Monday, February 06, 2012

More Falklands nonsense

There seems to be something about the Falkland Islands that continues to get under the left's collective collar. It's almost like an obsession with reversing the result of the '82 war. Two recent examples in (inevitably) the Guardian and the Independent. Peter Preston in the Guardian advocates Britain selling out the Islanders directly to Argentina on the basis that they are too expensive:

But what can we, the taxpayers of Britain, offer as option B? Do we want to keep paying and paying as the decades roll away? Paying to sustain a little colony that can't grow and prosper without fear. Shouldn't we be allowed to say what future we can afford to offer the Falklands beyond a status quo we can't sustain? Our choice for them.

He adds that there's no possibility of Britain holding on for 300 years to a geographically non-proximate colony next to a country that wants to annex it.

Philip Hensher is, to give him credit, marginally less pathetic - rather than simply surrender the Islands, he proposes to sell them to the Argentines:

We've got absolutely no money. I really doubt we have much stomach for another Falklands War, and then another. They are clearly passionately keen to acquire some territory with rich resources, high GDP and as much sentimental value as you can maintain for something 300 miles from your coastline. It might be worth a lot of money in the future, but actually we could quite do with some money now, this second. Perhaps we can suggest to President Kirchner that half a trillion pounds would be quite a reasonable sum for this archipelago of 778 mostly charming islands. They wouldn't have to pay all at once.

Well, we may be a touch financially embarrassed at the moment, but we're a heck of a lot richer than Argentina ($368bn as against $2.2trn annual GDP). Both arguments advocate giving up the sovereignty of the Falklands in part because of the inherent merit of the Argentina's claim to them, and in part in order to avoid the inevitable humiliation when Argentina invades and we are unable to recapture them. Both parts of this are flawed to the point of imbecility.

Legally, there is essentially no argument. Argentina's claim rests on a successor claim from the Spanish Imperial claim (making complaints of British colonialism slightly odd), and a decade of sporadic occupation in the 1820s. Britain's claim to sovereignty rests on a de jure occupation since 1690, de facto occupation since 1833, and the fact that the population of the Islands all but unanimously want to retain British sovereignty. It's that last point that is the clincher - and makes the 'realist' arguments run by Preston and Hensher (and previously Simon Jenkins) all but untenable. As I said last time this came round:

The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands are full British citizens. There can be no transfer of sovereignty unless they agree to it. And they don’t. It can be inconvenient, democracy, but we are stuck with it. The Guardian may deplore that fact, but that’s where we are.

Still true.

There's a further point to be made too - there's a lot of talk about how, should Argentina repeat it's 1982 invasion, Britain would now be unable to respond due to its lowered defence budget. Well, the UK spent $72bn on defence in 2011. Argentina are currently increasing their defence spending - by 2015 it's projected to reach $5.5bn. The Argentine Navy consists predominantly of relics from the 1980s, the Air Force of re-conditioned Skyhawks from the 1970s. HMS Dauntless, currently serving off the Falklands, is about the most advanced piece of military hardware Britain has ever deployed, not to mention the 4 RAF Typhoons and the Trafalgar class nuclear submarine also around and about. If anything, the military disparity is further in Britain's favour than it was in 1982.

Ultimately, Argentina's continued agitation about the Falklands is perpetuated for internal political reasons - that's why it peaks around election time. Britain should maintain its policy that questions of sovereignty are a matter for the Islanders themselves, and stay on the lookout for anything more serious than sabre-rattling.

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