by Lance Thompson
Nothing illustrates the lamentable state of the US and UK relationship better than the Obama administration’s recent betrayal of the Brits over the Falkland Islands. On March 2nd at a Buenos Aires press conference with Argentine President Kristina Kirchner, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the United States favored a negotiated settlement over the Falkland Islands dispute working within the framework of United Nations resolutions. This sounds quite reasonable, and the appearance of reason from the Obama administration is no small feat. But Clinton’s words signaled a sharp retreat from our support for the United Kingdom, and is typical of a foreign policy that betrays allies on a whim.
The Falkland Islands, 300 miles east of Argentina, were first sighted by English sailors in the 16th Century. It was almost a century later that the first landing took place, again by an English ship seeking fresh water. The French established the first settlement in 1764. The English established a separate settlement in 1765. Both France and England claimed the Falklands, as did the Spanish, who had divided all islands in the Atlantic, discovered or not, between themselves and the Portugese in the 15th Century. The French relinquished their claim to the Spaniards in 1766, leaving the islands in dispute between England and Spain.
England withdrew its garrison in 1774, but still claimed sovereignty, as did Spain. In 1816, Argentina won its independence from Spain, and four years later claimed the Spanish colony as Argentinian territory. In 1823, Argentina granted a land concession to a Frenchman, Louis Vernet, who saw profit potential in the wild cattle of the Falklands. Aware of the British claim, Vernet also obtained permission from the British consulate in Buenos Aires.
Vernet and his partners established a colony and a successful business supplying fresh produce and meat (including seal) to ships that called in the Falklands. When North American sealers poached in the Falklands, Vernet asked for military aid from Argentina, which was unable to provide it. Vernet then sought help from the British, who established a military garrison in 1833. The British formalized their administration, established Port Stanley, brought in pioneers, businessmen and families, and built the Falkland Islands into a self-sufficient British colony.
In 1964, Argentina renewed its claim to the Falklands, but in 1968, the Falkland Islanders voted overwhelmingly to maintain their status as a territory of the United Kingdom. Great Britain and Argentina never settled the disagreement. Tensions rose throughout the 1970s, with some minor confrontations between civilian and military vessels of the two nations. In 1982, Argentinian troops made an amphibious landing on the island and captured Port Stanley. Diplomacy failed to defuse the situation, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assembled a naval force to drive the Argentinians out. During a brief but costly war in the spring of 1982, British troops recaptured the islands. The United States supplied critical intelligence to the United Kingdom during the conflict.
Relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina normalized in the ensuing years. But under Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner and his wife and successor, Kristin Kirchner, tensions have risen again. Argentina has issued increasingly bellicose statements (encouraged and supported by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez) about reclaiming the Falklands, and the Obama administration has remained at best neutral.
When Clinton and Obama mention a United Nations framework, they refer to resolutions from the 1960's. Resolution 1514, passed in 1960, urged that all states which have not achieved full self-government (in other words, colonies) should move toward independence. This was known as “decolonization.” True to form, the UN created a committee (Resolution 1654) to oversee decolonization the following year, whose title is longer than this sentence. Resolution 2065, passed by the UN Security Council in 1965, called specifically on Argentina and Great Britain to reach a settlement on the sovereignty of the islands.
Clinton and Obama are probably not referring to UN Resolution 502, from 3 April 1988, which calls for the immediate withdrawal of all Argentinian military forces from the Falklands after their invasion. The Argentines did not comply with the UN directive, and the British removed them by military force, at the cost of hundreds of lives.
The UN resolutions of the 1960s about decolonization rise from the principle of self-determination–that the people of any state have the right to choose their own government. This, of course, is applied only to free nations. It is a principle never pressed upon totalitarian regimes which make up a significant portion of the UN. Nevertheless, the people of the Falklands now and always have overwhelmingly favored British governance to Argentinian. Any application of force or influence by Argentina would be a violation not only of international law but of the human rights of the Falkland Islanders.
It is not reasonable for the United States to remain neutral in the current conflict. Argentina is making a claim on the established territory of another nation. To equate the demands of an aggressor with the resistance of a peaceful territory is a despicable act of appeasement that will only encourage more of the same. During the 1982 Falklands War, the United States tried diplomatically to avert armed conflict. But once the war started, the United States and President Reagan were steadfast allies of the United Kingdom. There was no question at that time who was in the right and who was in the wrong.
Today, twenty years later, determining right from wrong is an indecipherable conundrum for the Obama administration. They never hesitate to withdraw support from our closest allies, or to offer encouragement and sympathy to our most implacable foes. They find moral equivalency between Israel and Arab terrorists, between communist China and Taiwan, between Russia and former Soviet Republics. They believe neutrality is the highest moral position a nation can occupy, when in fact it is the most dangerous.
It is the moral responsibility of any nation, and particularly the greatest nations, to support and defend the less powerful against aggression, domination, and intimidation by the all too numerous enemies of freedom. When the United States is neutral, the rogue nations of the world have no authority to heed and no consequence to fear. As Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of our one-time close ally Great Britain, so succinctly put it before the House of Commons in 1927, “I decline utterly to be impartial between the fire brigade and the fire.”