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with a Regional Seminar which is held at one of the Non-Self-Governing Territories which remain on this rather outdated Committee’s ‘list’.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 ?




Happy New Year 2012

I haven’t had a moan on this site since November I see. Well, I’m beginning to get a little disillusioned. I have doubts.

I have doubts that Argentina is actually a serious contender.

Let’s take a look at events since my last post here. What has happened? Nothing really. Having failed, arguably not even tried, to get a ‘live’ United Nations General Assembly Resolution again in 2011, Argentina continues to shout about long dead Resolutions. 2065 for example, which dates back to 1965, and was probably Argentina’s only real diplomatic success at the UN. The problem though is that, for all the desperate attempts to resurrect it, Resolution 2065 is dead. Stabbed in the back by Argentina itself in 1982. A diplomatic suicide.

Then there are the annual General Assembly Resolutions that were thrown up between 1982 and 1988. All of them requesting that Britain and Argentina talk, and eventually that’s what they did. There was talk and, in 1989, a resumption of diplomatic contact, and, indeed, a number of agreements on fisheries, oil exploration, etc. All of which Argentina subsequently broke of course, but then that’s Argentina for you.

Importantly, the UN stopped making Resolutions asking Britain and Argentina to discuss their differences. I can only take the near deafening silence since 1988 as an indication that the UN was satisfied with the renewal of diplomatic relations and would now rather the whole subject went and annoyed someone else.

So that was the UN. Nothing getting passed the Fourth Committee on the issue of the Falklands, and in particular, nothing from the sub-sub-Commmittee generally known as the C24. It is suggested that the C is for ‘Committee’ but I have a rather different opinion. It’s not a high one, or worthy of repeating here. Britain long ago withdrew from dealing with the C24, although we did reserve a right to comment on matters involving the Falklands. Officially, I don’t think we ever have. Unofficially, the Englishman who sits at the back of the room has been known to have a quiet word after some particularly ludicrous decision. The quiet word seems to work.

Argentina doesn’t much go for quiet words, so November and December has been filled with increasingly loud rhetoric and claims of small victories. “China supports us”, was one; failing to mention that China always has, mostly because China wants Argentine support over Taiwan. “CELAC supports us”, was yet another, even though CELAC’s support was muted, and no-one actually knows what a CELAC is. I think that it is a type of vegetable, which is what it looks like, but I suspect we may never get to find out.

The latest storm in a tea-cup was Mercosur’s ban on Falkland flagged vessels from visiting their ports. Actually, this one dates from 2010, but as nobody seemed to have noticed, it was obviously worth repeating. Or at least it would have been, if the ban was actually very effective.

For political reasons little Uruguay took the most vocal stand for this ban, failing to  mention to its neighbours that the country would need some legislative change to make it work. Or that such change, was by no means certain. Uruguay’s official stance is that no new law is needed, but as there is at least one Falklands flagged vessel still sitting at Montevideo, this looks about as effective as the ban on British warships. One of which is also sitting in Montevideo harbour now, and has been since December 30th.

All of which only goes to show, that politics + bull and bluster = no contest.

I do hope that things liven up this year. In many ways they should, what with the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s last attempt at invasion, the 180th anniversary of their first, and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations which will include a Royal visit ( by a very minor Royal) to the Falkland Islands. Oh, and there’s Prince William’s deployment too. Well, if he turns up at your crisis, any self-respecting Argentine should refuse to have anything to do with him, and drown for their misplaced cause.

Maybe I won’t be disappointed in 2012, but I suspect that I will.

Argentina just hasn’t got it!

Happy New Year.

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’.




If memory serves the British forces stationed on the Falkland Islands test their missiles every six months, which seems to make sense. No good pressing the button in time of need and nothing happening.

Now, a little known part of the 1989/90 agreement to restore diplomatic relations between Argentina and the UK, following  the break-down in 1982, deals with actions such as this by requiring a transfer of information. This also seems pretty sensible, one side keeping the other side informed so that no misunderstandings arise.

So far so good. But what happened in October 2010 was that Argentina suddenly woke up to the latest missile test and attempted to generate some political capital out of it. The result was complaints from a number of the ‘usual suspects’ and a formal protest laid before the International Maritime Organisation, whose bemused officers normally deal with such mundane issues as vessel safety.

The complaint was noted, and filed.

Now what do we have? News of Argentina asking Brazil to up-date their obsolete missiles, news of Argentina pushing for a UNASUR defence force and news of them seeking to join Brazil in producing a nuclear submarine.

Brazil has recently done a deal with France that will see just such a submarine entering into its service within the next few years. Argentina is hoping to join its larger trading partner by using an older submarine of their own and converting it to nuclear fuel.

Add to this United Nations’ concerns about a creeping militarization of Latin America and the result seems to be a near future return to the politics of the gun in the south cone. All potentially dangerous for the Falkland Islands and the few other territories held by European nations in that part of the world.

The reality of course may not be so bad. Brazil is more concerned with protecting its off shore oil fields than getting into anyone elses’ argument over small areas of territory. Quite why it is worried about someone attempting to take over the oil fields is not very clear, but it is. Brazil has even talked about the construction some kind of ‘sub-sea’ base within its EEZ so that it can keep a better eye on its territory.

Argentina is starting from a much lower position with its armed forces starved of cash for much of the last 25 years. And for all the bull and bluster about constructing a nuclear powered submarine, the vessel it is intending to use was never designed to take nuclear engines, and has been sitting on a dock in crates for the last 10 years.

Whether UNASUR is ever able to get its act together and make up a security force is something we’ll have to wait to see.

But the point is this, Argentina belly aches about what it sees as the militarisation of the South Atlantic, criticising the UK for the defence force that it keeps on the Falklands and whingeing anytime a Royal Naval vessel wants to dock in one of the mainland ports. Yet it fails to see the hypocrisy in its own moves to increase its military might in the same area.

It is doubtful that an Argentine nuclear submarine will ever see the light of day, but perhaps the British should protest and take the matter to the International Maritime Organisation.

Who of course, don’t give a damn!

A British Position

In some of the many open forums that allow debate on the history and issues surrounding Britain’s possession of the Falkland Islands, I have seen a huge mix of misinformation with regard to the British Government’s current position on the islands.

Perhaps not surprisingly with the degree of emotion involved, arguments have raged over issues as diverse as the rights of the parties following 1771, who discovered the islands, Britain’s justification in 1833, geography and acquisitive prescription.

It occurred to me that, as positions change with the tides of time, it would be worthwhile to state clearly the current position of the UK Government. It may change again of course, any international lawyer has to be flexible after all, but as of June, 2010 the Government’s stance is clear:

” The British Government has no doubt about Britain’s sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

With the exception of the 2 months of illegal occupation in 1982, the Falklands have been continuously, peacefully and effectively inhabited and administered by Britain since 1833. {1}

Argentina’s claim to the Falklands is based on the grounds that, at the time of British repossession of the Islands in 1833, Argentina had sovereignty over them through her inheritance, upon independence, of Spain’s possessory title (uti possidetis), through her attempts to settle the Islands between 1826 and 1833, and through the concept of territorial contiguity. {2} 

However, uti possedetis is not accepted as a general principle of international law. {3} 

Moreover Spain’s title to the Islands was disputed and in 1811 the Spanish settlement was evacuated, leaving the Islands without inhabitants or any form of government. Argentina’s subsequent attempts at settlement were sporadic and ineffectual.

As for territorial contiguity, this has never been a determinant for title to islands (otherwise the Canary Islands, for example, might be Moroccan) and should not be used to overrule the right of self-determination. {4} 

The Argentine Government has argued that the Falkland Islanders do not enjoy the right of self-determination, on the (false) basis that they replaced an indigenous Argentine population expelled by force. However there was no indigenous or settled population on the Islands until British settlement.

The people who live in the Falklands now are not a transitory population. Many can trace their origins in the Islands back to the early 19th century. Britain is committed to defend their right to choose their own future.

The Islanders are fully entitled to enjoy the right of self-determination. It is a right which cannot be applied selectively or be open to negotiation, and one which is recognised in the UN Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Self-determination does not necessarily mean independence. Britain has willingly granted independence where it has been requested, and will continue to do so where it is an option, while remaining committed to those of its Overseas Territories which choose to retain the British connection.

