Why has Argentina become so aggressive all of a sudden? I am not only talking about their self-assertion regarding the Falkland Islands, but also their attitude to Spanish oil producers.
Earlier in the week, two British cruise ships were denied permission to dock in Argentina. This action was supported by Argentine president Cristina Kirchner. This was the latest action ‘against’ Britain in the wrangle over ownership of the Falkland Islands. You do have to wonder who really looses out over such action… is it the few thousand [multi-national] tourists onboard these ships, or is it perhaps the inhabitants of the ports who have recently lost out on several thousand pounds worth of tourist spending? Yes, Kirchner has made headlines with this action, but it is her people who have lost out.
The Falklands are an interesting topic. In Britain we are taught one version of their history, in Argentina they are taught another. What is clear, and understood is that there are a few thousand people living on the islands that believe that they are British. In 1982, when the Argentines invaded (or in their view, attempted to liberate) the islands they honestly believed that the islanders would have welcomed their liberation. Perhaps this was an occasion of the Argentines believing what they wanted.
So what is the big deal about the Falklands now? Well, I believe that it is two fold. 1. Argentina is struggling financially and Cristina Kirchner’s political standing is improved by renewing these assertions. Secondly: oil. It is probable that there are oil reserves in the territorial waters around the Falklands. An explanation of the benefits of such reserves is not needed.
A few months ago the Royal Navy sent HMS Dauntless to the area. Dauntless is a destroyer and one of the most powerful ships on the ocean. You can understand why Argentina’s disliked this move, equally, you can understand why Britain made this move. Kirchner went on to say that Britain was militarising the area… Britain denied it… but of course we did! If a country makes threats against our people, our land or our sovereignty of course you are going to make efforts to protect them.
The way Dauntless works (on a very basic level) is that it shoots anything hostile out of the air before it can get anywhere near it. The only reason Argentina would dislike this, you could hypothesise, is that they planned to move closer to the islands.
I like Argentina. For a long time it has been a place I have wished to visit. I have Argentine friends, and get on very well with them. Such assertions by Kirchner has not impacted friendships, but has demotivated my urge to visit.
So, what is the future? I don’t think their will be an attempted invasion. This would be too expensive for both countries, and British defence equipment is now substantially more advanced than Argentina’s. The economic impact, mainly to Argentina, of war would be disastrous. Last year, Britain gave Argentina £27m in aid, and the IMF contributed £450m. If an unprovoked conflict were to break out, this would pretty much end. The UK is also a major export market for Argentina.
I believe that Argentina will continue to flex what muscles they have in the hope of getting as much out of the situation as they can. Today, they have ‘demanded’ that flights to the Falklands be operated by their flag carrier. I would expect such demands to continue – I would also expect the British government to negotiate a supply link (or similar) and tensions will ease for another 20 years or so.