The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands are holding a referendum on whether they want their lands to remain a British overseas territory. The result of the referendum is not in doubt. Voters will overwhelmingly support the status quo of British sovereignty. Rather, its invention serves to prove a point to the Argentinian claimants that the Falkland Islanders have no intention of altering their allegiance towards Buenos Aires.
Christina Kirchner, Argentina’s president, continues to use nationalist rhetoric over Las Malvinas (Argentina’s name for the Falklands) in a bid to regain some popularity amongst her people. Most Argentinians believe that British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is illegal and harbour bitter resentment from the 1982 war that most recently decided the islands’ fate. At the same time, many Argentinians are becoming fed-up with the economic crisis engulfing their country and the inability of Kirchner’s government to do anything about it.
It was under similar circumstances in 1982 that General Leopoldo Galtieri, head of the military junta that ruled the country, allowed himself to be persuaded by Admiral Jorge Anaya to launch a military invasion of the Falkland Islands. Argentina was in the midst of an economic crisis that had engulfed much of Latin America, with inflation reaching record levels and massive foreign debt unable to be repaid. Additionally, social unrest at the military dictatorship was gathering momentum despite the formidable reputation of the junta for “disposing” of political agitators.
The decision to invade the Falklands was not based on a conviction that Argentina could defeat the British militarily. Instead, Anaya believed that the British would simply not respond to Argentine aggression and that the expense of mobilising the Royal Navy would not tally with the strategic and national value of the Falkland Islands to the British government. Of course, it turned out to be a fatal mistake and Argentina’s crushing defeat hastened the end of the military dictatorship.
Will Kirchner, then, make the same fatal error? Domestic circumstances are similar to 1982; economic woe, social unrest, political ruptures and a rising tide of nationalism. Yet there is one obvious reason why Kirchner – unless she is intent on committing political suicide – will refrain from launching her country’s armed forces towards Las Malvinas. She knows that the British will respond. The 1982 triumph was a massive success for Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and any subsequent British political leader had vowed to take a tough line against any Argentine aggression. Indeed, since coming to office, David Cameron has stressed the importance of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. There is even the added incentive of potential energy resources off the islands’ coastline to strengthen British resolve.
Kirchner has shown herself willing to infuriate Argentina’s global partners with an uncompromising nationalist stance. Spanish energy and utilities companies have been nationalised without the provision of compensation; she has refused to pay foreign debts running into the billions of dollars, particularly to the USA; she has even sought closer relations with Iran, despite that nation’s role in the horrific bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in 1994. These acts of nationalist isolationism have naturally been met with international display.
Despite the fierce rhetoric, however, reality dictates that Kirchner cannot make a serious move to reclaim the Falkland Islands by force. Whilst Galtieri might have genuinely believed that the British would not retaliate to his aggressive actions, Kirchner can be assured that the British will respond if a repeat invasion is launched. Even the 75% of Argentinians who believe in their country’s rightful ownership of Las Malvinas would surely balk at a kamikaze repeat of 1982.