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Oil, national pride at stake in the Falklands

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Oil, national pride at stake in the Falklands

Photo Reporting: QueenMom & Prince WilliamInterests in oil and other natural resources have led to renewed tensions over the Falkland Islands. The confrontation between Argentina and Great Britain is about strategic interests - and wounded pride.

It's become a kind of ritual: with each major anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War comes renewed saber rattling. The months ahead of the 30th anniversary of Argentina's occupation of the disputed archipelago on April 2 have been no exception.

Argentina and Great Britain trade off in charging one another with colonialism or imperialism, both insisting on their right to the small group of islands that are shared by around 3,000 residents, 1,200 British military troops and half a million sheep. London recently sent its HMS Dauntless destroyer and, according to media reports, a nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner responded by issuing a protest to the United Nations that the British deployment represents "a major risk to international security."

'On a crusade'

"The Argentine president is on a personal crusade," said Sukey Cameron, the UK representative of the Falkland Islands government. "I think the issue of the island is very high up on her agenda."

In fact, Argentina has been increasing pressure for two years. Starting in 2010, ships in Argentinean waters were told they needed special authorization if they were headed toward the archipelago.

At the end of last year, four of the countries in the South American economic union Mercosur agreed to close their harbors to ships flying the Falklands flag.

The move is little more than symbolic, but islanders fear further sanctions such as an embargo against companies active in the Falklands. Some speculate that Kirchner could convince Chile to shut off the only flight connection between the archipelago and South America.

"We very much hope not," said Falkland representative Cameron, appealing somewhat helplessly to Argentinean patriotism, as it's a step that would prevent Argentinean war veterans and family members of the victims from visiting the islands.

A royal stir

London reacted to the pressure earlier this year by sending one of its future heads of state to the Falklands. Prince William, the grandson of the queen and a helicopter pilot in the Royal Air Force, was stationed for six weeks at the Mount Pleasant airfield on the islands. The Ministry of Defence stressed that his presence was routine and long planned, but few believe those claims.

The Falklands issue is high on Kirchner's agenda"The difficulty I have with that argument is that his deployment was never going to be just routine," said Klaus Dodds, an expert for geopolitics at the University of London's Royal Holloway College. Dodds added that it's not at all surprising for Argentina to see the move as a pointed provocation.

Natural resources are part of the reason why the islands are such an object of interest. Many expect to find oil near the approximately 200 islands, even though test drills have so far delivered no results. Dodds believes the long-term prospect of reserves of raw materials is a more important factor.

"The proximity to Antarctica is huge. To my mind it's one of the big factors that hasn't really been sufficiently discussed because so much of what Britain does in the Falklands is driven in large part by the British Antarctic Territory," he said.

The islands serve as a jumping off point to that territory, an enormous chunk of land on the icy continent under British control.

"I am not saying anybody any time soon is going to be exploiting Antarctica for oil, gas, uranium, zinc or whatever," Dodds noted. But, he added, the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty System, an environmental protocol which currently forbids exploitation, could be revised at a conference in 2048.

Foreign policy victory

From the Argentinean side, national pride is a major component in the conflict. Many consider the British control of the islands an enduring humiliation, and the topic was an important part of Argentina's foreign policy throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Rightly so, argues Marcelo Leiras, a political scientist at the University of San Andres in Buenos Aires, who says the issue touches on Argentina's sovereignty.

"Sovereignty is not something you measure in square kilometers or riches," said Leiras. "Either you exercise it or you don't and any challenge to sovereignty is seen as a sign of political weakness."

With that in mind, the approach President Kirchner has taken makes sense, he said.

"The president has a stronger personal interest and different take on the issue and a different idea of what might work to better advance Argentina's interest," said Leiras, adding that the harbor closures represent a "significant victory for Argentina's foreign policy."

'Sovereignty is not up for negotiation'

The archipelago was once in the hands of the French and Spanish, and it has been a British territory since 1833. But the distance between the islands and the countries that have ruled it are reason enough to question the British claim to the region, according to Leiras.

However, the political scientist considers Argentina's 1982 invasion a mistake. He describes the war that cost 900 people their lives as a desperate attempt by the military junta to hold on to power.

Both of the involved countries, along with independent observers, rule out the possibility of a renewed war over the islands, but many also think it's unlikely the conflict will be resolved soon. The UN issued a resolution in 1965 calling on both sides to take up negotiations, but Great Britain has insisted on maintaining the status quo. Argentina is only interested in negotiations that would affect the status of the Falklands, said the island's UK representative.

"We are happy to discuss anything with them except for sovereignty," said Cameron. "Sovereignty is not up for negotiation."

Those stances represent nothing new, says Falkland expert Dodds. "UN resolutions get taken seriously by more powerful nations when it suits them."

Author: Dennis Stute / gsw Editor: Martin Kuebler Source: Deutsche Welle



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