There is a great deal of debate on the nature of our political and strategic relationship with the EU, NATO, the Commonwealth and individual nations.
One of the fundamental principles of UK defence and security strategy is the recognition that large scale operations will always be conducted in conjunction with allies. What characterises this type of large scale expeditionary operation is the matter of choice; we choose to participate in this type of expeditionary or arms length operation because we make the judgement that it is in our national interest to do so. Other nations make the same judgement and so coalitions are created.
We tend to think of ourselves as the junior partner in the context of the EU, NATO or the USA, moving in the direction of the consensus view but what would happen if that consensus view was not in our national interest, what if the conflict is not of choice, but necessity, can we really rely on our allies when the chips are down?
What brings this question into sharp relief if of course the recent escalation of tensions in the South Atlantic, if military operations were called for they would not be a matter of choice.
One might argue that the UK can take care of its own people thank you very much and doesn’t need or want any support, practical or moral, from anyone else. We still need to know that our friends and allies stand ready to offer a helping hand should we ask, though.
Putting events in historical context, in 1982 our most consistent and strongest ally was not as one might imagine, the USA, but France. US support was eventually forthcoming and welcome but prevarication and bickering between the Department of Defence and the State Department might have actually emboldened Argentina and escalated the conflict. The DoD and Secretary of Defence were publically supportive of the UK position whilst the State Department and it’s head were more supportive of Argentina. Only later in the conflict cycle did practical assistance and political support materialise, extremely helpful and in some cases tactically decisive as it was. France on the other hand, offered decisive and enduring support backed up with practical assistance at every level.
Fast forward to today and there are strong similarities but equally many differences.
Some things endure though.
The single most enduring factor is that of self determination.
One might argue back and forth over the details of sovereignty claims between the UK and Argentina (the facts are pretty clear however the Argentine government wants to pretend otherwise) but the islanders wish to remain British, this is the fundamental point that so many on all sides seem to conveniently forget, that and the memory of the 255 service personnel who died in 1982. The islanders have decided they like warm beer, Coronation Street and not being ruled by a nation that has a proud history of throwing its political opponents out of aeroplanes, sans parachute.
Not in quite the same league as General Galtieri, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is capitalising on the sovereignty issue to resolve her own political woes and credit where credit is due, they have played a very effective game.
A carefully constructed tub thumping session at the Rio Group, followed by a well coordinated victim session at the UN (one of many over the years)and culminating with a press conference at a planned meeting between el presidente and the US State Secretary seems to have achieved its aim of putting the UK in the aggressor category and Argentina in the victim corner.
There are of course more holes in the Argentine government’s claims than a Swiss cheese, for example, Argentina’s Foreign Minister complained at the UN that the UK has broken international law in allowing the exploration activity to proceed, when questioned on exactly which laws these are the sound of silence is deafening.
Playing the victim of imperial colonisation, Argentina and her gullible supporters conveniently forget that it was not the UK that invaded in 1982 and it was not the UK that laid thousands of anti personnel land mines, in fact the word ‘laid’ implies a plan, they were scattered indiscriminately. Has Argentina actually bothered in the nearly thirty years since 1982 to carry out any demining, what do you think?
The Argentine game plan of nationalism at home and playing the victim abroad culminated with the meeting with one Hilary Rodham Clinton during which reporters and Cristina asked some direct questions.
“We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. We cannot make either one do so but we think the right way to proceed, so we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.”
Whoah, hold the presses.
What exactly does she mean by ‘the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place’
Is this statement of a US position that says there is actually something to discuss i.e. sovereignty should be discussed, in the eyes of the US, the matter not being settled.
Was this calculated to encourage Argentina, snub the UK and damage a long standing strategic relationship or simply incompetence, who knows?
In the age of Facebook and 24×7 news channels an image is much stronger than a word.
Hilary might like to reflect on what parts of the British Army deployed to Afghanistan in response to an attack against US citizens on US soil, read their South Atlantic battle honours and ask how those very same units fighting, bleeding and dying alongside US soldiers and marines might view this image. In fact on the same day and the day after this picture was taken Rifleman Carlo Apolis and Corporal Richard Green of 4 and 3 Rifles were killed in Afghanistan.
