Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Argentina: Renewal of the Falklands Islands claim

Cristina Fernández speaks during national address
Eduardo Di Bala/AP 

Yesterday President Christina Kirchner of Argentina was invited to the United Nations Security Council, where Argentina currently has a two-year term as a non-permanent member and currently presiding as council President.  Somewhat unsurprisingly, President Kirchner used her time to discuss one of her country’s most prominent disputes at this point in time, the issue of the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. This has been in light of yet another refusal by the UK to discuss the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.


When Argentina first renewed debate in late 2011, it was generally assumed that the rhetoric would not continue much past the 30th anniversary of the Falkland’s War, which passed on the 2nd April 2012.  But long after the anniversary’s passing, Argentina’s increasingly strong rhetoric has continued and constantly lobbies the UNSC regarding the Island’s sovereignty. So why has this happened? After all, the only result of the continued rhetoric so far has been increased tension between Argentina and the UK, whose relationship had been on the mend and was previously enjoying increasing economic ties.  

The UK has now limited its economic ties with both Argentina and Mercosur, given that Falkland Islands ships have been denied entry to Mercosur ports. The US has distanced itself, with President Obama failing to correctly distinguish between the Islamic island nation, The Maldives, and the Argentine namesake of the Falkland Islands, “Las Malvinas”. The UK has however been backed heavily by France, as well as both the EU and the Commonwealth of Nations. Considering Britain is arguably experiencing a rejuvenation of national pride, it is unlikely the British public will pressure their government to even consider negotiation. 

In fact quite the opposite has occurred; sentiments against Argentina are on the rise throughout the British press, and negotiating with Argentina may weaken the popularity of the Cameron government significantly. This is particularly the case in the South East of England, where British foreign policy tends to poll higher as an important issue among constituents than in the rest of the country.This is also where the Conservative Party derives much of its support.

Argentina’s aim seems to be to cast the UK in a negative spotlight to the international community and isolate both the UK and the Falkland Islands diplomatically and economically.  Especially with terms such as “colonialism” and “imperialism” being thrown around fairly liberally by Argentine diplomats.  What Argentina can achieve from an international perspective is virtually nil. The UK is unlikely to be intimidated by criticism from Latin America, given that the UK is more than familiar with international criticism as most great powers usually are. The UK’s desire to be viewed as a global power by standing firm far outweighs the economic cost of providing for an economically isolated Falklands. In fact, the Falkland Islands debate seems like an issue that a nation should avoid unless they wish to antagonise two permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UK and France. Unless President Kirchner is extremely deluded with regards to the opinion of the international community and the resolve of the British Government, why does Argentina continue with the rhetoric and talks of isolating Britain diplomatically on the issue?

Internal Issues

When General Galtieri invaded the Falklands in 1982, Argentina was on the brink of a revolt against the military regime, the people having tired of the junta’s oppression and mishandling of the state economy.  The invasion of the Falkland Islands was undertaken by the military as a means to distract the attention of the Argentine populace from the state’s economic problems. National pride has always been fairly vibrant in Argentina and a successful capture of the Falkland Islands would rejuvenate national pride, thereby allowing the military to remain in power though increased confidence from the public. His advisors assured Galtieri that the declining Britain would not bother to defend the islands and would surrender them without fight.  It therefore seemed to be the best chance of preventing an Argentinian revolt and was relatively low risk.  To his surprise however the British Navy responded in full force and retook the Islands in two months, humiliating Argentina both domestically and internationally. With the added failure of a military defeat behind Galtieri, it wasn’t long before Argentina overthrew the military and installed the democratic state we see in the nation today.

The relevance in this historical example is that President Kirchner has been suspected of using the Falkland Islands as a political distraction from Argentina’s economic problems.  It is highly improbable that she would even remotely consider conflict with Britain, unlike Galtieri. But the President may be pressing the Falkland Islands issue as a means to distract Argentina from its very serious internal issues. The Falklands is still an issue that ignites the passions of many nationalists inside Argentina and resonates strongly amongst the working class. The government has also been accused of pressuring the usually independent Argentine media to cover the Falkland Islands dispute frequently, giving validity to the claim above.

So what plagues Argentina that it might be worth keeping away from the headlines and ensuring the populations’ undivided attention?  The economy is first and foremost a problem. Whilst Argentina is a highly developed nation, it routinely suffers from high inflation. Officially inflation is estimated to be around 9% per annum, however it is believed the actual rate of inflation is far closer to 30% and the government has manipulated the statistics. The recent ban on the use of the American dollar in Argentina only highlights the weakness of its domestic currency. 

Corruption is also rampant in Argentina, unusual in the southern states of South America. The state has also actively interfered in business practice on many occasions, often to the detriment of businesses involved after being subjected to high taxation and tariffs. These are just many of the issues that affect Argentina, most of which have intensified under the tenure of Christina Kirchner, but they have been given far less attention since the renewal of the Falklands dispute. This has been especially obvious in the more left-wing populist media of Argentina, whose readership appeals towards the state’s working class population, the ones who are most affected by the state’s economic woes. 

Careful image control

Another argument is that Argentina’s rhetoric towards the Falklands Islands is the result of President Kirchner’s personal political ambitions. President Kircher’s husband, the late ex-President Nestor Kirchner, was a staunch nationalist who desired to integrate the Falklands as part of Argentina. He however, did not pursue the policy so rigorously, prioritising the means to establish Argentina as an independent power that relied less on the US through economic development and pursuing stable relations with the world powers. The USA’s exceptionally close ties to the UK during his presidency (Blair/Bush era) would have made pursuing the claim considerably more difficult. This has resulted in speculation that President Kirchner may be attempting to further her late husband’s legacy by approaching the issue more severely during her own Presidency. 

More likely however, it is to combat current perceptions of her image, both abroad and domestically.  Pursuing a hard line towards the issue has resounded well with her support base in Argentina’s working class and Peronists, thereby improving her image. President Kirchner is known to be very controlling with regards to her own image and appeal. For instance, she often makes speeches with Eva Peron in the background, a highly regarded historical figure in Argentina. This notion of careful image control may not entirely be so farfetched.  One of President Kirchner’s most heavily politicised weaknesses his her foreign policy skills.  She is also purported to be widely disliked by Argentina’s middle classes for her foreign policy conduct.  With the US diplomatic cables release, it was revealed the US State Department showed a similar lack of confidence with her leadership, citing that she lacked any knowledge of foreign policy conduct and ineffectual when it came to diplomacy. By raising the Falkland Islands dispute however, President Kirchner has frequently been at the centre of foreign policy circles and exercising control over one of Argentina’s most historic disputes. The recent dispute has undoubtedly raised her domestic and internationally profile, both positively and negatively.

Whether or not the recent rhetoric resound from Argentina truly is a result of any of the above issues is a matter of debate and speculation. It may simply be Argentina taking advantage of its increasing international influence and the move to more multi-polar international system, one where the US, Britain and France do not dominate so heavily.  Another reason is the suspected presence of crude oil near the Falkland Island shores. One thing is for certain; it is unlikely that much of Argentina’s increasing focus on this issue will yield many actionable results. The dispute is a matter of national pride for Britain and acts as a symbol towards Britain’s belief in self-determination and ability to project power thousands of miles from its shoreline.

By David Alex Stanton 

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