My post on my observations about the Falklands debate from going to Argentina appeared as a shorter, edited version on Liberal Conspiracy and Left Central as well, and generated a fair number of interesting responses across the three sites. My article was about how the issue is viewed in both countries, rather than being a fully-formed argument about to whom the islands should belong. However, unsurprisingly most people wanted to talk about the sovereignty question.
I wanted to write another post in order to respond to comments and also to venture further into the thorny area of sovereignty. My opinion on the matter is a fudge of thinking that the Falklanders should decide and what I put in my post (this was in the extended version that was on my blog but didn’t appear on the other websites):
“My personal position is moderate. Although I am not an apologist for British colonialists, I find the idea of making up for past colonialism by taking ownership of land against the will of the people who live on that land more than a bit hypocritical. Would we be justified in going to war over the islands again? I don’t think so. I know this sounds vague, but some middle way solution between the two countries, perhaps involving sharing revenues from the islands’ natural resources, seems to me to be the best option.”
I have tried to unpick some of the arguments discussed in the comments. The following are my feelings:
- I think it is important to separate what you feel about the sovereignty question and what you feel about the politicisation of the sovereignty question. I think commenters agreed with me that politicians in Argentina and the United Kingdom use and have used the matter to further their own ends (as cynically pointed out by the person who said “everybody’s lying and propagandising and everybody knows it all the time, except on those occasions when it suits people to pretend that they aren’t”) but this does not mean they are always necessarily in the wrong.
- I don’t we should be swayed too much by a historical perspective. The idea that what your dead ancestors did, over which you had no control, should determine your right or lack thereof to land is ridiculous. Yet that is what some commenters suggested: that because Argentineans are largely descendants of European colonists, Argentina perhaps loses its right over the Falklands. On the other side, it was suggested that the Falklanders’ have no right to self determination because they are simply descendants of British colonisers, so they do not have the same rights to the land on which they live as if they were an indigenous people. I find both arguments irrelevant.
- One commenter expressed concern that if there were joint sovereignty there would be conflict between new Argentines and existing Falklanders on the island. I suppose this is worth thinking about, yet I have faith in the British and Argentines to be able to resolve this.
- One commenter argued in favour of eventual Argentine rule because of his experience of British neglect towards the islands before the war. Another said they wouldn’t want Argentina to control the islands because of the country’s “human rights issues and their lack of financial and military support to world peacekeeping”. Whilst these two are entitled to their opinions, if you think those on the Falklands should decide their country, it is irrelevant which country you think is best.
- On a similar note, the plight of the Chagos Islands was mentioned. I must admit I did not know much about this before, but after some research (i.e. a quick Wikipedia scan) it is obvious the British government was in the wrong. At the same time, this does not mean it automatically doesn’t have a right to control other territories.
- The question of money came into it. One commentator suggested the Falklanders would simply be a drain on our national resources, so we shouldn’t accept them, though someone else disagreed that they would cost a lot. More to the point, if you think we should let the Falklanders be British because of an obligation to the people, how much money these people give to or take from the state is irrelevant. The idea that we should support people based on how much money they can give is wrong.
- There was support for the Falklanders’ right to self-determination. However, someone said this:
“Self-determination is not strictly speaking a relevant issue here. For one thing, the main reason the Falklanders want to be part of Britain is because they come from Britain. If the British Army occupied an island in the South Pacific, paid the indigenous inhabitants to leave and then filled it with people from Britain, it would not come as a surprise if they chose British sovereignty over that of, say, Indonesia. And if several thousand people in a Chinese town asked to become part of Britain, they would almost certainly be refused. It’s not true that anybody who wants their territory to be British has a right to that: the administrative costs of such an operation would be prohibitive. In most circumstances the British Government would not pay any attention to barely three thousand people on the other side of the planet. The Falklands simply serve as a convenient miliatry outpost to safeguard British control over the natural resources of the South Atlantic.”
- I suppose the difference with the Falklands is that the British government is prepared to accept them, and as mentioned above, it is not fair to simply think of the current generation of Falklanders as colonisers.
There were a few other points that I would like to respond to:
- I was criticised for not using any opinions of the Falklanders in the article. This is because I went to Argentina, not the Falklands. This doesn’t mean I don’t think the opinions of the islanders matter; on the contrary, I actually said on the radio that the Falklanders want to be British. However, as I’ve already said, this wasn’t meant to be a post about who should have the islands.
- Similarly, I wasn’t suggesting that “we should cede the Falklands to Argentina because Argentinians, like, really care about them”. Read my opinion above.
- Some were also bemused, I think, about my understanding for the person who sent a message to the radio about hoping my plane crashed into the sea. I think I should point out I did not take this entirely seriously; I encountered a lot of mock-offence about the issue. In my experience people in Argentina are no less civil than people in the UK.
- Finally, the end of one comment about the debate after my post is worth repeating and is similar to what I said at the end of my post: “Quite why anyone feels the need to be so damn strident about it, as many clearly do, is anybody’s guess.”