By Fernando Petrella (*) - The following article by an Argentine former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs was published as a column in the Buenos Aires media. The following reproduction in English is not necessarily literal but tries keep to its spirit as much as possible.
An efficient diplomacy must interpret the messages which the international system transmits and adapt them to its possibilities so that it can boost its interests in a sustainable way. Locking in and speculating politically with positions of ‘principles’ weakens those same arguments and on taking distance from reality, leads the most just causes to failure.
Documents recently declassified by the foreign Office on the Malvinas conflict are a tragic example of a diplomacy distanced from reality which, representing a military government, arrogant and blind, led two countries historically friends to war, destroying what was achieved during years of laborious negotiations to resolve the sovereignty dispute, Those negotiations anticipated a satisfactory solution for both sides which, reflecting the international reality of the moment, showed the UK more compliant and the US willing to help diplomatically, which it did during the course of war. The US support to Argentina remained standing since the end of the conflict until now.
Leaving aside the abyssal distance, in heart and form, which separate us from those tragic experiences, currently the international system is also showing indications which if correctly read will enable us to react with fairness, with no over-acting and above all without again falling in the trap of impatience, the worst enemy of efficiency. In effect periodically the UK underlines before the UN that those territories under its administration, including the Malvinas Islands, already enjoy a degree of self government which makes it unnecessary for the UN involvement. Although these statements can be rebuked and taken isolated should not cause concern, if the March referendum in the Islands is taken together with statements form Ban Ki-moon saying that “people in certain conditions must be able to have some capacity to decide about their future”, and the recent visit by Hillary Clinton to (independent) Kosovo and her message to Serbia, plus the recent cooling of support from the US to Argentina, they constitute four powerful signals that in no way must we sidestep.
Of all those factors the one which most impacts is the referendum. However the Islanders have been expressing themselves towards gradual autonomy sustainedly since the end of the conflict. They have expressed their points of view periodically. This is the case, for example, when the UK proposed Argentina a lease-back in 1977, and the same with each of the provisional accords subscribed since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 1989, to the resignation of President De la Rúa. Thus there doesn’t seem to be much anew. On the other hand the terms of the referendum are ample enough and leave options open. Returning to an association climate with Argentina is not discarded. It is not the formality of the referendum that should concern but rather that again we do things wrong, and we grant the referendum and its eventual result a display and entity which suits nobody. To start with the referendum does not affect the UN resolutions still in force, we must remember that not all International Law is contained in the UN charter or in the resolutions adopted in that context.
What we need from our side (Argentina) are imaginative actions, and even transgressor ones such as retaking the active presence of Argentina in the disputed area and not elude non official contacts with the Islanders since whatever they reply could seriously affect the stability in the Southern Cone and further delay the chances of cooperation, which are needed by all sides, and unavoidable in the mid-term. Denying the presence of Islanders in the British delegation is a counterproductive back step which also means cutting eroding sovereignty from our counterpart.
What should really concern is the distance the US has taken from us. The role of the world’s leading power was of great help for the re-establishment of relations with the UK in 1989, preserving intact the terms of the sovereignty dispute, and further on supporting Argentine involvement in the security, communications and economy of the Islands as well as establishing the seat of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat in Buenos Aires, strengthening our role as key player in the South Atlantic and austral zones.
To imagine that the main ally of the UK in the hemisphere is not interested in the dispute would be a very serious misreading of reality. What seems urgent and necessary is to ensure that that interest has not changed and that it continues to support bilateral negotiations between the sides even when the conflict, because of its nature recognizes the existence of other ‘players’ such would be the case of the Islanders. That should be Argentina’s priority with the White House.
Clearly the international system is sending us messages and opportunities. But to take advantage of those opportunities we have to ‘refresh’ our arguments and adapt them to a globalized world, of shared responsibilities and imaginative solutions. The criteria of the sixties could be read today with a different spirit. The majority of those who will have to solve the sovereignty dispute will have been born after UN Assembly Resolution 2065 (1965). They will not have known the Cold War, or the East-West conflict or colonialism. Calling the UK ‘colonialist’ distances us from the negotiation and does not reflect the attitude of our neighbours and associates towards that country with which they have deep strategic and economic links.
United Nations has sustained and with reason that the Malvinas question is a special and particular case and thus has nothing to do with the human and economic miseries of ‘colonialism’ which with extreme flippancy we attribute to the UK. Likewise those who have knowledge of the colonial phenomenon are aware that no situation, no dispute, no matter how violent or complex, was resolved without previously ensuring guarantees, consenting privileges and designing joint projects for the future among the different actors. Thus with realism we should urgently create the conditions to resume discussions with the UK as was proposed by the President before the UN and during her last tour of Asia. Resumption of negotiations does not mean ignoring that the other side could also have some reason and that the solution must collect that circumstance. It also implies reactivating with a big country vision, the associative attitude towards the Islands without been swamped in the search of “symmetries” that will make even more difficult the approach.
Summing up, it is a matter of supporting with clear and coherent positions the conciliatory message of President Cristina Fernandez, who with unique frankness has called for dialogue with no pre-conditions. That attitude reflects a correct reading of the messages presented by the international system. Not assuming them in these moments of change and opportunities, and insist frenetically with confrontation can only lead once again to scuttle the possibility of putting on track the most important territorial conflict of our hemisphere.
(*) Petrela is a lawyer and notary from the University of Buenos Aires. He also has a degree from the International Public Policies School, John Hopkins University. He was Deputy Foreign minister with Guido Di Tella and ambassador before the UN. Currently he is a member of CARI, the Argentine Council on International Relations.