Could Oil Lead to a New Falklands War Between Britain and Argentina?


The ongoing spat between Argentina and Britain over the sovereignty of Falkland Islands just got a little tenser. Britain seems unwilling to back down from its support of the Falkland Islands’ right to self-determination, making an amicable resolution to the conflict unlikely to come soon or easily. But Britain’s backing of self-determination is not as simple as it seems.

Last month, Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez spurred tension over British rule of the Falkland Islands at a two-day Mercosur summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, accusing the United Kingdom of extracting natural resources belonging to South America and refusing to engage in dialogue with Argentina over its claim to the territory. Without directly calling for Argentinean rule over the islands—known in Argentina as “Las Malvinas” — Fernandez did convince Mercosur countries, including Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela, to ban Falkland ships from docking in their ports.

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This week, after several events that heightened tension between the two countries, British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Argentina of colonialist aspirations and articulated his country’s support of the Islanders’ right to decide their fate. “The key point is we support the Falkland Islanders' right to self-determination,” he said. “What the Argentineans have been saying recently, I would argue is actually far more like colonialism because these people want to remain British and the Argentineans want them to do something else.” Unsurprisingly, Argentina reacted very strongly, calling out the irony of British accusations.

The United Kingdom’s support of self-determination in the Falkland Islands only reveals the state’s interest in retaining British control over the islands’ considerable oil reserves and to deny Argentina any accommodation. By supporting self-determination in the Falkland Islands—which, in fact, does not want to spurn British rule — Britain appears to be abdicating all responsibility for an amicable solution that addresses Argentina’s legitimate claim to the islands’ natural resources. Some suggest that Cameron’s heavy-handedness on the Falklands issue is designed to offset criticism of his administration’s failures at home. His refusal to negotiate and talk to Argentina under UN Resolution 2065 only exacerbates already deteriorating ties.

This is not to say that Argentina’s demands are reasonable. The British, for their part, did try to negotiate with Argentina early on at the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 1947, 1948, and 1955. Argentina, however, refused mediation. Argentina does not recognize the Falkland Islands’ right to self-determination, leaving negotiations without a starting point. And recent finger pointing at Britain’s colonial past begs an examination of Argentina’s own blighted and bloody record of persecuting indigenous minorities.

Britain’s de facto stance of self-determination is not going to resolve this ongoing and tiresome dispute. Both sides must adjust their stances, review their policy goals, and put this conflict to rest once and for all. The first step would be to engage in discussions at the UN, without the name-calling. Britain’s use of the Falkland Islands as a proxy for other national interests is unhelpful and undermines the democratic rights, specifically on security, to which Falkland Islanders’ are entitled irrespective of which citizenship they hold.

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy