The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/The Falklands, an Historical Perspective

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The Falklands, An Historical Perspective

Ernest H. Spencer

Expatriate Falkland Islander
and retired Principal Officer – UK Local Government

17 July 2003

Professor Ivanov’s paper is remarkable for its concise and accurate insight and clear analysis of a matter that is internationally, and indeed in the United Kingdom, often the subject of uninformed and unhelpful comment based on an accumulation of inaccurate and misleading myths that are too often critiqued on incomplete and misleading historical perspectives.

It is a pleasure to see the arguments for the options he elaborates set out so succinctly and in a way that is supported entirely by modern practice and understanding of matters of de-colonisation of hitherto subject peoples.

Professor Ivanov quite correctly points out the historical anomalies regarding the 1820-1833 period as associated with Argentine pretensions to the sovereignty of the Falklands. The modern day claim, which they attempt to sustain, can neither be substantiated nor sustained by the use of overblown and inaccurate historical claims regarding Argentina’s supposed long historical association with the Falklands. Similarly the claim that Argentina was deprived of its territory and sovereignty as of right by the expulsion of an indigenous and long established Argentine presence in the Islands, which in some way amounted to an ethnic cleansing and expulsion, simply cannot be sustained by the facts. This is a subject that is worthy of greater elaboration than is possible in this short passage but nevertheless a few words on the relevance of Argentina’s claim seem to be appropriate.

At the first shout of independence, at the very beginnings of the 19th Century, the new River Plate state claimed its boundaries and its inheritance as the former territories of the Vice Royalty of the River Plate. This was an aspiration only and in fact an ambition, which was never ever achieved in reality by the self appointed successor state of the original concept, because indeed Uruguay would be entitled on the same basis to make the same claim. Modern Argentina does not encompass such boundaries at all and simply represents the remaining rump of the territories coveted by its original founders. Like all states, which emerge as the result of violent revolution, its present boundaries encompass only such territory as it was able to gather by force or subsequent agreement or which it was able to maintain actual governmental control over. More specifically in the Falklands case, it is worth mentioning also that for decades before and during the few years of co-existence with Argentine settlers the permanent British presence and local industry in the Islands had been legally authorized by treaty (the 1790 Nootka Sound Convention between both claimant parties, Spain and Britain), which legal authorization Argentina as a third party, and indeed a non existent entity as an independent nation in 1790, lacked.

It is therefore a fact that in a true historical perspective the Argentine position of claiming sovereignty over the Falklands is untenable in the twenty first century if only for the very reason that the majority of the American states both of the North and South owe their very existence, present borders and formation to violent revolution, the suppression or usurpation of the native populations by European invaders and colonizers over a period of many hundreds of years and sometimes violent competition for the territory to be included within their ultimate framework. No amount of argument or historical revisionism can escape from this position. Argentina is no different to any other similar American state in this respect excepting that it alone appears to require that its perceived territorial boundaries should match its original historical aspirations rather than the modern actuality.

The legitimacy of South American and other similar states is recognized universally because of their de facto occupation and control of the territory that they held by force majeur as successors to the historical usurpation of the native peoples and their land. This recognition, except perhaps by some residual indigenous groups, is wholly legitimate, subject to the acceptance of the indigenous peoples, because not to do so would place millions of otherwise innocent descendants of the original settlers in the impossible situation of not legitimately belonging to and being deprived of human rights and rights of tenure or self determination in the country of their birth.

Argentina’s acceptance and defence of it own self determined independence on the foregoing basis, regardless of its purported historical legacy, and the mainly European origins of its people, exposes the double standards by which, as a nation, it attempts to legitimise and bolster its claim of sovereignty over the Falklands. Argentina’s failure to recognize the rights of Falkland Islanders to the full measure of self determination, which they similarly claim for themselves, and are granted to Falkland Islanders de facto by United Kingdom law and the Charter of the United Nations goes right to the heart of the weakness of their case. The islanders, like the majority of their mainland counterparts, are also descended from European settlers of colonial territory. What they claim is no more nor less than equal rights to self-determination. In point of fact the families of some islanders have lived in the Falklands in many cases for more generations than those of their modern Argentine counterparts whose origins as Argentine citizens can be traced firmly back to recent 19th and 20th century European immigration.

