Don’t they know its bloody Christmas and people have others things to do?
It is with a rather inconvenient sense of timing that Argentina continues to rattle their dull sabre at the Falkland Islands. The latest diplomatic effort which is part of an escalating campaign to ratchet up the tension is the orchestration of an agreement between Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (the Mercosur countries including Paraguay) to block entry to their ports of any ships flying the Falkland Islands flag.
From that list it is clear that the vast majority are fishing vessels, although there are a couple of research vessels, and thus the blockade is about impacting the economy of the Falkland Islands.
The Lisbon Treaty makes it clear that the Falkland Islands are recognised as being a British Overseas Territory by all signatories and the World Trade Organisation should have something to say on this illegal restriction of economic activity.
There are obvious political and economic factors here.
Cristina Kirchner, swept into power on the strength of increasing public spending and has been maxing out the national credit card ever since. As we know only too well the bill has to be paid and with increasing allegations of personal aggrandisement what better way of both providing a useful scapegoat and highlight a potential goldmine that could be used to solve all the nations financial problems.
So when Desire Petroleum started exploratory drilling the scene was set for a ratcheting strategy of harassment and pressure.
No doubt 2012 will see more of the same; it is the 30th anniversary of the conflict next year.
Brazil and Argentina have in recent times had a number of disagreements over trade issues and the defence cooperation treaty between Brazil and the UK, which we covered here, no doubt rubbed them up the wrong way but despite this Brazil has agreed to participate in this ban on FI flagged vessels.
The UK also has a series of trade agreements with Brazil and these must also be taken into consideration, Brazil has a growing economy, developing offshore industry and will be hosting the next major global sporting event after the 2012 Olympics, the 2014 World Cup, all opportunities for UK defence and security businesses. If they do end up buying the ex Trinidad and Tobago offshore patrol vessels and even participating in the Type 26 programme things will become even more interesting. The backbone of the Brazilian Navy is British built after all.
The Uruguayan President, Jose Mujica, summed it up;
We hold nothing against the U.K. but we have a lot in favor of Argentina
With the airport at St Helena soon to start construction there is a move to open up an alternative route for the exploitation of natural resources via Africa that would see an alternative to South American ports, blackmailing the Falkland Islands might not be so effective in the future.
Of course, the irony of the Spanish descended ruling class in Argentina waxing on about the rights and wrongs of empires is obviously lost on them but make no mistake, they have been playing a good game, the UK has had to resort to the old ‘summoning of ambassadors’ response, usually reserved when one nation wants to have a little cry in the corner about the other.
Whatever the strength of the UK’s case and our intention to address things calmly it is obvious that even sane and rational people in Argentina do not see it like that and the issue remains one that any politician in trouble can use to divert attention from their own failings.
Until the Argentine people realise that the sensible thing to do is negotiate, open up and seek some long term agreement with the people of the Falkland Islands there is nothing that can be done in that regard.
One would hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doing the rounds, reminding our allies of their obligations, especially nations of the EU, we should remind them who the second largest contributor to EU’s budget is.
It could be that the others have agreed as a show of solidarity but won’t actually do anything in practice and the whole thing will blow over.
How does Argentina expect us to react, I guess it would be an open display of military power so they can continue to play the victim card and normally I would say the best thing to do would be to wave off their latest pathetic attempt with a haughty disdain and dismissive wave of the hand but this is a gnawing away at our position so maybe we need to be a little more forceful.
Enter stage left the former First Sea Lord, Lord West, who suggested sending a nuclear submarine to the Falkland Islands in a show of strength.
Far from trying to settle in a grown-up way and having better and better relationships with the Falkland islanders, they are upping the ante and becoming very confrontational
Interestingly, he didn’t specify which type of nuclear submarine should be sent!
So do we hold our nerve, realise that this is a bit of harmless political shenanigans or do we do a bit of ante upping ourselves?
That is a difficult question to answer.
Perceptions count and quiet diplomacy is not always the best way to deal with a problem, despite diplomats always saying it is, perhaps Lord West is right and we need a show of force to demonstrate to those seeking to raise the profile of the issue that we can also do a spot of profile raising.
Argentina needs to be reminded they are playing a grown up game with harsh offside rules and whilst they might be good at cheating at football they are less successful in the military arena, unless that means throwing political prisoners off the back of aircraft.
Whilst Argentina currently poses little or no military threat to the Falkland Islands with encouraging signs of exploitable hydrocarbon resources and the simple issue of protecting islanders I am beginning to think it is time for playground rules.
Maybe Kenny Rogers has the answer?
The Government needs to find a set of balls and remind those down South who the big dog is.
What form this would take and the exact timing is open for debate, something proportionate and not over the top but definately ‘something’
This should absolutely take place in parallel with an abundance of behind the scenes diplomacy but there is nothing like hinting that whilst one might walk quitely, there is a stick and the occasional glance of it would not go amiss.
Edited to add
No, its not April Fools Day but have a look at this utter tripe from the Daily Mail
Ho Ho Ho