Self Determination and the Falklands. By James Raymond
The issue of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is getting everyone a bit hot under the collar, be forewarned, this article will only make those necks hotter. Tempers are flaring: from Tory backbench sabre rattling, daring Argentina to take another military pot-shot at the islands; to the un-Olympic like spirit displayed by the Argentinian Olympic team in threatening to raise the flag of Las Malvinas over their London training HQ.
One of those raising the temperature is of course Mr Sean Penn, the esteemed Ambassador-at-large for Haiti. Whilst many of Mr Penn’s political views are laudable, his record in the countries to the immediate south of the US leaves little to be desired, from the calling for the arrest of those who refer to Hugo Chavez as a dictator, to his standing silently by Mr Chavez while he supported the Assad regime in Syria. Then he waded into the Falklands dispute, it was never going to end well.
Sean Penn in his various tirades against British sovereignty over the Falklands seems to be forgetting many inconvenient truths, the most prominent being that he is Californian. Mr Penn was born in Santa Monica in 1960, and apparently needs to be reminded of California’s history. In 1821 Mexico gained independence from Spain, obtaining sovereignty over modern day California. In 1846 the USA went to war with Mexico. By 1848 the USA annexed California from Mexico – a mere 8 years after the British decided to establish a permanent colony in the Falklands.
Could Sean Penn please educate us as to why the displacement of thousands upon thousands of Mexicans from California is a more acceptable colonial legacy than the occupation of an empty island? Maybe he should simply regain some credibility by being consistent in his views and call for California to be given back to Mexico?
There is also the matter of one little phrase in the American Constitution that Mr Penn is again ignoring; “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. This intriguing little phrase makes the simple but, in the context of the Falklands, overlooked point that people should be able to choose their rulers. Again, could Mr Penn explain why this principle cannot be extended to the Falkland Islanders? Why, out of all of the peoples of the world, does he believe that they should not have their democratic rights respected?
As we know, this is also the position adopted by the Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner. In 2008 her then Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana stated, in reference to Kosovo’s declaration of independence: “If we were to recognize Kosovo, which has declared its independence unilaterally, without agreement with Serbia, we would set a dangerous precedent that would seriously threaten our chances of a political settlement in the case of the Falklands Islands”.
I have to pause here to take a deep breath: the Argentinean government decided to take a stance against independence in Kosovo, despite the many atrocities committed there by Milosevic and his cronies, and refute their right to self-determination, because such a principle would hurt their own sovereignty claims. It may just be me, but siding with an authoritarian and murderous regime in principle is surely more damaging to the credibility of Argentina’s sovereignty arguments than supporting Kosovo and the right to self-determination.
However, I will suspend my incredulity over these stances on self-determination, so I can briefly address the often discussed issue of geographical proximity. As anyone who has ever looked at a globe will point out, the Falklands really could not be any further away from Britain. Many in the Las Malvinas camp point to this as certifiable proof that the islands should be under Argentinean administration, so is geography the be all and end all when it comes to claims of sovereignty? If this is the case I think we need a bit of global restructuring: Alaska will of course become either Canadian or Russian; lucky Canada will also gain sovereignty over Greenland; Indian provinces such as Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram will need to be handed over to Burma and Bangladesh; and who knows what on earth would happen in the Pilipino, Malaysian and Indonesian islands. Perhaps this argument will hold more weight in the Falklands dispute when the likes of Mr Penn and President Fernandez de Kirchner call for the Canadian right to rule Alaska and Greenland alongside Argentina’s claim to rule the Falklands.
I hope these arguments have sufficiently warmed people’s collars further; there are interesting debates to be had concerning the sovereignty of the Falklands which will help define how the world defines the very concept of sovereignty. As ever if anyone wishes to comment please feel free to tweet me @jamesdavidraymo.