The new US secretary of state John Kerry made it clear today that when the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands go to the polls to determine their future relationship with the United Kingdom their voice will fall on deaf ears in Washington. Not only has the Obama administration been calling for a negotiated settlement over the Islands, but it has also refused to say that it will recognise the outcome of next month's referendum. If this policy sounds familiar, it's because it's the same policy as Argentina.
If the UK wants to see a change in US policy then David Cameron and William Hague will have to raise the issue publically. It is true that raising the issue publically might rock the boat a little between Downing Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, but the relationship between the US and the UK is too strong for it to have any serious negative affect. If the Suez Crisis in 1956 or the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 couldn't damage Anglo-American relations then asking the US to support the right of self-determination for the Islanders is hardly going to do so.
Raising the issue publically would accomplish three things. First, it will finally get the point across to the White House that the Falkland Islands are an important issue in the UK. Secondly, it would force president Obama to pick between the Falkland Islanders or Argentina. It's not about the islands, it's about the people living there - either President Obama supports the right of self-determination or he doesn't. Thirdly, public pressure placed on the US administration from Downing Street is likely to raise awareness and encourage more support from Congress and other decision makers in DC.
Not only is the U.S. position over the Falkland Islands a betrayal of the Special Relationship it is also hypocritical. America is a country founded on the rights and ideas of self-determination so it is preposterous to think that the US will not back the right of self-determination of others. Last November, the right of self-determination was exercised by the people of Puerto Rico (a US Commonwealth similar in status to a British Overseas Territory) when voters there went to the polls in support of U.S. statehood for the first time in history. If self-determination is good enough for the Puerto Ricans then why not for the Falkland Islanders?
Most Americans would be shocked to learn that President Obama is on the side of Cristina Kirchner and her cronies and not on the side of the Falkland Islanders and the UK. Defenders of the White House say that President Obama's position is simply a continuation of US policy from previous administrations. This is wrong. Previous US administrations took a position of neutrality over the status of the Islands. Obama has clearly ended his neutrality by supporting Argentina's calls for negotiations between the London and Buenos Aires.
Since the upcoming referendum in the Falkland Islands is the first of its kind there is no US precedent for the administration to follow. This is why President Obama needs to exhibit some leadership and let the people of the Falkland Islands know that their voice will be heard by America.
The strongest argument the United Kingdom has for its claim on the Falkland Islands is the inhabitants' right to self-determination. The fact that President Obama cannot bring himself, or his State Department for that matter, to publicly support Britain's policy of self-determination for the Islanders is, at best, embarrassing for David Cameron and, at worst, damaging to Anglo-American relations.
During John Kerry's visit to London the Falkland Islands should have been high on the agenda for the UK. Instead, David Cameron did not raise the issue during his meeting with John Kerry. The UK and the people of the Falkland Islands should expect nothing less than a public commitment that US will recognise the outcome of the referendum. By failing to support the Falkland Islanders' right to self-determination the US is on the wrong side of history, and David Cameron should use every opportunity to remind Barack Obama of this.