Sound and Fury: Kirchner and the Falklands

By Joe Attwood

On 27 June 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner stood at a podium and ad-libbed a farewell speech to her country’s Olympic team as they made final preparations for their departure to the London 2012 Games. Kirchner reassured her nation that despite the recent increase in tensions over the Falkland Islands sovereignty dispute, and despite competing in the capital city of the country with whom the dispute exists, neither her government nor the Olympic team would do anything during the Games that does not have to do with sports. During the competition, said Kirchner, Argentina would compete, represent its flag, and not do anything outside of sport to draw attention to itself.

Although the enduring message of the speech appears to be one of peace and a willingness to avoid politicisation of the Games in relation to the Falklands issue, Kirchner appeared unable to resist a political jibe at Prime Minister David Cameron’s government. In the very same speech, Kirchner praised a notorious Argentine advertisement for the Olympic Games which, televised in 2011, depicted a well-known Argentine athlete training in Falklands’ capital Port Stanley. The ad concluded with the inflammatory tagline: ‘to compete on British soil, we train on Argentinian soil’. Kirchner’s labelling of the ad, in which the athlete was seen exercising on a British memorial for the 1982 war, as ‘creative’ is symptomatic of the mixed messages her administration’s unstatesmanlike manoeuvrings have transmitted in recent weeks.

Kirchner’s brash attitude to the situation is in large part an unavoidable product of the hypocrisy infesting the root of her argument. The President has put in a sterling performance as the black pot to David Cameron’s kettle: her anger at the British government’s refusal to listen to her case is peculiarly mirrored by her own administration’s refusal to pay attention to assurances from the Falklanders themselves that they want to retain British sovereignty.

This state of affairs is surpassed in its peculiarity only by the international community’s reluctance to take sides; it remains unclear why the British government’s pledge to protect the Falklanders’ right to self-determination, a commitment that more than any other embodies the spirit of the UN Charter, has not warranted the support of member states. In any case, it cannot be a result of convincing argument on the part of the Argentine government. The illusory aura of legitimacy surrounding Argentina’s case is a cocktail of illogicality, bluster, and unalloyed nonsense.

This is perhaps most apparent through Argentina’s labelling of the British government’s conduct as ‘colonialist’. Constant reference is made by Argentina to the apparent absurdity of Britain’s claim to a territory that lies 14,000 kilometres from the British mainland, most recently by the President at a committee meeting at the UN in New York. Aside from giving the lie to Kirchner’s claim that her only objective is the opening of a dialogue with Westminster, the first and most obvious weakness here is that Cameron’s government does not ‘stake a claim’ to the territory of the Falklands as it might have been known in the time of empire. The only claim made by Westminster is to the right of the Islanders to determine the nature of their own government. It is inconceivable that the British government would deny the Falklanders a referendum even if they did not want to remain British.

The second weakness is the idea that sovereign and political determination is dependent upon geographical propinquity. According to Kirchner, the Islands properly ‘belong’ to Argentina and not Britain because they are too far away from the latter, which gives rise to the obvious, nauseatingly arbitrary question that if the Islands were closer to the British mainland than to Argentina, even by the relatively tiny margin of a mile, would the latter’s claim to sovereignty over the territory be any weaker than it is? Or the former’s any stronger? The answer is, of course, no: the core issue here is the right of the Islanders to make unfettered decisions about their own sovereignty, not the location of the Islands themselves.

Nonsense argumentation comes from a much broader array of senior Argentine officials than President Kirchner alone. In an opinion piece in The Independent, Argentine Ambassador to the UK Alicia Castro argued that Britain cannot refuse discussions with Argentina on the basis of Falkland self-determination, since there has been no UN resolution recognising such a right. Castro is indisputably correct about the absence of a resolution, but this has more to do with the fact that the UN Charter covered that particular base 67 years ago when it recognised the sovereign equality and integrity of its member states, rather than the fictitiousness of the right. Tailor-made resolutions from the UN are not required to guarantee the independence and integrity of a nation and its constituent territories.

Outside of this nonsensical and illogical rhetoric the Kirchner administration’s conduct has become increasingly blusterous, occasionally extending to threats against the peaceful status quo. In a boorish and undiplomatic threat that paints Britain rather than Argentina as the aggressive state, Ambassador Castro argued that talks between London and Buenos Aires were necessary to ensure peace in the region. This casually ignores the reality that the situation has only deteriorated due to the puerility and crudity of her government’s approach, and will continue to do so only at her government’s leisure.  

Kirchner’s cornering of Cameron during a break at the recent G20 Summit, as she continued with her attempts to manhandle him into a concession by presenting documents stating her case, was exceptionally grubby. Foreign policy goals are not to be achieved through the shady and impromptu thrusting of envelopes in hidden corridors. The image Kirchner has tried to construct for her administration as meek, mild, and bullied by a Western colonialist power simply cannot be taken sincerely when the envelope she presented to Cameron bore the label ‘Malvinas’: the historical Spanish name for the Falklands that Argentina clings to in an incendiary attempt to make a point.

But behind the Kirchner administration’s hard visage, many suspect that the President is motivated by a flagging economy and the miscarriage of economic policy. The creation of an external enemy may indeed serve to unite the Argentine people behind Kirchner and draw attention away from the failings of her government. Argentina’s economy is faltering due in large part to policy that is viewed as both unpredictable and hostile to foreign investment. In May 2012 Kirchner’s government expropriated Repsol’s share of the oil firm YPF as punishment for a lack of investment by the company, which led to raised yields on Argentine debt and a surge in the price of Credit Default Swaps. The Argentine economy’s classification as a frontier market, a designation basically signifying a higher degree of risk for investors relative to other markets, undoubtedly provides sufficient incentive for Kirchner to create political diversions.

There may even be a more concrete economic motivation behind Argentina’s claim to the Falklands. The discovery of extensive oil reserves in the littoral waters of the Islands could prove invaluable as Argentina begins the fight against its energy deficit, which currently stands at over US$3 billion. Argentina appears particularly concerned with rightful ownership of the resources in question; it is presently engaged in the legal pursuit of several British-based oil firms who had begun prospecting in the area. It is highly likely that the Kirchner administration is abiding so steadfastly by an argument that makes very little sense in order to disassociate itself from the grimy practice of oil-grabbing.

Naturally, as with the remainder of Argentina’s arguments relating to the Falkland Islands, there can be no conceivable justification for suspending, eliminating, or ignoring the right of a people to determine their own political destiny. This fact has been a mainstay of both the conventions of international law and the conduct of states for such a long time that restating it is practically a banality. Nonetheless the Kirchner administration continues to sound off about the pseudo-injustice being committed against its nation by the British; it is perhaps charmingly ironic that it does so in the very fora (such as the UN) that are the most unlikely to lend support to their position. Argentina’s case amounts to nothing but vacuous, uncompelling sound and unjustified, fruitless fury which has been treated by the British government with the contempt it merits.

The Falkland Islands are a British territory inhabited by a people who wish to remain British; and that, despite Kirchner’s reluctance to accept it, is that.


Joe Attwood is a student at King's College London interested in international security, defence and politics issues, particularly focused on US foreign and domestic policy. 


2 July 2012