Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

The Falkland Islands: A Battle over Sovereignty

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

The Falkland Islands: A Battle over Sovereignty

Article excerpt

Although tiny, the Falkland Islands are the center of a major international debate. The recent discovery of gas and oil in the waters surrounding the islands has reawakened the dispute over the rightful ownership of the islands. Argentina insists that the islands belong to it, while the Falkland Islanders identify themselves as a British Overseas Territory.

Diplomatic consultations between Argentina and the United Kingdom have become more and more frequent, but also more heated, following the discovery of two massive pockets of fossil fuels deep within the Southern Argentina's energy needs have caused them to take an aggressive stance toward the United Kingdom, resulting in the disregard of the sovereignty of the small population of the Falkland Islands. Despite this, the Falkland Islanders and the United Kingdom are not wavering in their 250-year claim over the islands.

The History

The history of the Falkland Islands makes the conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom somewhat unique. First of all, the archipelago's location in the South Atlantic Ocean just 300 miles from Argentina has long influenced Argentina's claim to the islands. However, that claim is empty because despite the Falkland Islands' location 8,000 miles from the UK, the British first claimed them in 1765. Another unique aspect of the Falklands' ownership is the fact that unlike many other claimed territories, prior to British settlement, the islands were void of any indigenous populations, thereby making their claim peaceful in all respects.

Throughout the 67 years following Britain's title over the Falklands, relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom regarding the archipelago were nonviolent. But, on October 6,1832, conflict arose when an Argentine military garrison landed, determined to establish Argentine sovereignty over the islands. The occupation was brief, as less than three months later the Royal Navy evicted the garrison from the islands. A year after the conflict, a permanent British administration over the islands was established, and in 1845 the Falklands' capital city, Stanley, was founded.

For more than 100 years after the first conflict, relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom remained peaceful. However, in 1982, the Falklands War occurred. Early that year, President Leopoldo Galtieri, the leader of Argentina's ruling military junta, authorized the invasion of the British Falkland Islands, which it calls Las Malvinas. The invasion intended to "draw attention away from human rights and economic issues at home by bolstering national pride and giving teeth to the nation's long-held claim on the islands." On April 1,1982 the Argentine military invaded and occupied the islands for 74 days. The liberation of the Falklands came on June 14 after then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, ordered a British naval task force to retake the islands. The war took the lives of 258 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, and left thousands more injured.

The reestablishment of diplomatic ties between Argentina and the UK in 1990 following the Falklands War proved to be a promising move toward peace. Since then, there has been no aggression by either side, and because of this, the Falklands have been able to prosper. Following the formation of commercial fisheries, the islands are growing in population, are financially selfsufficient and almost entirely self-governing; however, London remains responsible for their defense and foreign affairs. In recent years, tensions over the Falklands have begun to escalate with the announcement of the recent discovery of two precious energy sources in the maritime area surrounding the islands: gas and oil.

The Global Competition for Energy Resources

It is becoming increasingly obvious to the world, and to the UK especially, that the discovery of gas and oil around the archipelago is the driving force behind Argentina's reaffirmation of its rightful ownership of the Falklands. …

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