Friday, 10 February 2012
The Falklands - What does Argentina gain from going to the UN?
The news has been full recently of the fact that the Argentineans intend to make a formal complaint to the UN about the so called 'militarisation' of the Falklands - which appears to come down to the fact that a Type 45 may, or may not, be sailing in that general direction, and that the Heir to the throne is serving there. What though does Argentina, or rather President Kirchner and her advisors,
intend to gain from this course of action?
The UN is not in a position to solve the dispute - ultimately the problem boils down to the UK saying it will only hold talks if the inhabitants wish them to do so, and Argentina insisting on talks. Given the intense mistrust with which Argentina is viewed in the islands, it is highly unlikely that the Islanders would willingly support sovereignty talks. So, what will be gained from going to the UN, particularly given that the inevitable calls to negotiate will be met by a response from the UK noting that the islanders do not wish the Government to negotiate on their behalf, and that we respect their position?
The UN offers the chance to Argentina to grandstand on the world stage, and try to claim some form of moral victory. It is unlikely that many nations outside of South America know much about the details of the dispute, nor, bluntly, are they likely to care. But, there is a deep reluctance to endorse the principles of imperialism, and there is a mistrust of colonial powers, and particularly the west, borne of many years of poor relations.
A vote in the UN General Assembly would not be binding, but would represent a diplomatic coup for Argentina, which would claim to have the world support on its side. While the UK could make a clear, and strongly justified case that the UN is ignoring the wishes of the indigenous people, it would be terribly embarrassing for the UK if it were to lose such a vote. In addition, in votes such as this, it is likely that the UK would find itself diplomatically isolated - the author is willing to place a very large bet that the US abstains from any vote, for fear of damaging its relations with either party.
If the topic managed to work its way onto the UN Security Council (UNSC), then things become more interesting. Argentina knows full well that any vote that threatens the UK position will be vetoed by the UK, and possibly France depending on how they view their colonial interests at the time. This would be a PR coup for Argentina, which would be able to mount an aggressive PR campaign suggesting that the UK is abusing its position in this dispute, and that if it werent for this, then world opinion would be turning against the UK.
This is the worst possible situation for the UK, regardless of the moral position of its argument, by being forced into a position where it has to use the UNSC veto to stop a resolution going through, it weakens the UKs position.
In reality, any UNGA vote is likely to be non binding, and in the eyes of most of the world community, a near irrelevance. If the UN did choose to vote on this, once the initial firestorm of angry media coverage died down, then nothing would change and nothing would alter the UKs position on the islands. There have been plenty of odd UN votes over the years in the General Assembly, and the reality is that they gain headlines, but change little. The UNSC is where it matters, and while the UK retains a permanent veto, there is no chance at all of a damaging resolution going through.
So why is Argentina doing this? Were the author cynical, he'd suggest that it owed a great deal to the needs of the President to avoid diverting attention away from internal politics, the growing disputes with the media, the poor economic situation and the wider problems that Argentina has. International affairs are fantastic for diverting attention away from inconvenient local problems. President Kirchner would benefit greatly from diverting attention away from her woes, and also perhaps gaining a popularity boost to boot.
This author would go so far as to say that if one looked beyond the emotional strength of the argument, a truly rationale Argentine leader would emphatically not seek the recovery of the Falkland Islands, for the simple reason that it deprives them of the one true outlet for diverting political woes, and unifying the public. The moment the islands became Argentine, then there is no 'in case of political emergency, push glass to break' fire alarm that they can activate in Buenos Ares.
In short, bluster, smoke, mirrors and nothing to change the status quo.