Tensions between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands are rising again. If it seems to you that Argentina is again using the issue of the sovereignty of the islands as a sop to the population and a distraction from domestic concerns, you’re not alone. In the aftermath of the first Falklands war, the semi-socialist junta was deposed and a reasonably democratic government installed. Sadly, the gains made were lost when Argentina again embraced a socialist model, currently led by the government of Christina Kirchner. And again, shortcomings in what should be a vibrant economy are blamed on the ills of colonialism and the European powers.
It’s likely that most of this is for domestic consumption. And likely, Argentina will take some actions short of open conflict to further demonstrate its vitality to its domestic constituents. But it is always possible that Argentina will again make assumptions about Great Britain’s resolve or courses of action that lead to battle.
Options short of war will likely include operations to isolate the Falklands from outside sources of support and commerce. Simply prohibiting direct flights and shipping from Argentina to the Falklands has a deleterious effect on the islands’ economy. Bringing diplomatic pressure on other South American nations to likewise prohibit such direct communications would have even more drastic effect. There’s little in the islands that anyone really needs. But there is much from the outside world the islands can ill afford to do without. Simply accessing modern health care is a great challenge for the native islanders. Great Britain, will, of course, support the transportation of critical trade with the islands, either via airlift or sealift. And Britain is not without its own influence to pressure other states to not join a prohibition on direct flights and shipping. Argentina’s goal in such a scenario isn’t to actually seal off the Falklands, but rather to render it such a net economic loss for the Empire to maintain commercial communication with the islands that domestic British support for the Falklands erodes and leads to a diplomatic capitulation. It’s not a bad strategy, but I’m fairly certain that Britain, which has willingly absorbed the costs of defense of the islands for thirty years, even during the last decade where they have grudgingly supported extensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Betting on the British to fold in the face of a challenge has a poor history of success.
Currently, the primary economic product of the Falklands are agricultural products, primarily wool. Of course, there have been reports of deposits of gas and oil reserves. The presence of exploitable energy reserves would make the area of far more consequence. And should Britain attempt to confirm or exploit such reserves, it is highly likely that Argentina will emulate the Chinese pattern of harassment and interference with civilian shipping, either via maritime patrol vessels or even warships. Again, the point here isn’t to start a war, but raise the price of Britain’s demonstration of sovereignty to a point where the public no longer supports it. Probably even more importantly, the Kirchner administration can point to these actions to their domestic audience as proof of “standing up” to the colonialist Empire.
Further actions by Argentina include attempts to delegitimize the forthcoming referendum on sovereignty in the eyes on of the world community, and attempt to bring further international pressure through the UN and other transnational organizations to nudge Britain toward relinquishing its title to the islands.
While Britain has publicly stated they will resort to force of arms to retain the islands, neither side is in a terrible hurry at this point to get into another shooting war. But what happens if that changes? We’ll take a look at that in the next segment.