This week has not been a comfortable one for the 3,000 inhabitants of the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory 8,000 miles south of the UK. Readers from my generation will remember the dramatic events of 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falklands and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government despatched a Royal Naval task force to the South Atlantic to recover the islands for the Crown.
Since then the UK has maintained a sizeable garrison on the islands and I served 6 months on the islands in 1994 as part of the military presence. I wrote about my impressions last year and this prompted an international debate in the comments section about the two countries’ respective claims. Indeed this remains the article with the most reader comments on this blog.
This week there have been echoes of 1982 as Argentina’s struggling government has sought to up the ante in order to detract from its domestic difficulties. This was very much the motivation for the 1982 invasion. However, then Argentina was ruled by a fascist military dictatorship; now at least it has a nationalist but democratic government. As with the UK, Argentina’s armed forces are also much smaller than they were in 1982, although they would have home advantage in any renewed conflict.
Argentina’s protests this week revolve around their objection to the British determination to begin exploiting the estimated massive oil reserves to the east of the islands. The UK and Argentina had signed an agreement on the division of resources to the west of the islands but the current Argentine government has now repudiated that agreement. Argentina has sought to impose restrictions on shipping that transits the maritime territory that it claims, which includes all of the Falklands’ territorial waters.
The Falklands’ government has reacted by insisting that the drilling is not a matter for Argentina and that it has every intention of proceeding with exploratory drilling in its waters. Some estimates have suggested that the waters off the Falklands could be as productive as the North Sea withoil reserves that could make the islanders rich and help to pay for the UK’s military presence.
It is unlikely that Argentina’s bluster will develop into military action but a prudent British government would now be taking steps to augment the defences of the islands. In 1976 the then Labour Government sent a submarine to the islands to deter Argentina’s government from invading. I very much hope that this Labour Government has learned the lessons from that deterence and the confused messages that were sent out in 1981/82 when the Royal Navy presence was very publicly to be withdrawn and the Falklands left almost defenceless. Swift and low level action now could ensure that a military conflict is unthinkable to the Argentines.
No-one with any sense wants to see further loss of life in the South Atlantic.
Last night Political Betting published a new poll from the Canadian pollster Angus Reid showing an increase in the Conservative lead to 14%. The Tories will also be delighted to back on 40% once again:
Conservative 40% (up 2%)
Labour 26% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 18% (down 2%)
This is the highest share for Labour with this pollster but there is no comfort for Labour in the 14% Conservative lead and their 40% share of the vote. The Lib Dems will be disappointed to be at 18% with Angus Reid who have so far usually shown them at a higher level than other pollsters.
NB: I will not be reporting the daily YouGov tracker poll in the Sun unless it shows some particularly interesting result. Tracker polls have a somewhat dubious record and I am as yet unsure as to the methodology. This is exactly the same approach as I adopted to the tracker poll during the party conference season.