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There have been a lot of angry words about a small set of islands in the South Atlantic:  The Falklands.  (They are called Las Malvinas in the Latin American world.  NEVER on this blog!)  Argentina claims the islands based on a dubious early attempt to set up a colony there.  However, in 1840, Great Britain occupied the islands (the US even had a earlier claim!) and there has been English-speaking people ever since.  The strong belief is that the Falklanders, a hardy sheep-herding people, would vote about 99 to 1 to remain British. The Argentines actually tried to take the islands by force in 1982 but were beaten back in what some say was PM Margaret Thatcher’s finest hour.

But the recent dustup seems not to be President Obama’s finest hour.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say about the Falklands issue in March 2010:

And we agree. We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way.

I have blogged on this before.  Since March 2010, the following items have occurred:  Argentina’s MERCOSUR trading partners have banned all ships with the Falklands flag from entering port, The Organization of American States has sided with Argentina, and Venezuela has made these remarks on the question:

The Venezuelan Government urges the Government of the United Kingdom to set aside “the aggressiveness and arrogance, which are a consequence of its shaky colonial past and to fulfill the terms contained in repeated statements of the United Nations General Assembly, which oblige it to negotiate a peaceful and final solution to the dispute over the Malvinas Islands.”

Check out this official policy statement from our State Department (from a January 19 news conference):

QUESTION: Does the U.S. take a position on the recent posturing between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falklands?

ANSWER: This is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom. We encourage both parties to resolve their differences through dialogue in normal diplomatic channels.

We recognize de facto United Kingdom administration of the islands but take no position regarding sovereignty.  (emphasis added)

What is THIS?  We recognize de facto United Kingdom administration?  The opposite of de facto is de jure:  legal as opposed to factual.  Are we saying someone other than Britain has LEGAL claim to the islands?  Are we saying Argentina is right?  Finally, how are the parties going to resolve their differences?  Argentina says the Falklands are our territory – take it or leave it.  The UK and the Falklanders say no way the islands will be Argentine.  Now, only in the Twilight Zone is this a matter that is in any way resolvable.  Somebody is right and somebody is wrong.

And this kind of hands off talk is dangerous.  The Argentine President has asserted that her nation would reclaim the islands.  Although both sides seem unprepared for war, there is no telling what could happen:

Is conflict likely again?

No, say analysts. While there are parallels with the 1980s — politicians using Anglo-Argentinian tensions to court votes and divert from economic woes at home — there is little appetite for conflict on either side.

A former senior British military officer last month said UK cutbacks had left the Britain unprepared for another Falklands conflict.

Argentina — a democracy whose militarist past has left current leaders distrustful of its armed forces — is apparently in a similar state. “Even if Argentina wanted to go to war, they have no military capacity,” says Jones.

We better hope CNN is right this time.  For war would not be cleanly fought.  The UK would expect an united front against it in Latin America.  No chance of being able to refuel or resupply in any port in Uruguay, Brazil, or Chile.  Certainly not in Venezuela.  And war would be costly in soldiers, sailors and civilians.  Any logistical support we gave would probably be barred from the air space of all of South America.  But we may well do nothing.

The United States ought to stand with Great Britain and the islanders and call the islands their proper name, not the Malvinas.  We should ask the Security Council to oversee a referendum on sovereignty and ask both sides to honor it.  It would be 99.9 percent for UK sovereignty and this would resolve it.

While I am non-interventionist, I do believe that we have national interests to defend.  When our ally, the UK, is attacked and a conquering force occupies its territory, we need to stand with our ally and fight aggression.  But we might decide to do nothing.  And doing nothing is allying with Argentina.  That is unacceptable and immoral.  I would not put it past the Obama Administration to openly support Argentina with talk or even refusal to assist the UK.

Here’s a great question for the next GOP debate:

Is the present US position concerning the Falkland Islands correct and if not, how would you change it?




About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)


  1. Phil says:

    Nice to see our allies (who we've joined in two wars recently) stabbing us in the back like this. Perhaps it would be in our interests if you GOP guys booted out Obama in November.

    I just have to correct your history a little though, the US does not have an older claim to the Falklands than Britain's. Yes you did have control of them for a brief period in 1831/32, but Britain's claim dates back to 1765. When we withdrew from many territories due to the expense of fighting against your Revolution we did so explicitly asserting our ongoing sovereignty over the islands. The only nation with an older claim than Britain is France, and they long ago abandoned their claim and now support Britain's. One interesting little historical detail that should be highlighted is that Argentina claims the Falklands as a part of their province of Tierra Del Fuego, unfortunately for their claim, that was not a part of their territory until nearly half a century after Britain regained control in 1833, and over a 100 years after we staked out claim in the 1760s.

    Of course, none of this is actually relevant to the issue. The only thing that matters is the fundamental human right of self-determination. At the moment, the Falkland Islanders overwhelmingly wish to remain British, as you rightly point out. As long as they wish to remain so it's case closed, Argentina and everyone else can sod off.

  2. Colin says:

    So why was not self determination also applied to Ireland when the troubles were on? Great Britain has always been a colonialist power and you cannot deny that. Long before Britain set eyes on the islands they were part of the Spanish empire therefore legally passed to Argentina before Great Britain sent people there as they did in Gibraltar or are you saying one of the regions native languages is English?

    Now on the possible war, there will be no war Argentina doesn't want any war but to sit and discuss, why is Great Britain so scared of that? By sitting and talk both Argentina and GB will get to agreements on certain things. I'm sure islanders will remain Brits, but GB cannot do just anything they want with the surrounding waters without Argentina's involvement.

    Stop being such warmongers, world has changed, GB is not an Empire any more, and the Tories want to create a war to divert the attentionfrom the rising problems the country is going through as they normally do.

    Stop thinking Tory and start having a bit of common sense.

    Colin (Londoner born and bred)

    • Phil says:

      Self determination does apply to Ireland, it just so happens that the majority in Northern Ireland wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom. If or when that changes then there will be a united Ireland, and rightly so.

      Your history is simply wrong. Britain first colonised the islands in 1765, before everyone but the French and the penguins. The French have long abandoned any claims to the islands and support Britain's claims (they pretty much have to, given they also have overseas territories) and the penguins seem quite content with British rule. There is no native language on the Falklands as there was no indigenous population.

      Why should there be negotiations? There's nothing to negotiate. By all reasonable standards the islands are sovereign British territory and what happens in them and the territorial waters surrounding them has not a damned thing to do with Argentina.

      And just for the record, I'm an active member of the Labour Party.

  3. Dominick says:

    Dies sind wirklich tatsächlich enormen Impressum Blogging.
    Dinge hier Sie haben einige berührt. Jede Art und Weise hwlten Wrinting.
    Dominick recently posted…DominickMy Profile


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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