The Falklands: For Argentina the target is not the battlefield, it’s the negotiation table

Foreign Affairs & Security
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Ben Harris-Quinney

Argentina is a nation with renewed economic might, in a Latin America that is finally showing signs of economic and political development that could herald its eventual and long awaited cooption into the developed world. Yet just 300 miles from the Argentine coast lays a reminder that, despite their ascent in the global order, traditionally dominant powers remain ever present.

The rapidly changing power dynamic in Argentina and the wider region means that a once isolated pariah and also-ran of international politics is able to make its first foray into global diplomacy, it should be no surprise that the still bitter issue of the Falklands is among the nation’s first priorities.

It would be quite wrong to assume the recent increase in rhetoric coming from Buenos Aires is simply the result of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict. When significant oil and gas reserves were discovered in the Falklands territory in 2010 Argentina prioritised the issue highly enough to raise it at a meeting with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The result of which was a relative triumph, acknowledging a resurgent Argentina, and a cooling of the special relationship, Clinton categorised the issue as worthy of negotiation, stating in March 2010: “We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way”.

The Argentine’s recent accusation, put forth by their Foreign Minister to the United Nations last week, that the UK is militarising the South Atlantic region underlines both the strategy and objectives of the De Kirchner government regarding the Falkland Islands.There are no indications that the Ministry of Defence is handling deployment in the region in any other context than that of routine. British warships have been deployed to the region consistently, even before the Falklands conflict, and in the context of those deployments there are no signals that there has been anything that could be described as an escalation since the end of the 1982 conflict, indeed any such escalation would be a severe tactical error.

Argentina has no inclination to commit scant military resources in a repeat of the 1982 conflict, which the De Kirchner government strongly condemns as the acts of a totalitarian regime. Their objectives are simple and evident in every manoeuvre they make on the Falklands – to bring the issue to a negation table in an international forum, to challenge the United Kingdom diplomatically, not militarily, with soft, not hard power.Therefore, even the discussion of the issue at the United Nations, and the recent appeal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for calm on both sides, is another small victory in that cause.

The UK is not the power it was in 1982. Our decline militarily, not least because our resources are under the stress of overseas deployment and significant cuts, has been significant. More significant however is the decline of British diplomatic resources and capital. 1982 was for many the zenith of the special relationship, Thatcher and Reagan stood resolutely side by side, and whilst relations between Britain and Europe were never more than cordial, there was at least the recognition of strong alliance in the face of the common Soviet enemy. None of this is now true, and it would be reasonable to assert that there is currently no ally in the world that the United Kingdom can rely on, regional or otherwise.

The success of Argentina in bringing the issue to MERCOSUR and in so doing receiving almost unconditional support and the imposition of sanctions against Falkland Islanders is not insignificant, but De Kirchner knows that to achieve any real change, even to the relatively modest outcome of shared territory, it will require the support of a more significant international body or world power.The position of the United Kingdom remains the same; it is the right of the Islanders, not external international forces, to determine their fate. It is unlikely that the UN, US or EU will counter this claim, but the specific territory, and the oil and gas resources, may be deemed valid grounds for negotiation.

For the Argentine government the Falklands issue is one that is always sure to prompt a rally effect, even among a public disaffected with its government. In the international community the voice of Argentina and chorus of MERCOSUR will soon be impossible to ignore, especially to nations keen to facilitate new trade relationships in a resource rich region with strong economic growth.De Kirchner knows that when a representative from the United Kingdom, under pressure internationally, sits down with an Argentine counterpart to negotiate the issue, regardless of the outcome, Argentina’s long awaited diplomatic victory will be complete.

Read the article at Public Service Europe here.