In exercise of their right of self-determination, the Falkland Islanders have repeatedly made known their wish to remain British.

An Argentine-inspired poll, conducted in 1994, revealed that 87% of them would be against any form of discussion with Argentina over sovereignty, under any circumstances.

In 1960 the United Nations General Assembly adopted its Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (GAR 1514). A committee was set up to oversee implementation of this resolution. This Committee, which became known as the Committee of Twenty-four, considered the question of the Falklands for the first time in 1964. Following its recommendations, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 2065 in 1965. The Resolution invited the British and Argentine Governments to begin negotiations ‘with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the UN Charter and of GAR 1514 and the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).’

During 1967 and 1968 Britain entered into negotiations with Argentina based on a willingness to transfer sovereignty. Although the British Government had no doubt about British sovereignty of the Falklands, they were concerned by the difficulty of defending the Islands, and by the threat to the Islands’ economy from declining world demand for wool and from their isolation without links to the mainland.

However, Britain maintained throughout that any transfer of sovereignty must be subject to the wishes of the Islanders. It was on this issue that negotiations foundered.

Although the United Nations General Assembly has not debated the question of the Falklands since 1988, the Committee of Twenty-four has continued to adopt resolutions calling for negotiations between Britain and Argentina.

These resolutions are flawed because they make no reference to the Islanders’ right to choose their own future. Several members of the Committee have acknowledged this omission.

The principle of self-determination is included in every other resolution considered by the Committee.

The British position that sovereignty is not for negotiation remains unaltered.

There will be no change in the status of the Falklands without the Islanders’ consent.

The White Paper, Britain and the Overseas Territories, presented to Parliament by the Foreign Secretary in March 1999, did not propose any change of status. It charted a new partnership with all our Overseas Territories, founded on several core principles including the right of self-determination. In the White Paper the Government said, ‘Our Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British…”

{1} The first paragraph appears to refer to the legal concept of ‘acquisitive prescription’ or, arguably, ‘extinctive prescription’ but I have my doubts about this. It may serve as a fall back argument, but both of these concepts involve a trespasser obtaining good title from an owner. This is obviously flawed, as Britain has never acknowledged Argentina’s right of ownership. The term ‘peaceful’ is also open to debate and Argentina’s repeated diplomatic objections since 1941 may act to stop an ‘acquisitive prescription’ argument.

Having said that, the fact that Argentina negotiated and ratified a Treaty of Friendship in 1849 which purported to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries, and Argentina’s silence on the subject between 1849 and 1888 would tend to indicate acquiescence during that period.

There is also an argument that Argentina’s failure to take the UK to the International Court of Justice after its foundation in 1945 is sufficient evidence of ‘extinctive possession’.

{2} Territorial contiguity is a fancy term for geography, ie. if a territory is close to a large State, then it has to belong to that State. Something of a joke in international law, Argentina has hinted at this as one of its main arguments. When Britain unilaterally submitted a case to the ICJ over South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Argentina declined to recognise the court’s jurisdiction instead relying on some vague concept of ‘natural law’ and their claim being ‘too self evident to require judicial determination’.

Of course, this simplistic approach to the issue of sovereignty was dismissed as having no legal weight in international law in the Islas de Palmas Case of 1928 where the issue was considered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague.

{3} The Uti possidetis here is more commonly known as Uti possidetis juris, considered in the Beagle Channel arbitration as rather more of a political tenet of inter-South American politics, than a legal concept capable of binding a party outside South America.

{4} The right of a people to ‘self determination’ is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, a multilateral Treaty signed by all the Members of the UN including Argentina. This right remains unqualified in any regard, even after repeated attempts by Argenta to subject Articles 73 and 74 to a ‘sovereignty dispute’ condition in its submissions to the Special Committee on Decolonization.

So where does this leave us?

The basis of Britain’s continued refusal to negotiate without the Falkland Islander’s consent is laid out clearly.

Argentina’s arguments however, are based on theories already disproven. Importantly, she needs to deal with the modern argument that the UN Charter overrides all other considerations. Until Argentina manages this, the situation is unlikely to change.