The London-based South Atlantic Council today made a call “for a new understanding of sovereignty” thirty years after the cease-fire that ended hostilities between Britain and Argentina.
The Argentine-British war in 1982 was fought in the name of sovereignty. Thirty years later, it does not make sense to continue arguing about sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, because Argentina and Britain are themselves no longer sovereign independent states.
“We are now in a world where all countries are subject to distributed sovereignty”, exercised on different issues by different authorities, argues Peter Willetts, Emeritus Professor of Global Politics at City University, London.
This means a peaceful settlement of the dispute with Argentina is possible by different aspects of sovereignty being distributed between Britain, Argentina, Canada, the USA, special international organisations and an autonomous Falklands legislature.
Professor Willetts introduces this new approach by showing, in a paper published today by the South Atlantic Council, how sovereignty no longer exists as all-or-nothing control. Traditionally, sovereignty has been defined as a government ruling over the people within a territory that has controlled borders, without any foreign interference.
Politicians like to defend this simple idea of sovereignty. But lawyers acknowledge pure sovereignty has always been a myth rather than a reality.
When the three parties are each willing to consider negotiating a settlement, sovereignty over the Islands might be distributed among at least seven distinct authorities:
• Argentina having symbolic title to the land, flying their flag at their war cemetery, but having no authority over the Islanders;
• A local legal office deciding who would possess South Atlantic citizenship and the right to reside in the Islands;
• An autonomous local legislature;
• The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs handling diplomacy;
• A multi-lateral regional organisation managing fishing;
• A unique multi-actor system of all the stakeholders regulating oil and gas production; and
• US financial institutions maintaining the dollar as the Islands’ currency.
These specific ideas are not offered as the basis for a permanent settlement of the dispute, but they do show how distributed sovereignty can promote a new, more complex, governance system for the Islands, if the three parties eventually become willing to discuss a settlement of the dispute.
The South Atlantic Council was formed in December 1983, in the aftermath of the Falklands / Malvinas conflict, with the aim of improving relations between Britain, Argentina and the Islanders.
Its membership is composed of up to fifty UK citizens, drawn from parliament, academia, business, the media, the law, diplomacy and the churches.
· Seeks to influence policy-makers and opinion leaders,
· To stimulate informed public debate;
· Has contributed to the restoration of diplomatic relations and contact within civil society, through the holding of a series of Argentine-British Conferences;
· Has published a series of Occasional Papers to provide background political analysis and to generate discussion about options for the future of the Islands;
· Has facilitated discussion, both at the Council's own meetings and at other events, among politicians and officials from Argentina, Britain and the Islands.
The Council is independent and does not collectively take a position on what settlement to the dispute should be adopted, except that it should be acceptable to the three parties.