By Andrés Cisneros for the Herald
Peter Pepper and Graham Pascoe, who have spent years writing profusely on the issue, have just written a new article seeking to enlighten us on Malvinas rights.
Their bid, although unsuccessful in my opinion, deserves praise since on the Argentine side we have always sought to open discussions on a legal basis while every British government without exception has spurned any interest in such an exercise although the more enlightened leaders in both countries have sought to bring the two sides closer together through other channels.
The two scholars duly reproach the 1982 war, but we Argentines have long offered self-criticism for those errors as well as placing those responsible on trial, something Britain has never done with its countless invasions across the globe, including two launched against Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807.
In any case, history here does not begin in 1982 but in the 19th century when London abused force by invading the islands and threatening with a display of weaponry all the Argentine inhabitants of the islands, women and children included, who were peacefully continuing a Spanish occupation dating back decades.
Violence must be condemned throughout any process, not just in a selective manner.
According to the well-known Pepper-Pascoe vision, presented in the past, this compulsion never existed; their preferred verb is “persuaded to accept.”
And everybody knows that nothing is more persuasive than the mouth of a cannon.
If anybody wants to talk about violence, it is worth recalling that of the two countries involved in this dispute, it was not precisely Argentina which has been violently subduing half the planet over four centuries in order to avail itself of the lands and resources.
Persuading them, presumably.
The history of every American people has been a struggle to acquire identities and territories different from the colonial metropolis without ceasing to acknowledge the valuable contribution of their institutions and cultures.
Thus we have no pending problems with our Spanish colonial metropolis nor any sovereignty conflicts.
But we do have the latter with another imperial metropolis which was never ours but which stripped us of territory by force in 1833, when we were already independent from Spain and when Britain maintained with us the consular and commercial relations corresponding to two civilized countries belonging to the same international system of Western culture, at that time headed by Britain whose position should have inclined her to lead by example.
It is true that we are talking about events at a time when the abuse of force was less criticized than now but the consequences of these actions continue centuries later and their rigid perpetuation should give way to some form of compensation between the two sides.
That is why one of the main objectives accompanying the creation of the United Nations was the decolonialization of all territories obtained by the abuse of force, including the Malvinas.
In 1945, the lion’s share of the territories designated as colonial by the UN belonged to Britain.
When the two British authors point out that the inclusion of our sovereignty claim in the Argentine Constitution implies a breach of our commitment to the UN not to add any new elements to the dispute, they forget to mention that London has done so in its favour in every attempt at constitutional treaty of the European Union, including the existing Treaty of Lisbon. Mote and beam.
Furthermore, there is a difference between allegedly breaching a commitment not to add new elements to a dispute via amending one’s own Constitution (!?), a sovereign act purely verbal in nature, and claiming to drill all the oil in an area of disputed sovereignty.
That’s what I’d call a “unilateral fact” — an expropriation which materially violates the mandate of the United Nations not to alter the status quo.
The Parthenon friezes or the Rosetta stone (among many other spoils) might some day be returned but non-renewable resources are a very different matter. Those who do that deserve some very specific names.
Any specialized lawyer could respond to the casuistry in the Pepper-Pascoe article, the rights and the wrongs, the mistakes on both sides, and the exercise could be stretched out ad infinitum in an interminable sequence of arguments which would muddle everything except the core issue — two friendly countries both consider themselves sovereign in the same territory and one of them refuses to discuss this issue on the basis of law, the cornerstone of co-existence between civilized nations and a commitment formally assumed in the UN Charter, so frequently cited by the article to which we are replying.
Everything else is sound and fury.
If it were to be pointed out that one of these two countries, precisely the one occupying this territory, is far more powerful than the other, a founding member of NATO and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, this argument might be branded suspect. But it is a suspicion which, for whatever reason, is shared by the immense majority of world public opinion. And not just where the Malvinas are concerned.
We are not merely talking about the British government stance over the last 178 years. No British university, think tank or specialist has ever accepted the democratic exercise of an academic debate with their Argentine counterparts over Malvinas rights. While we’re at it, we could submit this idea to Messrs. Pepper and Pascoe but it is by no means certain that they would accept.
As British Prime Minister (1828-30), the Duke of Wellington considered that “we have never held any sovereignty over those islands” and the official British historian of the Malvinas conflict, Sir Lawrence Freedman, explicitly warns: “It has always been difficult to escape completely from the fact that the weakness of the British claim prior to taking the islands in 1833 continues to be weak after 1833. At the very least Argentine claims should trigger doubts.”
He then goes on to say: “The basic British problem has nothing to do with the legitimacy of its title deeds but with doubts concerning the convenience of retaining overseas possessions.”
And at the very beginning of the text of Britain’s official history, page three admits: “What has always been the case with the Falklands is that the law has mattered far less than power and determination when it comes to deciding property rights.”
A great English statesman expressed the same philosophy which is totally applicable to the Malvinas — Winston Churchill affirmed that “the law without any power to support it is like a symphonic orchestra without instruments.”
Life can be cruel and the world is still run much less by the rule of law than by the force of arms. The Malvinas do not escape this obvious truth.
Britain remains there because it has might rather than right on its side and, without resigning ourselves, we Argentines know very well that that’s the way it is.
It is just that when the other side which can only argue force presumes to lecture us on law, seeking to cover up legally what is only based on raw power, the temptation to give a rude answer becomes almost irresistible.
But that’s exactly what Messrs. Pepper and Pascoe do when they wind up their article as follows: “It’s clear that Argentine unilateral actions and mind-boggling hypocrisy are the real problem here rather than any wrongdoing by Britain.”
Note that they are not alluding to the conduct of any specific government(s) but directly calling the entire Argentine claim hypocrisy. On the basis of the arguments presented by these two upstanding subjects of the Crown, it becomes impossible not to think that this insulting generalization might not be ironically referring to themselves.
The Malvinas conflict can be resolved some day, the work of British and Argentine negotiators who work out a peaceful agreement, honourable for both sides.
The terms and conditions of this arrangement still remain in the terrain of the hypothetical but arguments such as those we are refuting here at least allow us to identify what will not work, taking note of a way of thinking which will surely not form part of that solution.
Ambassador Andrés Cisneros was deputy foreign minister during the Menem administration.