Falklands fracas flares amid Antarctic anxieties

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Jan. 3 issued an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, published as a paid advertisement in British dailies, urging the UK, a “colonial power,” to abide by a UN resolution to “end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations” and return the Malvinas/Falkland Islands to Argentina. In The Telegraph, Nile Gardiner, a former aide to Margaret Thatcher, responded by charging the letter is “stuffed full of falsehoods and has no regard for reality.” Gardiner asserts: “The Falklands are not a colony, but a self-governing British Overseas Territory.” (The Guardian, Jan. 3)

London’s The Sun tabloid retaliated by placing an ad in the English-language Buenos Aires Herald telling Argentina to keep its “hands off” the Falkland Islands. The conservative Daily Mail on Jan. 6 asked Cameron if Britain is ready to fight another war over the Falklands, and proudly trumpeted his reponse: “Of course we would. We have strong defences in place on the Falkland Islands. That is absolutely key—we have fast jets stationed there, we have troops stationed on the Falklands. I get regular reports on this entire issue because I want to know that our defences are strong, our resolve is extremely strong.”

The Argentine Foreign Ministry prompty issued a statement decrying Cameron’s “military threats,” adding: “The aggressiveness present in the British Prime Minister’s words ratify the complaint filed by the Argentine Republic before the United Nations regarding the militarization of the South Atlantic and the possible presence of nuclear weapons brought by the colonial power.” (Buenos Aires Herald, Jan. 6) This presumably refers to claims reported last year that the UK had sent a nuclear-armed submarine to the Malvinas/Falklands.   

The fracas comes on the heels of a diplomatic dispute over another British possession in the South Atlantic. On Dec. 21, the UK’s ambassador to Argentina, John Freeman, was summoned to explain to officials in Buenos Aires why part of Antarctica had been renamed in honour of the Queen. Freeman was handed a formal protest note “strongly rejecting” the UK’s claim to a piece of land known as the British Antarctic Territory, which had days earlier been formally designed “Queen Elizabeth Land” by Foreign Secretary William Hague. The note claimed the area was part of the Argentine sector of Antarctica.

The Territory—which at 169,000 square miles is almost twice the size of the UK—has been claimed by the British since 1908. Both Argentina and Chile insist they have prior claims to large areas of the same land. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty between 12 nations including Britain and Argentina, outlawed the establishment of new territorial claims in the Antarctic, but stated that it did not reject existing claims. The British Antarctic Survey has three scientific research bases in the territory, and the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel HMS Protector is stationed in the area for part of the year.

The UK Foreign Office said there was precedent for naming parts of the continent after members of the British royal family. East Antarctica is home to Princess Elizabeth Land, named after the Queen before she took the throne, and in 2006 an unnamed mountain range in the Antarctic peninsula was named the Princess Royal Range in tribute to the Queen’s daughter. (BBC News, Dec. 21)