Cameron, ‘the most robust PM in the Falklands’ issue in the last 30 years’, says Professor Dodds
Britain went to war over the Falkland Islands over thirty years ago when the Argentine military invaded the Islands, but the issue of sovereignty disputed by Argentina has never really gone away. Germany’s Deutsche Welle looks at the current UK government's policy towards the Falklands and the coming referendum, in an interview with Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?
That's the yes/no question that will be put to Falkland Islanders when they go to the polls on March 10-11. And the English-speaking community of 3,000 people is widely expected to vote overwhelmingly for the status quo: that is remaining a British overseas territory.
There's absolutely no appetite for any fundamental change, said Professor Dodds, who will be in the Falkland Islands at the time of the vote. He believes the Islanders are holding the referendum to send a message out to the wider world, to say here we are, we're a small community, and we don't wish to be bullied by a larger neighbor.
Could 1982 happen again?
That larger neighbor is of course Argentina, which has upped its rhetoric against Britain over the issue in recent years. In January, President Cristina Fernandez sent an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, calling the recapture of the Falkland Islands a blatant exercise of 19th century colonialism and pointing out that the Islands are situated some 14,000 km away from London.
Relations between Argentina and the UK are at their worst since 1982, according to Klaus Dodds.
But could we be about to see a second war over the Falkland Islands?
I don't think Argentina first of all is militarily capable and secondly I don’t think it considers it politically desirable to resurrect any kind of military invasion-like strategy said Dodds.
I think what's however occurring is a concerted effort on the part of Argentina to use almost every bit of leverage possible, bar the military option, to pressure the UK to negotiate over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
The Iron Lady?
But the UK, it seems, is not about to budge. In contrast to what's been described as the flaccid attitude of the then Thatcher government in the run up to the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, David Cameron is leaving no room for doubt:
Cameron, you could argue, has been incredibly robust, and made it perfectly clear that he's not prepared to talk about sovereignty at all, said Dodds. So whilst we often think of Margaret Thatcher as the Iron Lady in so many areas of her administration, it is worth recalling that I would argue that the government of David Cameron has probably been the most robust in the last 30 years.
Laurence Allan of the forecasters, IHS Global Insight, agrees with Dodds.
In the last 12 months or so I think we've seen quite clearly that the UK government has taken a bit more of a pro-active policy, he said.
I know that it's far more energetically engaged in Latin America itself, in trying to buttress its position diplomatically with some of Argentina's neighbors.
But whilst 30 years ago, Britain did enjoy the support of its allies, notably the United States, the UK government has less international support these days for its colonial exploits. Most international governments are reluctant to support any hint of colonialism, and Britain's refusal to return the territories to Argentina, thus restoring its territorial integrity, has proved contentious in some quarters.
Some think it's even time to consider giving the Islands up. Simon Winchester is a British author, now living in the US. In 1982, he was one of the first journalists to arrive on the Falkland Islands after it had been invaded. He was arrested for spying and imprisoned by the Argentines for three months.
If there was an attack against the Falkland Islands today, I think Britain would be very hard-pressed to fight against an invading force, Winchester told DW. And [Britain] would also lose the goodwill of not just Argentina … but the other Latin American countries that would be almost universally hostile, as would the United States.
Not worth dying for
Winchester thinks it's a cause that's not worth pursuing.
It is ridiculous, he said. There are 1,500 people [sic] living in one of the most miserable countries on the planet and yet two major powers with more serious things to deal with are scrapping over it, and people could die and spill blood as a result. I think most people would realize that this is just crazy and cannot happen again.
It's simply not worth people dying for, and that's what I want to avoid, Winchester added.
During the 72-day conflict, 649 Argentines, 255 British and three Falkland islanders lost their lives.
But despite that, Professor Dodds says the current UK government does have considerable public backing for pursuing its policy on the Falkland Islands.
One shouldn't underestimate the extraordinary power of war memories, said Dodds.
”The Falklands veterans and the way in which we commemorate that particular campaign are now part of British public life. So for example, when we have Remembrance Sunday in November, the Falklands campaign is part of Britain's official war memories, alongside World War One and World War Two”.