Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Global Impact: All But Three Falklands Islanders Vote to Remain British, Tensions Between the UK, Argentina Rise, Prognosis Not Good

According to The Guardian, and with a 92% turnout for those 1,650 British citizens who turned out for the referendum (Sunday and Monday) asking voters whether they would prefer to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, all but three said "yes."

Subsequently, British Prime Minister David Cameron has called on Argentina to respect the wishes of the people of the Falklands Islands after they voted overwhelmingly for the territory to remain British in an unsurprising but still historical referendum.

The PM said Argentina should take "careful note" of the referendum result and that Britain would always be there to defend the Falkland Islanders.

Nobody expected anything but a landslide in a vote that the Argentinian government had dismissed as illegal and moot.

COMMENT: Argentina's Senate is preparing to vote this week on a motion to reject the Falklands referendum and reaffirm Argentina's longstanding claim to the islands it calls Las Malvinas. 

Cameron insisted that the islanders were entitled to the right to self-determination. "It is the clearest possible result there could be," he emphasized.

The Falklands have moved back into the international spotlight due to the 30th anniversary of the war and a push by President Kirchner to reassert her country's longstanding sovereignty claims.

Argentina has raised the issue at the UN and regional bodies, placed full-page advertisements in British newspapers and – most controversially – restricted access to the islands. It has persuaded South American neighbors to turn away Falklands-flagged ships, curtailed overflights and imposed sanctions on companies that exploit the resources of the islands.

Mike Summers, a member of the Falklands' Legislative Assembly, told the Guardian before the election that Argentina had become "aggressive and difficult." "Our relationship with the UK is strong and mutually productive, and we would like to be left in peace to continue to develop that relationship for the benefit of future generations," he said. 

One powerful undercurrent in the territorial dispute is the fact that natural gas and oil deposits have been discovered in the Falklands, which no doubt is the impetus for increased tensions between the two countries.

It is clear that neither the UK or Argentina are in the public or private mood to become flexible and compromising, which suggests that the tension between the two nations is going to escalate not diminish, both politically and economically.

Although neither London or Buenos Aires has described the consequences that will result if neither backs down from their position, few consequences, implied or otherwise, are expected to be positive. 

Given the political world in which we live, it is likely that both nations will now turn to their historical allies and begin to build consensus or discourse  on both sides of the fence.

For the US, given the fact that Washington sided with the UK during the 1982 Falklands War, the results of the referendum is surely to test the metal of newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry, who heretofore, has refused to take sides. In the near term, he may find sitting atop the fence for any length of time a bit tenuous and even politically uncomfortable.