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Falklands’ rights and sovereignty

Saturday, March 9th 2013 - 05:35 UTC
Full article 206 comments
Sir Peter Westmacott is the British ambassador to the United States. Sir Peter Westmacott is the British ambassador to the United States.
The Falklands are in enviable shape, with a GDP per head greater than that of Norway, practically no unemployment and a budget in surplus The Falklands are in enviable shape, with a GDP per head greater than that of Norway, practically no unemployment and a budget in surplus

By Sir Peter Westmacott (*) - Where in the world can you celebrate Margaret Thatcher Day with five kinds of wild penguins? Nowhere but in the Falkland Islands, a windswept archipelago in the South Atlantic that’s about the same area as Connecticut but has a population of only 3.100. This weekend, these small islands with a big personality face a momentous choice: a referendum to decide their political future.

The question will be whether the Islanders wish their home to remain, as it has been for decades, a self-governing British overseas territory. Having that status means that the United Kingdom guarantees the Falklands’ security, helps conduct their external relations and upholds their locally elected government.

Economically, the Islands are in enviable shape, with a GDP per head greater than that of Norway, practically no unemployment and a budget in surplus. Tourism accounts for much of this prosperity: Some 11,000 Americans — more than three times the Islands’ own permanent population — visit each year, mostly by cruise ship.

Having visited three times myself, I can attest to the Islands’ appeal for travellers. Their rugged shores are home to over 200 bird species, large communities of seals and sea lions and a quirky, distinctively British culture that incorporates the annual commemoration of the Iron Lady’s visit on Jan. 10, 1983.

The Argentine government claims sovereignty over the Islands based on events that took place more than 180 years ago when the archipelago was little more than an isolated outpost with almost no permanent population. But according to the most fundamental principles of international law, accepted by all nations for the past 60 years, it is for the inhabitants of a territory alone to determine how they are governed — the fundamental principle of self-determination, which received its most eloquent expression in Philadelphia in 1776.

Regrettably, however, the Argentine government systematically ignores the Islanders’ wishes. Last June, members of the Falkland Islands Legislature attempted to invite the Argentine government to exchange views with a group of Islanders. President Cristina Fernandez and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, refused even to read the invitation. Last month, Timerman refused to accept a further invitation to meet the islanders along with the British foreign secretary — on the grounds that meeting the Islanders would contravene U.N. resolutions!

Cristina Fernandez and her government seek to portray the Falklands’ status as an example of British colonialism. But what could be more colonialist than seeking control of a territory — over which you have never exercised sovereignty and which your country accepted was British more than 160 years ago — against the wishes of the people who lived there?

Britain bears no hostility toward Argentina. Quite the reverse: We want full and productive relations with our fellow member of the G-20 and U.N. Security Council, as we have with South American neighbours. Indeed, we enjoyed such a relationship with Argentina in the 1990s, when I had a hand in negotiating a series of economic accords that Argentina has, unfortunately, since repudiated.

But sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is not up for discussion because it is not Britain’s to negotiate away. It is a decision for the Islanders and nobody else. That is why the referendum on Sunday and Monday is so fundamental: It is a chance for the Islanders to put their wishes beyond all doubt. We hope that the entire international community, including our friends in the US, will join Britain in affirming the democratic rights of a small and peaceful island community. (Politico)

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  • Lou Spoo

    A well written article that highlights the ludicrous claims of Argentina when placed in context to the modern world.

    Mar 09th, 2013 - 06:28 am 0
  • Britworker

    His hopes of a US U-turn on their thinking when the vote has come in, is a little naive though. President Obama is the most anti-British president they have ever had.

    Mar 09th, 2013 - 07:39 am 0
  • Redrow


    James Madison declared war on us, is Obama really worse than that? Plus Kennedy didn't think a lot of us either whereas Obama accepted a State visit?

    You might well be right about the first sentence though I am slightly intrigued regarding their line “not commenting on a referendum that has not taken place yet”. They will probably be assuming that the referendum will be free and fair and deliver an overwhelming Yes, in which case if they were going to reject it they would have been better rejecting it in principle, in advance - since there will be no good reason to reject it after.

    Mar 09th, 2013 - 08:24 am 0
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