Furthermore even if hypothetically Argentina had succeeded in 1982 in maintaining hegemony over the Falklands the Islands would still have qualified for self-determination under the UN Charter because of its peoples separate ethnic identity and its geographical uniqueness as a completely separate territory from the Argentine state. This is a reality that Argentina chooses to ignore.

For Argentina to deny the right of self-determination to Falkland Islanders is therefore is to call into question their own historical claim to the same process.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, which gives some context to the present claim, I wholeheartedly agree that the most reasonable path of all is to look forward to what the future could hold rather than looking back into the past calling upon historical events, real or imagined, to support a political position. The foregoing comments therefore are not intended to call upon history to prove the Falklands right to self-determination, modern practice in comparable situations does that well enough, but merely to give historical perspective to the opinions expressed in support of the claim.

It is much more productive in seeking political solutions to be informed by the past rather than being its prisoner and being controlled by it, a position amply exemplified by Dr Ivanov’s possible definitive solutions.

Solution #1 that Dr. Ivanov expounds, whereby the Argentine interest in the Islands diminishes over the years to the point where it becomes purely notional seems to me to be an ideal but, in the present climate of continued Argentine strident nationalism this seems remote, there may well be diminished confrontation over a period, but will it ever be diminished enough to amount to a situation of normality between islanders and Argentines? Though unpredictable, history so far does not seem to favour any substantial benefit from this scenario in the shorter term.

Solution #2, a negotiated settlement, must for me be the preferred option if only to bring an end to a conflict that should have been resolved peacefully and amicably by mature nations decades ago. This however also seems a very unlikely scenario whilst the political establishment in Argentina continues to rely as heavily as they do on the ‘Malvinas election platform’. Clearly politicians are terrified to adopt a conciliatory position for fear of losing votes. This attitude is cherished as a key principal in maintaining the well established myth of a ‘Greater Argentina’ wronged by the world in general, where external factors are blamed for all its economic and political ills, and Great Britain in particular for usurping Argentina’s ‘rights’ in the Falklands.

A sensibly negotiated settlement could achieve the creation of a treaty or agreement that could be followed, even if reluctantly, by the parties to the immediate benefit of all concerned. Indeed if we take to its ultimate the Falkland’s right to self-determination under the UN Charter the Falklands would be in a strong negotiating position if it exercised its legitimate potential claim to a segmented section of Antarctic islands and territory in a similar and equally justifiable manner to that exercised by Chile and Argentina.

What is required from Argentina is a shift of opinion away from continued, if low level, confrontation. Initially perhaps setting aside the claim, even if only for a universally flexible period depending on progress to understanding, and putting in its place a situation of normality between Argentina and the Falklands that could lead to a friendly and developing relationship where sovereignty would ultimately cease to be an issue and differences dissolve. From the Falkland Islanders point of view in promoting a convergence of views that could lead to this situation they would need also to have a change of heart and attitude relaxing their perceived antipathy to Argentina by some positive acts of conciliation in return perhaps by equating relationships with Argentina with those they presently have with Chile.

Clearly Dr. Ivanov points out in his paper relevant templates for a satisfactory solution based on the numerous examples he gives of successful self determination for territories with similar and even tinier populations than the Falklands, many with lesser land areas and much smaller EEZ waters.

Argentina could, if it so wished by following Dr. Ivanov’s well thought out and presented possibilities, solve this dispute, an aberration in a world where peace and conciliation, not conflict, should be the aim. The present sovereignty claim is dated in its concepts and overbearing by demands of submission of a tiny minority group of peaceful people by its giant neighbour. The problem could be generously solved with equanimity at any time of Argentina’s choosing. I am certain to great acclaim from the world community and to an incalculable increase in its standing in the world for Argentina as a country that not only desires peace, prosperity and human rights for all its people by rising above its chequered past of the dictatorship of failed political opportunism, oppression, political intolerance and militarism, thus cementing its true belief in its new found democratic way of life, but is also prepared to grant the achievement of the same aspirations to a tiny minority neighbour.

In the end the solution must be a political choice freely made and agreed between all the parties concerned.