from Argentina. The UK Ambassador in Buenos Aires, John Freeman, was summoned to explain by the Argentine Deputy Foreign Minister. The Argentines must be naïve to cry foul when they are so blatantly hostile to the Falkland Islanders’ wish to remain British to the point of attempting to prevent legitimate trade and other communications with the Islands.

Undoubtedly, the Argentine President will use the annual Summit of the Americas, currently underway in Panama City, to call for dialogue. But for President Kirchner dialogue is merely the ‘path to reunion and sovereignty’. The Argentine Government gives no credence to the legitimate and democratic expression of self-determination by the Falkland Islanders. The UK Government rightly defends them and must retain a capability locally to do so.