Rolle, Switzerland. 8 February. Strange week - a bouncy week – England, Germany and now back here in Switzerland on the frozen shores of the magisterial Lake Geneva. Cold or what? There is a local wind here called ‘la Bise’ which blows directly off the Swiss Alps and drops onto the lake that is less breeze and more arctic chainsaw. In between I was mugged at Antwerp Central Station losing my computer and iPod during an attack by four, fine upstanding members of Belgium’s diverse society. Naturally, none of the people around me lifted a finger. What a sad society Europe is becoming.
Déjà vu all over again? Last night I watched a rather bizarre, rambling speech by Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to which if there was a point seemed to be a re-asserting of Argentina’s ridiculous claim over the Falkland Islands. Apparently she is to make a formal complaint to the United Nations citing Britain for “militarizing” the South Atlantic, following the deployment of the brand-new destroyer HMS Dauntless, together with an equally brand-new nuclear submarine…and Prince William, in the face of Argentina’s deliberate ratcheting up of tensions.
April 2 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War, which defined my early life and that of many Britons. Some 3000 British and Argentinian soldiers, sailors and airmen perished in a two month war that should never have been fought but which on 14 June was decisively won by Britain with the surrender of “…all Argentine forces together with their impedimentia” to Commander, Land Forces, South Atlantic. In spite of the heroic efforts of Argentine pilots in particular the Argentines were taught a profound lesson about how to fight a war. Britain’s victory also led to the fall of an evil military junta in Buenos Aires that had killed thousands of its own citizens. So, why on earth are we here again?
Kirchner seems to be falling into the same trap as her incompetent predecessors. So, to assist Madame President to clear her befuddled mind here are the facts of the matter. First, Buenos Aires is 1183 nautical miles or 1905 kilometres from Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. This is not far short of the distance between London and Moscow. Even at the closest point Argentina is 437 miles or 704 kilometres from the Falklands. Second, there have been British settlers on the Falklands since 1833. This is before Argentina ever existed and before that date no-one had lived permanently on the islands. Today’s population of 3000 islanders far from being the ‘transplanted population’ Argentina claims is indigenous to the Islands. Third, Mrs. Kirchner might like to pointedly ignore the existence of the Islanders, preferring instead to suggest the Falklands is a colonial “anachronism”. In fact the Falkland Islands are a dependent territory of Britain with the Islanders enjoying full rights to and of self-determination. It is the Islanders who control their own status and they choose to be British.
What seems to be at the heart of Mrs. Kirchner’s ‘fantasy’ are the natural resources that the waters around the Falklands could yield. Under international law it is the right of the Falkland Islanders to decide the future of those resources – neither Britain nor Argentina.
So, where is this going? Argentina has managed to corral other Latin American countries into banning from their ports ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. If that is the case then Falkland Island vessels will be re-flagged with British flags. If British ships are then banned from Latin American ports then ships from Latin American ports will be banned from European ports. If Argentina also succeeds in blocking the air link between the Falklands and Chile then such flights will be deemed as flying between Britain and Chile. If those flights are blocked all Argentine and indeed Chilean flights to Europe could well find themselves blocked.
Ironically, what seems to have prompted this latest and blatant piece of Argentinian sabre-rattling has been the withdrawal from service last year of the Royal Navy’s erstwhile flagship, the aircraft-carrier HMS Ark Royal. Thirty years ago the Argentinian junta was prompted to invade the islands by the 1981 withdrawal of the previous HMS Ark Royal. Mrs. Kirchner seems to be making the same mistake having convinced herself that Britain is far weaker than is actually the case. If Argentina even thinks about military action the Argentine armed forces will be taught the same lesson by today’s British armed forces as their forebears back in 1982. So, let us not go there.
Mrs. Kirchner last night called upon David Cameron to “give peace a chance”. It is not Britain that is creating this crisis or winding up the rhetoric. The only threat to the peace of the South Atlantic comes from Buenos Aires, not London or Port Stanley. So, be careful, Mrs. Kirchner, Britain will defend to the end the right of the Islanders to self-determine their own allegiances and their own future. Any attempts to interfere in that will be met with robust diplomacy and if necessary force.
It is your call, Mrs. Kirchner. However, if I can offer you a piece of humble advice, wind down the aggressive language and end once and for all your country’s absurd claim to the Falkland Islands. You cannot win this struggle so do not start it.
The Falkland Islands. Don’t even think about it Argentina.