The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
UK-Argentine Falklands Row Reignites

They’re at it again. David Cameron and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the loud and proud leaders of the UK and Argentina, resumed their diplomatic brawl over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

In a letter penned for the Guardian, Kirchner claimed that today is the 180th anniversary of Britain’s “theft” of the islands from Argentina. She demanded Cameron meet her at the negotiating table to discuss their return.

Cameron, steadfast as ever, refused. The decision to negotiate, he said, rests with the Falkland people:

“A spokesman said: “The people of the Falklands are British and have chosen to be so. They remain free to choose their own futures, both politically and economically, and have a right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter.

“This is a fundamental human right for all peoples. There are three parties to this debate, not just two as Argentina likes to pretend. The Islanders can’t just be written out of history.

“As such, there can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Islanders so wish.”

The Falklands, windswept rocks a few hundred miles from the Argentinean coast, are home to no more than 3,000 people, most of whom claim descent from the UK as well as a stark loyalty to the land of their ancestors. The islands offer little value, aside from an unknown (possibly negligible) amount of oil under the seabed, and vast quantities of kelp.

Their true appeal lies in their potential to distract—for both Kirchner and Cameron. Argentine politicians always go for the Falklands when they’re having trouble at home, and Kirchner is having trouble indeed. The Argentine economy has been faltering under her rule, with soaring inflation and GDP growth of only 2 percent in 2012. Drumming up fervor among the fiercely nationalistic Argentinian population is a good way to divert attention from the sorry state of affairs at home. Meanwhile, Cameron gets to wrap himself in Thatcher’s mantle, flexing his iron muscles by stating his unwavering commitment to the sovereignty of British descendants abroad.

It’s highly unlikely this bickering will morph into a military conflict, but when Argentina begins to bellow once more about the Falklands, and John Bull bellows back, smart observers should take heed and turn their gaze to the domestic situation in each country.

Published on January 3, 2013 7:00 pm