Milei’s militancy challenges British Falkland Island suzerainty

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Lord Cameron has been foreign secretary for just a few months, and no one can accuse him of putting his trotters up. Since his recent appointment, Cameron has travelled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. In addition, he became the first foreign secretary in 30 years to visit the Falkland Islands.

In an ironic post on X (formerly Twitter), Argentine Foreign Minister Diana Mondino thanked him “for including Argentina in his visit to the region”. Indeed, since the arrival of the new populist president, Javier Milei, the issue of British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands has resurfaced once again. During his campaign, Mr Milei promised to regain the islands through “diplomatic channels”, proposing a solution similar to the 1997 handover of the former British colony in Hong Kong to China. 

Mr Milei has called Argentine sovereignty of the islands “non-negotiable”

In 1982, UK-Argentine tensions reached their height when Argentina launched a surprise full-scale invasion of the Falkland Islands. Then Prime Minister Margret Thatcher chose to forcefully respond by dispatching the armed forces to retake the islands. The Falkland Islands War lasted 74 days, with 255 British and 649 Argentine combatant deaths preserving British sovereignty over the territory. On his visit, Lord Cameron paid his respects “to all those who lost their lives in the conflict”. 

Now, 40 years later, Lord Cameron is not for turning; he maintains that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands “is not up for discussion”. Moreover, on his recent visit, he declared that the islands were part of “the UK family”, alluding that they would remain so “forever”. In January, Lord Cameron and Mr Milei met at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Regarding Falkland sovereignty, the Foreign Office said, “they would agree to disagree, and do so politely”. However, since Mr Milei has called Argentine sovereignty of the islands “non-negotiable”, it is challenging to picture how UK-Argentine relations will develop.

However, taking a hard-line on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands may not be in the UK’s best interest

In a 2013 referendum where Falkland Islanders were asked if they wanted to remain a UK territory, 99.8% voted in favour, and the turnout was over 90%. Almost unanimously, then, the population is pro-British. Lord Cameron argues that the Falkland Islanders have a right to self-determination and has said that the UK will “support”, “protect”, and “defend” the islanders “as long as they want”. Indeed, the islands have been an overseas territory of the UK since 1833, and the first recorded British landing dates back to 1690. As Falkland Islanders are British citizens, the government feels it has an obligation to aid in their defence, something the foreign secretary clearly reiterated.

However, taking a hard-line on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands may not be in the UK’s best interest. The Falklands War cost the government £2.9 billion at the time, and the government still pays £60 million a year for the islands’ defence. Logistically, Argentina is over 7,000 miles closer to the Falkland Islands than the UK. A stronger relationship with Argentina could mean greater access to hospitals, tourists, trade, and schools for the islands. 

However, MPs, particularly in the Conservative Party, have been unwilling to move on the issue. In 2013, Lord Cameron, then prime minister, similarly refused to renegotiate. At the time, the Argentine president accused the British government of “colonialism”. Perhaps the Falkland Islands are just a holdover from an empire that no longer exists and pose a reminder of Thatcher’s victory that Conservative politicians are not ready to give up. 

With the British government maintaining that British sovereignty is “not up for discussion” and Mr Milei claiming that Argentine sovereignty is “non-negotiable,” it would be optimistic to see a solution on the horizon. However, as Carlos Fara, president of the International Association of Political Consultants, has said, Argentina has “bigger problems to worry about”, and all things considered, so does the UK.

Image: Victor via Wikimedia Commons

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