Let’s hear it for expense accounts !

May already! This occasional commentary piece has become very occasional. Of course the reason for this is that I’ve devoted rather more of my time to the Falklands History Blog and the Falklands News site.

Having said that, one of my particular grouses concerns the United Nations sub-sub-Committee known as the C24, and, as in previous years, they are gearing up once again for the show that they put on for a few weeks in summer.

This annual circus commences with a Regional Seminar which is held at one of the Non-Self-Governing Territories which remain on this rather outdated Committee’s ‘list’. Or perhaps not. This year it’s going to be held in Ecuador’s capital city. Well, I suppose the night life will be rather better than if they held it in a small wanna-be nation in the middle of the Pacific. Or in the Falklands for instance.

The original remit of this Committee was to oversea the transfer to full sovereignty of the oppressed colonies that once belonged to the supposed super-powers. This they did, in their early years. But these are not the early years, and there is a palpable sense at the UN of money being wasted seeing as how this Committee has failed to achieve very much in the last 20 years.

One of the things that they should be doing, is listening to the peoples of the NSG Territories. But it would seem that even this is beyond them. A number of NSGT’s have been shouting that they like the status quo, but does that get them off the list – oh no. Others have been asking for a visit by this Committee, but again their requests fall on deaf ears.

Ecuador then. Perhaps the perfect place for an old boys club where a goodly percentage of the old boys are from that region and are living high on expense accounts. At the expense of the NSGT’s certainly.

And what’s next? Well after the junket, the old boys will all return to the UN where they’ll spend a week listening to the same arguments that they heard last year, and, in fact, every year. They’ll then probably make the same recommendations to the Fourth Committee above them that they did last year, and every year.

Of course the one question that they’ll not consider is: Why do they bother ?




Fortress Falklands – Is Argentina up for it?

“Ripe for the picking”, were the words chosen by Air Commodore Andrew Lambert in his reference to the Falkland Islands during this week’s blast of fury from Defence Chiefs over the cuts to their budgets.

The most recent report to come from the United Kingdom National Defence Association, entitled the Inconvenient Truths, says that British overseas territories are at risk and warns the Falkland Islands could fall if Argentina decided to abandon its peaceful approach to the issue of sovereignty, and invaded again, supported by its new-found friend the Chinese.

The report concludes: ‘The vital twin pillars of Britain’s security for the past 50 years, the ‘‘special relationship’’ with America and the continuation of an effective Nato, can no longer be guaranteed unless Britain increases its defence capabilities substantially and soon.’

Quite why the Chinese would abandon their long adhered to, ‘hands off’ approach to international politics isn’t made very clear. Nor is there any assessment of Argentina’s ability to actually amount an attack, considering its much depleted armed forces.

So what of the threat to the British Overseas Territories world-wide? What of the threat to the Falklands and Gibraltar?

The reality, as usual, is politics.

Argentina’s main threat is the potential for their President, Cristina Fernandez, to bore the Falkland Islanders into submission. That is a very clear and present danger. The ability of Argentine forces to successfully attack on the other hand, is rather more moot. Badly underfunded for the last 20 odd years, it is doubtful that they could gather enough of a force together to have much hope of success against even the limited forces on the Islands, not to mention the submarines that would be sent to the area the moment that a threat became apparent.

Besides, if Argentina’s Government took the Islands by force, what would they use as a smoke-screen to prevent their voters finding out about the true state of their economy?

So, for all the shouting, I am not very worried that we are about to lose the Falklands. Much the same goes for Gibraltar. Technically a lot easier for Spain to over-run the Rock, but politically a lot less likely.

No-body seems to want Pitcairn, or indeed, any of the other remnants of Empire.

Every-time Argentina wants to distract its population from other events, or to rally them behind the Government, the cry ‘Malvinas Argentina’s’ goes up. Every time the British Defence Chiefs want more money, “the Falklands are in danger’ appears on every newspaper.

Mind you, it was the defence cuts of 1774 that brought out the garrison from Port Egmont and spurred Spain into thinking it had the Islands all to themselves. And it was the defence cuts of the early 1980’s that suggested to Argentina’s ruling Junta that we didn’t care.

I think they know that we care now. But perhaps a couple of submarines should float about in that area for a while.



Self Determination Call at the United Nations

Nice speech from Malawi at the United Nations yesterday.

Foreign Minister Arthur Peter Mutharika, speaking to the UN’s General Assembly, said that the United Nations must renew its commitment to ensure that the world’s 16 remaining non-self-governing territories, home collectively to nearly two million people, are able to exercise their right to self-determination, before going on to praise those Administering Powers which had provided an opportunity for people in their non-self-governing territories to freely choose their destiny.

