Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Falkland Islands

I've been cogitating about this one for a while.

As you may have noticed, Argentina has been agitating about the status of the Falkland Islands for a while now, and on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, we appear to be at the nadir of relations for quite some time.

The Falkland Islands

Today, the HMS Dauntless has been despatched to the Falklands on a 'routine patrol', although there doesn't seem to be anything routine about sending the world's most advanced anti-aircraft destroyer to 'show the flag', as it were.

The Argentinian President has continued to attack not only the status of the Falkland Islands, but also the UK generally - 'It is an injustice that in the 21st Century there are still colonial enclaves... 16 colonial enclaves throughout the world - 10 of those belonging to the United Kingdom.'

It got me wondering... precisely what are these 16 'colonial enclaves'?

It turns out that President Kirchner is referring to the UN Special Committee on Decolonization's list of 'non-self-governing territories', which are:
  1. Western Sahara
  2. Anguilla
  3. Bermuda
  4. British Virgin Islands
  5. Cayman Islands
  6. Falkland Islands
  7. Montserrat
  8. St. Helena
  9. Turks and Caicos Islands
  10. US Virgin Islands
  11. Gibraltar
  12. American Samoa
  13. Guam
  14. New Caledonia
  15. Pitcairn
  16. Tokelau
10 of these are indeed administered by the United Kingdom.

However, given President Kirchner's unreserved criticism of 'colonialism', I assume that Argentina will also begin a campaign of diplomatic offensives against New Zealand, France and, of course, the United States?

No? Oh. So, it's just exclusively levelled at the UK, then.

Next, let's have a brief look at what qualifies as a 'non-self-governing territory'. This is basically defined in UN Resolution 1541, but in summary:
  • The area in question is generally regarded as being a former colony;
  • It must be an area whose 'peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government';
  • The area must be 'geographically separate and... distinct ethnically and/or culturally from the country administering it';
  • If the area is 'arbitrarily... [placed] in a position or status of subordination', then it is deemed to be a non-self-governing territory.
So, the Falklands.

Are they are former colony? Yes. But no longer - they are an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

Are they geographically separate AND ethnically/culturally distinct? No. They are geographically separate, but they are NOT ethnically/culturally distinct.

Are the Falklands arbitrarily placed in a position or status of subordination? No. Falkland Islanders are classed as British Citizens.

And finally, the issue of self-government.

The UN define an area as having a full measure of self-government through:
  • 'Emergence as a sovereign independent state;
  • Free association with an independent state; or
  • Integration with an independent state'.
The Falkland Islands have their own government, legislature and judicial system, entirely separate from the UK. Indeed, the only matters that are reserved to London are foreign policy and defence.

So, they are definitely not a sovereign independent state, but neither are they integrated with the UK. However, by virtue of their separate democratic political system, their engagement with the UK is one of free association.

They are not a 'colony', as President Kirchner puts it. They are an overseas territory in free association with the UK. I'm not even sure why they're on that UN list.

Needless to say, that UN list has a few conspicuous omissions. Tibet and Chechnya are some that immediately spring to mind. But China and Russia are both on the committee itself.

Odd, that.

So, Argentina's use of the UN decolonization argument is flawed - for a start, the Falklands aren't actually a colony anyway. On top of that, even if they were, the only way they would be 'decolonized' is either by independence, free association or integration. I somehow doubt that the Falkland Islanders would choose either free association or integration with Argentina. The best they could hope for is an independent Falklands, which doesn't tie in with their aims of Argentine sovereignty.

So, if the Falklands are a colony, it's highly unlikely that they would elect to merge with Argentina anyway. Any unilateral occupation by Argentina would be illegal under international law. And if they're not a colony... then what business is it of Argentina's in the first place?