In all fairness one must also look at the US position, relations with Latin America are important and the recent intelligence revelations have been damaging but adherence to the rule of law is not something that we can conveniently push to one side.
Even with these concerns there is a big difference between staying out of an argument and wading in. Actively encouraging talks whilst having a laugh and a joke in Argentina is not the same as quite neutrality and a recognition of what is happening in Helmand.
People in the UK understand the need for a subtle and balanced approach from the US so this foreign policy blundering is either just that, egotistical grandstanding wrapped up in foreign policy incompetence and nothing much to worry about in the long term or a deliberate changing of the dynamic between the US and UK.
It is one thing to give the Prime Minister of the UK a crappy cheap present but it is entirely a different matter to dabble in the lives of its citizens.
The EU has played a smarter game, indicating that the issue is between the UK and Argentina. There is an obvious awareness of the forthcoming General Election and to antagonise the UK would be very counterproductive especially given the UK’s contribution to EU coffers, member states of the EU know full well the inbuilt resistance in the UK to greater EU integration.
If Argentina did attack we would not be able to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter because of Article 6 i.e. all bets are off south of the Tropic of Cancer. The Lisbon Treaty might actually offer more support, especially article 42, clause 7, oh, the irony.
The map below shows the ISAF Contributing Nations, perhaps Hilary can ask Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela to backfill the gap that would be left by us moving 10,000 personnel from Afghanistan to the Falkland Islands in order to deter Argentina or defend British people and territory. Whilst they are at it we might ask the US to politely vacate Ascension Island and Diego Garcia. In fact, Diego Garcia is about ten times as worse as what the Argentine government accuse the UK of doing, yet the US benefits from Diego Garcia so let’s all pretend that one doesn’t count.
It is in everyone’s best interest for the UK and the Falkland Islands to have cordial relations with Argentina, not least because of economic reasons but the issue of sovereignty is simply non-negotiable while the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British. The way forward for Argentina is to share in the development of the area, not by throwing existing agreements on hydrocarbon exploration and fisheries in the bin and shouting Malvinas, Malvinas, Malvinas to anyone who will listen. If President Kirchner hadn’t nationalised a major airline and seized billions of pensions funds, international oil exploration companies might have been more willing to assist with exploration and exploitation of Argentina’s own offshore reserves. There may be a hydrocarbon bonanza and their might not be but surely the sensible option for Argentina is to cooperate on exploration and exploitation and share the possible proceeds.
Of the 795 entries on the State Department’s website that include the term ‘self determination’ one in particular stands out
1. 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.
2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
The words, double standard spring to mind.
So our two principle partners are either shuffling and looking at their shoes or actively giving succor to our adversary. When things get difficult, true colours are exposed. I know, lets tell them they are either with us or against us!
Hilary Clinton likes her Reset Buttons, perhaps the UK should be thinking about going shopping for one of our own, we might even manage to get the spelling right and whilst we are at it we could table a motion at the UN to urge the US to discuss the sovereignty of Texas with Mexico.
As for our EU partners, once again the much vaunted common security approach is innefective, consisting entirely of teflon coated, sharply pointing downward shoulders.
Where exactly is Baroness Ashton on the issue.
Brazil backed Argentina’s protests at the inclusion of the Falkland Islands as a British overseas territory in the Lisbon Treaty, the Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said in Paris that his country was discomfited by the islands’ inclusion. With the ongoing development of closer ties between Brazil and France one might reasonably wonder if this has anything to do with the deafening silence coming from Paris, I suppose the possible sale of Rafale’s to Brazil is irrelevant as well.
The time has come for the UK to recognise that we still need our allies but fundamentally, they will act in their own interests, not ours. The special relationship remains very strong between the people of the US and the UK but if governments fail to see it the same way then we need to fundamentally appraise our position, after all, we have sacrificed much blood, treasure and prestige to stand side by side with the US on the so called ‘war on terror’ yet this seems to count for nothing.
As for the South American and Caribbean nations signing up to the Islas Malvinas crusade, they might wish to look at their trade balances with the UK and the amount of development aid they receive from us and think again.
Isn’t it about time that we reasserted a more robust and independent minded approach, acting with confidence in our own interests without this constant deference to others.