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Falkland Islands Dispute between Britain and Argentina

Morgan Brinlee, February 20, 2012

The approaching anniversary of Argentina and Britain's war over the Falkland Islands has caused longstanding diplomatic tensions to escalate into an increasingly public verbal war, with both nations claiming territorial rights to the islands, their rich fishing resources and potential oil reserves.

 
At a meeting on Feb. 10 with the U.N. secretary general and U.N. Security Council, Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timerman officially lodged protest against what he claimed was Britain's "militarization" of the region. Timerman accused Great Britain of attempting to provoke conflict with the suspected presence of nuclear weapons and the recent deployment of HMS Dauntless, a top-of-the-line warship.
 
Timerman claimed he had reports of a Vanguard-class nuclear submarine patrolling the waters of the South Atlantic, a violation of the Treaty of Tlateloco, which prohibits nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.
 
"The info Argentina has is that there are these nuclear weapons," Timerman said at a press conference following his U.N. meeting. "Thus far the U.K. refuses to say whether it is true or not."
 
The Argentine foreign minister called for a dialogue with Britain on the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands, a name Argentina has given the Falklands. "Give peace a chance," he said.
 
Although Britain refuses to comment on whether a nuclear submarine is in the region, Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's U.N. ambassador, dismissed Argentina's claims that they were militarizing the area as "manifestly absurd" at his own U.N. news conference last week. "Clearly, if there is an attempt to take an advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, we will defend our position and defend it robustly," he said.
 
A spokeswoman for the U.K. foreign officials office told Al Jazeera that Britain would not be negotiating sovereignty of the islands without the inhabitants' consent. "The people of the Falkland Islands are British out of choice. They are free to determine their own future, and there will be no negotiations with Argentina on sovereignty unless the islanders wish it," she said.
 
The islands have been in Britain's hands since 1833 and are home to a population of about 3,000.
 
British officials said the HMS Dauntless was deployed to the Falklands as a routine replacement of an older vessel and is merely one part of Britain's regular military presence in the region. Prince William has also been deployed to the islands as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, an action Argentina claims can be interpreted in no other way than as a threat of militarization.
 
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron charged Argentina of possessing colonialist ambitions towards the Falklands earlier this year.
 
Ironically, Argentina has also accused Britain of attempting to revive colonialism through their foothold in the Falklands, earning the support of American actor Sean Penn. After meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Penn spoke out publicly on behalf of Argentina and attributed Britain as possessing a "ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology."
 
According to a report from the U.N. News Centre, a spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he "expressed concern about the increasingly strong exchange's between Buenos Aires and London on the issue." He called on the two governments to avoid escalating their dispute and to "resolve their differences peacefully and through dialogue." He also offered to help mediate such talks in an effort to keep peace in the region.
 
Longstanding diplomatic quarrel
 
Tensions between Argentina and Britain have been building steadily in the 30 years since Argentina invaded the Falklands on April 2, 1982, beginning a war that lasted 74 days. Although short-lived, the war over the Falklands resulted in the death of 649 Argentine and 255 British troops. After retaking the islands from Argentina, Britain vowed to defend the islands as long as their inhabitants wished to remain a British territory.
 
In 2007 Argentina officially reasserted its claim to the islands after Britain announced their intention of claiming a stretch of seabed surrounding the Falklands to the United Nations.
 
Tensions resurfaced in 2010 when British oil companies began drilling in the area and Argentina, in an attempt to stall progress, decided all ships passing through their waters to the islands would require a permit.
 
With little in the way of military power, Argentina has turned to an aggressive economic strategy as a means of putting the squeeze on Britain and attempting to exert their claim of sovereignty over the islands. In September 2011 Argentina began to talk of banning the weekly commercial flight out of the Falklands from traveling through Argentine airspace. In December feathers were further ruffled when Argentina successfully convinced Mercosur, a South American trading bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, to ban ships flying the Falklands flag from entering their ports.
 
Why the Falklands?
 
What makes the Falkland Islands—a speck of land in the grand scheme of things—worth longstanding diplomatic feuds, and why fan the flames now? Many say it is only the approaching war anniversary that has renewed interest in this old quarrel, while others claim the diplomatic back and forth is merely a political distraction from both nations' recent economic woes.
 
However, recent interest in the region as an oil resource might also be responsible for drawing dispute over territorial claims. In a recent column for the New York Post, Benny Avni reported that initial reports gathered in recent years by British energy companies "indicate that oil reserves [in the Falklands] could amount to 8.3 billion undersea barrels." Avni quoted Britain's U.N. Ambassador Lyall Grant as having said, "It may not be coincidence that this new bout of rhetoric has come about after there was some suggestion that there may be oil and gas reserves in the Falklands."  
 
An island stranded in the middle
 
The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands will be left to face the repercussions of Argentina and Britain's flag-waving taunts and tug-of-war. The small community is already feeling the squeeze with inflated food prices and a growing sense of isolation from its neighbors.
 
Falkland Island newspaper the Penguin News reported that Stanley residents rallied peacefully in support of the policy of self-determination. On Feb. 16 residents created a vehicular parade displaying both British and Falkland Island flags in the presence of foreign press.
 
Argentina's foreign minister has argued that the Falklands should fall naturally under Argentine control due to their location and that the right to self-determination is inapplicable as the island inhabitants are not an indigenous people but of British descent.
 
Roger Spink, president of the Falklands Chamber of Commerce, told BBC News in December, after the Mercosur ban went into affect, that they "felt increasingly under blockade." He added, "If we were Palestine, the European Union would be up in arms."

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