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Hotspot - Falkland Islands

Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands JeremyRichards
27 Apr
Klaus Dodds asks what impact recent developments will have on the situation surrounding the Falkland Islands

Recently, the editor informed me that I had written over 100 Hotspot columns, and over the course of the last five years we have ranged widely in terms of issues and places. While I have addressed the impact of austerity in Argentina, the highly disputed Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) has not registered thus far.

In March and April, however, two stories emerged about these islands that make it ripe for coverage. The first involved a parliamentary statement by the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, which outlined the findings of a defence review for the Falkland Islands. Citing the risk of Argentine aggression and noting the ‘potential for development of an oil and gas industry’, as well as noting a post-Afghanistan context, the Islands’ military base would be supported by additional helicopters. The communication facilities and air defence systems stationed at Mount Pleasant Airbase are to be upgraded as well. Overall, £180 million has been earmarked for the modernisation of the British military presence.

The second story involved claims via the former NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden (now exiled in Moscow) that the British government spied on Argentina between 2006–2011 and was intent on infecting Argentine computer systems with viruses and spreading rumour and innuendo in the hoping of discrediting the Argentine government of President Christina Kirchner. At the time of writing, the British government had made no official statement about these allegations but interestingly President Kirchner ordered all the classified Argentine documents relating to the 1982 conflict to be released. She also criticised the British government for allocating further monies to defend the Falklands in the midst of domestic UK austerity.

President Kirchner recognises the more successful the Islands are, the more unlikely the UK government is ever going to negotiate over sovereignty

In the 1970s, Argentina and the UK appeared to be edging closer to a sovereignty deal. Argentina was encouraged to build closer links with the Falklands community but the Argentine invasion in April 1982 shattered that prospect and it was clear that the Falkland Islands community was hostile to such plans. Argentines living on the Islands in the late 1970s and early 1980s were accused of ‘spying’ and aiding and abetting the Argentine military prior to the invasion. Britain was also accused of trying to secretly betray the Falkland Islands community by promoting a sovereignty deal in secret. At some point in time, all the parties concerned have suspected someone else of under-hand activity, however sophisticated or not.

But if spying and ‘dirty tricks’ has a familiar ring to it so does ‘oil and gas’. Successive Argentine governments suspected that the UK dispatched the task force in April 1982 in order to protect its resource interests. Ever since, the prospect of the Falkland Islands becoming a ‘South Atlantic Kuwait’ continues to contribute the ‘nationalistic atmospheres’ surrounding this dispute. Targeting the economy of the Falkland Islands, including oil and gas prospecting, fishing and tourism, is an ongoing Argentine strategy. President Kirchner recognises that the more successful the Islands are, the more unlikely the community (and the UK government) is ever going to negotiate over sovereignty. The 2013 referendum reaffirmed the determination of the vast majority of the Falkland Islanders to support the status quo.

While there has been no major oil strike thus far, the UK and Falkland governments are clearly working hard to garner support in Latin America – with an array of trade missions, diplomatic exchanges, cultural visits and military collaboration. Earlier news that Argentina might lease long-range bombers from Russia in return for beef and wheat reminds one of what former UK Prime Minister James Callaghan used to say about ‘dots on the map’ and their capacity to provoke crisis at a proverbial drop of a hat.

Klaus Dodds is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and author of Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction.

This Hotspot was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine, and featured on the Geocast episode Hotspot: Falkland Islands.

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