As there aren’t too many ‘Administering Powers’ left, the presumption must be that he has recognised the United Kingdom’s committment to ensuring that its Overseas Territories (OTs) are as self-determining as possible.

In that vein, the UK’s Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham has just invited all 280,000 residents of the OTs to send their views into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with a new White Paper due early in 2012.

Malawi’s Foreign Minister also called upon the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonization (C24), “to pursue genuine dialogue aimed at finding fresh and more creative ways to eradicate colonialism.”

My views on the dysfunctional and discredited C24 are well-known, but maybe there’s always a glimmer of hope that they’ll get past the obfuscation of Argentina’s annual input and actually recognise that their job is to assist the peoples of the Non-Self Governing Territories to determine their own futures. Not to play sovereignty politics.

The thing I enjoyed most about Peter Mutharika’s reported speech is that he talked about the 16 names on the C24’s list. Not 15!

Malawi is a member of the G77 + China Group. Remember them?



Faulty Towers

Talk about mixed messages.

Last week it was the Foreign Office showing a lack of fibre over the deployment of Prince William to the Falklands in the face of protests from Argentina. This week they are reassuring the money men in the City of London about the committment to defend the Islands.

Has something changed? Probably not. As one of the great Offices of State the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has long been recognised as the sort of ivory tower that carries on pretty much regardless of the realities that surround it.

It was, after all the Foreign Office that were so keen to enter negotiations with Argentina in the 1960’s, with the aim of disposing of an obstruction to their greater ambitions both at the United Nations and in the south cone. That over 2,000 Britain lived on that obstruction did not enter into their isolated minds. That those people had lives and rights did not either. It was only when the Islanders’ open letter hit Parliament in the February of 1968 did the Foreign Office wake up to the fact that the Islanders’ plight resonated with the British people. Their paymasters.

But they don’t learn. As a result the Labour Government ploughed on with negotiations with Spain over Gibraltar, advised by the Foreign Office, and completely oblivious to the will of the electorate. And then, when realisation dawns, there’s a massive U-turn and the Government is embarrassed.

That’s what happened in 1968, and that’s what happened to Mr. Blair.

And still they don’t learn. Prince William’s deployment to the Search and Rescue team on the Falkland Islands is not just a matter of military expediency. It’s a matter of British pride. That he should be there on an anniversary of a war that we pursued with honour is a matter for even greater pride.

But the image from this week’s news is that, as so many times in the past, the Foreign Office only responds to the money. The big investors in the City scream for assurances and the Foreign Office suddenly support a strong response to Argentina’s continued belligerence.

It really is about time these civil servants learnt the meaning of the word, ‘servant’.



September Song

Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December

But the days grow short when you reach September,

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.

September again, and on the 23rd the 66th session of the United Nations opens in New York. That’s sixty-six years since the founding of the UN when the first nations joined together by signing the Charter, agreeing to pursue peaceful means to resolve their disputes and to abide by the conventions of the multi-lateral Treaty that they had signed.

Over 190 countries now have Membership of this vast talking shop, and at one time, or another, most leaders stand up and give some kind of speech to the UN’s General Assembly. Some are noteworthy, many are not but in the context of my favourite subject, some speeches are worth listening to.

Once again, I understand that Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is due to give just such a speech to the General Assembly at the beginning of this new session. As it coincides with Argentina holding the Chair of the G77 + China group of countries, there may be more bums on seats than could otherwise be guaranteed.

Ms Kirchner gave a similar speech back in 2008, saving the penultimate paragraph to say, ” Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to mention an issue that relates not only to my country, …. but that relates to this House and also the need to address the twenty-first century without colonial enclaves. I mean the question of our Malvinas Islands, where despite the resolutions of this honourable body, where despite all instances that have been taken in this area, the United Kingdom strictly refuses to deal with the Argentina Republic or discuss the Falkland Islands issue …. I would ask once again, as did the various Presidents who have preceded me, …. to urge once again the United Kingdom to comply with the norms of international law.” 

It would be quite remarkable if, in an election year, Argentina’s President did not raise the issue in her speech this year.

2008 of course, was also the year that Argentina’s cronies on the Special Committee for Decolonization (C24) attempted to slip a Resolution past the Fourth Committee that would have qualified the universal right to self-determination by limiting that right to cases where there was no sovereignty dispute. In other words, the Falkland Islanders, and the Gibraltarians would have been subject to a condition that rendered them lesser beings than any other peoples in this world.

Fortunately the British Permanent Representative to the UN spotted the trick and had it thrown out by the Fourth Committee.

Which brings me nicely to that Committee. Once again, come October, the issue of the last remaining ‘non self governing’ territories will come up for debate. The majority will get little more than a brief mention before being lumped together in a nondescript Resolution and forgotten for another twelve months. Gibraltar and the Western Sahara will get a Resolution each although absolutely nothing will change in either case. The Falkland Islands will just get half a day, maybe even a full one if the Committee needs to fill out the time. From previous experience that will be it …. for another year.

