The Falkland Islands have again hit the headlines for various reasons. Notably, the recent finding of oil in the waters offshore, the defacto blockade imposed on the Island by Argentina, the imminent arrival of Prince William, and the decision by the Royal Bavy to sent a Type 45 destroyer to the Falklands to replace and existing type 42 in the region. The latter two points have prompted claims by Argentina that the British are militarising the region. Even Sean Penn and Gorgeous George Galloway have been getting involved.
It might for these reasons, be useful for a neutrally minded person like me (Irish and with no allegiance to either Britain nor Argentina) to give my two cents on the issue as we try to cut through the rhetoric from both sides.
First of Are you guys for real? The Falklands are a series of cold, wet, damp, windswept, midge infested bogs in the South Atlantic inhabited by a bunch of Inbreed Insular Sheep Appreciators. The Islands barely qualify as a decent place to pitch a tent. Why either country would want to kick up stink over the Falklands is baffling to me and most other neutral observers.
Secondly, like it or loath it, the overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders consider themselves British. So long as that condition holds, arguing that they should be forced to merge with Argentina unwillingly cuts right against every democratic convention.
Argentina will argue (summary of theyre arguments here) that this democratic principle to self determination does not apply to land where there must be a legitimate relationship between that population and the concerned territory…and what about Argentineans and there connection to the land of Argentina? As I seem to recall the bulk of the population of Argentina are descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors and German war criminals. If the Falkland Islanders should now go home, shouldnt the Argentineans also go back to Europe too?
While Britains claim to an Island 8,000 kms away is indeed dubious at best. The core of the Argentineans claim to the Falklands is something they inherited from their former colonial masters the Spanish after independence. The crux of the Spanish claim being derived from the Popes Line, where back in the bad old days the Conquistadors literally had the pope draw a line down the middle of the world with the Spanish taking one half and the Portuguese the other half.
Indeed I find it depressing that the Argentineans can support such a notion having gone through the struggle for democracy some years ago. Also for shame to the many leftie apologists of the Argentineans (such as Sean Penn) who seem as a knee jerk reaction to believe they have to support Argentina and oppose imperial Britain, even though in this situation it is the Argentinean position that is both undemocratic and colonialist.
As for militarising the Falklands by sending some pampered prince down south, I think we can dismiss that one out of hand for obvious reasons. In any event as I seem to recall the Brits used to have next to no military forces based in the Falklands. The reason why they changed policy was because Argentina invaded the Islands and they are naturally worried about this happening again (fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me). Now if Argentina is uncomfortable with this state of affairs they could easily arrange a withdrawal of British forces by passing a law indicating that they will never resort to the use of force in winning back the Falklands and will restrict such efforts to legal and democratic means. On which point I would note that technically the defacto blockade of the Falklands currently being carried out by the Argentineans could be interpreted as a hostile act if not an act of war under international law.
Cut to the chase Its all about the oil
While both sides will deny it the real reason for this whole dispute has a very simple reason. 3 letter word, starts with O, ends with L and has caused more conflict in human history than Hitler. There are possible deposits of the black stuff (and I dont mean Guinness!) off the coast of the Falklands. I mean seriously, why else do you think the UK government would be sending multi-billion dollar warships down there just to defend a load of sheep farmers?
Unfortunately for both sides this brings up the pesky issue of the International law of the Sea. Convention dictates that an area out to 12 miles from the shore is consider a nations sovereign territory and up to 200 nms out can be considered ones Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) giving access to fishing rights and (crucially in this case) oil drilling rights. This is why both sides are so insistent that the Falklands are theres. I suspect quite a few in Buenos Aires would privately acknowledge that the Falklands are indeed British and quite a few in Whitehall would agree that the British claim to such a vast are of continental shelf 8,000 miles away is sort of taking the piss.
Unfortunately, as Ive noted above, the upshot of this arbitrary EEZ convention is that if one can find a rock sticking out of the sea, even one which every second wave submerges, stick a flag in it, you can now claim about 80,000 square kms of ocean. And there are many cases around the world where this is exactly what some many nations are doing. China is claiming vast areas of the South China Sea by claiming various rocks and boulders that stick out of the ocean as its territory. Britain (again) claims Rockall and thus much of the Rockall deep and Turkey and Greece have nearly gone to war a number of times over similar claims by both sides. The Russians are currently forgoing even the need for a rock sticking out of the water and reckon that just because a particular undersea ridge runs down from the Russian coastline to the North Pole, they can claim a huge chunk of the Artic Ocean and its potential oil reserves.
Clearly as the above examples show, many claims of ocean territory are extremely contentious and the Falklands are clearly one of those. To me the obvious answer is to split the Falklands dispute into two issues claims to the Islands themselves (where clearly the majority of Islanders see themselves as British) and claims to the continental shelf (at least part of which the Argentinas have a valid claim too).
Indeed it would be useful to apply a bit of realism to the situation. Take the oil for example. Now while Id rather they leave it where it is (climate change and all that) lets suppose one or both governments wish to see it exploited. In order to drill an oil field you need a deep water port (to build oil rigs and service ships), tens of thousands of workers with specialist skills (welders, fitters, divers, sailors, etc.), various bits of infrastructure (to support refineries, pipe lines, etc. and the aforementioned port facilities and workers) an international airport nearby and most important of all a market in which to sell the oil too (its always more profitable to pump oil straight to market than ship it around in tankers, the latter being vulnerable to disruption by storms and weather, not to mention at risk from groundings and sinkings). The Falkland Islands have none of the required facilities. Argentina ticks practically all the boxes. For the British to exploit the oil without Argentinean consent they would have to pretty much build everything on the Islands from scratch. And my guess is that such an endeavour would cost too much to make any oil fields in the region economically viable. Plus, not wanting to annoy Argentina, no major oil company will go near such a prospect with the proverbial barge pole, while the current status quo prevails (other than the Chinese or Russians!).
In short one cannot escape the conclusion that the best way to extract any oil from the seas around the Falklands would be to base such extraction efforts out of Argentina and land the oil back in Argentina. Clearly if both sides want to see movement on this issue it means both compromising their views. The Argentineans need to realise that they are the ones acting like a colonialists and the British need to accept that there attempt to claim a sizable chuck of the South Atlantic is little short of claim jumping that would have Pizzaro shaking his head in disgust.
Ultimately, both sides need to realise that the longer they keep up this charade the only winners are environmentalist like me as we can be guaranteed that oil will never be extracted and contribute to climate change!…and the Penguins!