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Ceding the Islands is in Britain's Interest

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Ian Sielecki writes:

At a time when Downing Street's only doubt is what type of powerful armament it will send to the Falklands, the truly essential question is whether retaining them is in fact desirable.

It is in Britain's ultimate interest to negotiate a new status quo, as this would allow it to strengthen its economic and diplomatic influence in the region -possibly even in the entire developing world. This is strictly related to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's ambition to become close strategic partners with the Latin American bloc in both the world stage and the global market. Indeed, in key speeches Secretary William Hague has delivered recently (for instance, that of November 2010 at the Canning Conference), he has very explicitly stated Britain's deliberate desire to enhance its relation with Latin America -to be not only "historic friends", but also "future partners". Hence, considering the UNASUR's unanimous reject of British presence in the Falklands/Malvinas and its full support for Argentine claims (October 2011), it becomes clear to what a significant degree London's ambition of increasing its politico-economic influence in the region is incompatible with its refusal to resume negotiations with Buenos Aires.

From this perspective of Britain's interest, it is also crucial to understand that ceding the islands would not constitute an act of generosity (or of delusion), since Argentina's requests are in fact robustly founded. After all, this is important, as it would not be advantageous for Britain to reflect weakness or futility.

Indeed, even if the British press' consistent publications to disqualify President Kirchner -that she is unscrupulous, lacks respect for institutions and is fundamentally using the conflict to distract the public eye from more decisive internal matters- are accurate according to a significant percentage of the Argentinean people (among whom the author of this article), the substantial foreign policy claim advocated by her government remains legitimate. In essence, whereas it includes the intentional defect of being excessively ambitious, it nonetheless contains vigorous historic and legal arguments. All the more so as British leaders respected them and agreed to discuss them until a drunken dictator (who did not embody the will of the Argentine people, but their greatest nightmare) made one of the stupidest, more calamitous decisions in the nation's history and invaded the islands.

Margaret Thatcher and her Foreign Minister, Baron Ridley, had begun arranging the transfer of sovereignty three years before the outbreak of the war. In July 1979 and November 1980, the latter even travelled to the islands for that purpose, and in February 1981 British officials met with Argentine diplomats in New York to define the details of the agreement. According to Number 10 at the time, ceding the islands was in Britain's interest. The sole official reported reason why the agreement then failed is Conservative members of parliament simply refused to leave the islanders under the authority of a controversial military regime. In fact, who can blame them? The Argentines themselves did not want to be governed by the Juntas.

Therefore, it becomes clear that Galtieri and the military rule -and, more generally, the political reality of Argentina at the time- were the key factors for the collapse of the bilateral trust (and of the deal itself). However, those days belong to the past, as Argentina will soon celebrate thirty years of stable democracy. Hence, the Argentine people -now in charge- do not need to be held accountable for the cruel madness of a dictator who sent eighteen year olds to fight one of the world's most powerful armies. Just as Wellington's Britain resumed its previous relations with France after the "Corsican ogre" was defeated and imprisoned, it is about time its XXI Century version resumes its previous relations with Argentina now that all its military dictators are long gone. All the more so as the figure of the Napoleonic military genius had much more popular support in 1815's France than that of the pathetic whisky-addict in 2012's Argentina.

The retrospective analysis focused in the pre-war negotiations permits an understanding of what is pure and authentic in Britain's rhetoric and what is not. Regardless of one's side of the Atlantic, it is essential to recognize Britain's approach contains one eminent truth and one eminent fallacy. The great accuracy is the islanders need to be taken into serious consideration; the major falseness is the idea that they are sacralised by the right to self-determination -as even Margaret Thatcher's government did not seem to consider this point as being vital. This is logical, since they are far from being an originally established aboriginal population.

Hence, if Argentina's extremely resolute rhetoric -there is hardly any reference to the personal and collective future of the islanders among its statements- were to give way to a more conciliatory proposition (for instance, that the islands become Argentinean, but the present Islanders remain British and self-governed, and Britain conserves an eventual share of the economic exploitation of the natural resources), there would be absolutely no reason why Number 10 and Westminster should not agree to cede the archipelagos.

From Great Britain's perspective, this would be irrefutably advantageous in both economic and political terms. Financially, it would end the need to subsidize the islanders' mobility and to maintain a significant military presence -requiring on its own an expenditure of £365 million per year. Furthermore, it could also benefit from a percentage of the profits from the natural resources exploited without the inconvenience of international complaints. Strategically, it would provide London with the allies it aims for, reinforcing its diplomatic status and ability all throughout the continent -which would also result in stronger partnerships with the region's powers.

There have been times in history when Britain was universally admired. That Britain was a highly reasonable, logic and pragmatic one. That Britain would understand that returning the islands to Argentina is not only right and fair, but also convenient.

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