Argentina managed to get six General Assembly Resolutions out of the UN between 1982 and 1988 but it seems that a majority of the UN has come to the conclusion that it is not worth the doing any more. The six were repetitive, and achieved nothing. General Assembly Resolutions are, in any case, only recommendations and not international law as Ms Kirchner would suggest.

It is a pity that the General Assembly lacks the courage to review the decolonisation list and remove those who don’t actually want to be anything other than they already are.

For the Falkland Islands, the words of the song are not quite correct, but it is a long, long time from June when the C24 sit, to October when the Fourth Committee consider its Resolutions, and with little hope of change, there’s still a waiting game.

I’m looking forward to Cristina’s speech.

Out with Old, In with the New?

In October last year the UK’s permanent Representative at the United Nations stood up before the Fourth Committee and proposed that the modern relationship that now exists between Britain and its last remaining Overseas Territories was sufficient to allow for those Territories to be de-listed. Needless to say, the proposal went no further and 10 fragments of the British Empire remain on the UN’s decolonisation list.

As the Special Committee on Declonisation starts its third decade amid frustration at the Committee’s inability to move forward, it is interesting to note that new business may come its way.

In the last ten years the Committee has only managed to oversee one ex-colony taking up independence, and the reality is that of the 16 still remaining on its list fewer than half a dozen have any real hope of taking the road to independence and the majority don’t have any desire to. Certainly most of Britain’s Overseas Territories are happy to remain as such, partly as a result of the support they receive in financial assistance or defence, but also because they just don’t see themselves as anything other than British.

This rather leaves the Special Committee with little to do other than till the same ground every year, with Gibraltar, the Western Sahara and the Falkland Islands taking up a disproportionate amount of its time.

Perhaps that will change.

On Thursday, the French Polynesian Assembly approved a resolution asking the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to reinscribe French Polynesia on the UN decolonization list. A majority of 30 Assembly members voted for the resolution with 26 against.

The resolution will be presented to September’s Pacific Islands Forum meeting, in Auckland, New Zealand and French Polynesia president Oscar Temaru also plans to send the resolution to the United Nations, in New York.

Puerto Rico and West Papua have also been calling for re-listing following a resurgence of independence movements within their Territories and aparently they are not alone.

Perhaps the time has come for the Special Committee to drop those Territories that it has no hope of assisting to independence, and rather take on some whose enthusiasm has them knocking at its door?

Fear and Loathing in the south Atlantic

As I’ve said before, I mooch, although I suppose that the more modern word would be ‘surf’. I prefer mooch.

Mooching is frustrating though and I get quite annoyed at the sheer lack of material on the internet. Now I know that the internet is vast and contains billions of bits of information, but it’s not big enough. Not when you live miles away from the National Archives which cost the country a small fortune to maintain, but haven’t for all that funding, got around to scanning the lot into the world wide web.

But then sometimes I get lucky.

A few days ago I came across an article from the american, Temple International and Comparative Law Journal entitled – “ Fear and Loathing in the South Pole: The need to resolve the Antarctic sovereignty issue and a framework for doing it…”  by Kevin Tray (Spring 2008).

The article is concerned with the future of oil exploration in the Antarctic which the author considers is likely to start within the next couple of decades. The current international agreements under the Antarctic Treaty don’t forbid exploration as such but the requirement for all the signatories to agree on almost everything in effect bans progress in this area. This is all up for review in 2041 but Mr. Tray obviously believes that the Treaty will break long before then.

Coincidently there were recent news reports of Norway stating its intention of exploring for oil off Bouvet Island which, due to its location, may breach the international agreement.

Mr. Tray’s article is interesting from two perspectives.

Firstly it outlines how the overlapping claims of Britain, Chile and Argentina might be dealt with by the International Court of Justice which the author believes is, “ .. the only venue with sufficiently perceived credibility, expertise, and independence to handle such a case.”

Secondly is the comparison which may be made between any judicial consideration of the Antarctic Peninsula sovereignty issues and a case covering the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

The article highlights the importance of four previous judgements which would carry, at the very least, persuasive authority at the ICJ.

The Islands of Palmas Case 1928 (Perm. Ct. Arb. 1928 / Hague Ct. 1932)

The Clipperton Island Case 1931

The Legal Status of Eastern Greenland Case 1933

The Minquiers and Ecrehos Case 1953

I will not attempt to give a potted version of the author’s arguments of how an Antarctic Peninsula sovereignty case would be viewed at the ICJ or his conclusions but I recommend it as an interesting read.

It has implications for all sovereignty disputes in the south Atlantic.