Monday, February 22, 2010
What You Need to Know About The Falkland Islands
View The islands in a larger map
The past few weeks have seen a rise in tensions over the control of the Falkland Islands. A combination of oil being drilled off the coast of the islands and Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner falling approval ratings has created a sort of "Wag the Dog" situation where the issue is being used to distract the Argentines. President Kirchner demands any ship involved in the oil drilling must have Argentina's approval to enter the waters near the islands. The British government has responded with a "no." Currently Kirchner is saber rattling and the threat of war is distant but it is something to watch.
Argentina officially claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. These islands create a island-bridge to Argentina's Antarctic claims. However, since 1833 the United Kingdom has governed the islands. Today the Falklands are self-governing overseas territory while South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands governed as one oversea territory.
The islands were valuable in the past as they proved a good shipping port, whaling and seal station, and military outpost. Today the islands are valuable because of having oil off its coasts. Other than that the biggest part of any geopolitical struggle over the islands is national pride.
The history of Falkland and other islands control is complex. Periods of no occupation are intermixed with de facto Spanish, French, British, and Argentine control. The last permanent Argentine population left after settlement of Port Louis was destroyed by the USS Lexington as part of America's protest of the arrest of American sailors. The British finally established their dominance in 1833 despite protests from the the Argentines. The Argentines returned to the area by establishing scientific outposts on Thule Island, part of the South Sandwich Islands, in 1956 and 1976.
In 1982 the military junta which ruled Argentina invaded the Falklands and other islands. Their hope was that a weakened United Kingdom would be unable to mount any opposition. However, Margret Thatcher's Conservative government successfully managed to rally an underfunded army and Royal Navy to victory in a small yet fierce war.
Today the Falkland Islands are a sensitive issue in Argentina, which calls the islands Islas Malvinas. The war's veterans form a powerful lobbying group, memorization of the war has reached sanctification phase where the war memorial is a combination of the American Vietnam War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Solider, welcome to Argentina signs declare the Falklands as belonging to Argentina, and a textbook error showing the island as part of the United Kingdom lead to massive outcry.
The population of the Falklands is overwhelmingly British or British-descendant Falkland Islander. While those who identify themselves with the nationality of Falkland Islanders see themselves as part of South America, they also view themselves as British. There is no serious movement on the islands to have the islands become independent or join Argentina. The other islands have no permanent population.
Who Owns the Falkland Islands?
De facto and in all reality the United Kingdom owns the Falklands. The British claim is recognized by the European Union, France, and members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile most Latin American countries back Argentina's claim. Because of diplomatic reasons most other countries are officially neutral on the issue. With the oil drilling most countries will probably continue to deal with the British rule and all but recognize their control.