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The Falklands Dispute Must be Resolved With Diplomacy

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Ever the diplomat, Morrissey declared at a concert in Córdoba, Argentina, last week, "we know the islands belong to you". The former Smiths singer was referring to the Falklands, or Las Malvinas, depending on your point of view.

Many would argue that he is right. Another rocker, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, was also in Argentina this week and gave a similar message to the local media. He said: "By and large I'm as ashamed as I possibly could be of our colonial past. I take no pride in the fact that 150 years ago the sun never set on the British Empire and that we were out raping and plundering and stealing as much we could from everybody all over the world as possible. That kind of imperialism is not something that as an Englishman I'm proud of."

As Waters suggests, the United Kingdom has come a long way since the days of Empire and British hegemony. Cast an eye back in time and Singapore, Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados were also British islands. London is 12,600km from Port Stanley, yet the islands are located just 700km from the coast of Argentina. Geographically there can be no argument that Britain has only the faintest claim on the Falklands, based on an historical conquest in an earlier age.

But these are still essentially British people, with a British culture, speaking our language, and though a local governor exists, the ultimate political authority comes from Westminster. The very first article of the UN international covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights declares that: "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

So despite the escalating bickering between Buenos Aires and London, ultimately the people of the Falkland Islands should be the ones who decide which flag they salute in the morning.

Argentina has already complained to the UN over the British 'militarisation' of the dispute. Despatching the most powerful British destroyer, HMS Dauntless, with Prince William on board could be argued to be militarising the dispute, regardless of how Prime Minister David Cameron defends these actions.

The British media also seem to be revelling in the plucky gung-ho spirit of 1982. Rubbing their hands in glee at the potential for some Argie-bashing in the near future, but why? Doesn't anyone in the British government or media realise how different 2012 is to 1982?

It is thirty years since the Falklands war. The South American dictators are gone. There are no more generals banging nationalist drums. Countries such as Argentina and Brazil are now democracies with elected leaders - both women, but without the pearls of Baroness Thatcher. There is a huge free trade zone called Mercosur encouraging political and economic cooperation between many South American nations.

South America is now a place of economic growth and opportunity. Just look at how Argentina has recovered from the economic default of a decade ago and then glance at the present state of Mediterranean Europe. This is place that Britain should be making friends, not enemies.

This Friday, the British government is hosting a party at the feet of the famous statue of Christ that overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The guest of honour will be Prince Harry and the aim is to bang the drum for British business in 2012 - a year in which Britain has the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, the London Olympics, and an enormous amount of important anniversaries to celebrate. And almost certainly by chance, Morrissey is playing a gig in Rio on Friday.

Has anyone else noticed the irony in one grandson of the Monarch being sent to promote business with Brazil as another is on a tour of duty that is antagonising Argentina?

What we need in this dispute is a healthy dose of pragmatism. Ultimately, the modern dispute over sovereignty is focused on mineral rights - who can earn from oil and gas discovered in the vicinity of the islands.

So why not divorce the financial question from the political? Allow the Falkland Islanders to determine for themselves who governs the islands, but acknowledging that if there is black gold in those waters then representatives of London and Buenos Aires should sit in a smoke-filled room and agree how to share the spoils.

Both the British and Argentine governments could then see a new revenue stream from energy production, the islanders can determine their own political future, and the threat of military action can be removed from the equation. The islanders will also benefit from increased stability and friendlier relations with Argentina - transport links would almost certainly be improved.

Diplomacy, self-determination, and sharing the natural wealth of the Falkland Islands are surely the answer to this dispute. The British people should not encourage a return to the dark days of newspapers trivialising the death of sailors as a 'gotcha' moment.