-By Ritesh (Via Conflict X)
Recently, Argentina terminated the agreement with the UK over the Falkland Islands dispute. But why is this island among one of the oldest disputed territories? How and why does the UK claim an island thousands of kilometers away from its mainland as its own territory, and how legitimate is Argentina’s claim over it? lets discuss the Falkland Islands dispute.
To understand the present situation regarding the Falklands, we will have to understand the colonial history of Argentina, treaties between Spanish-Portuguese-British-French empires, and the history of the islands itself.
In the 15th century, during the age of exploration, when the whole of the Americas were still not completely discovered, Spanish and Portuguese empires were competing with each other over newly discovered lands to form their colonies. The pope, fearing that two Catholic frontier powers might get involved in a war among themselves amidst the then ever-looming Ottoman threat, facilitated the Tordesillas Treaty. The Tordesillas Treaty divided the yet to be fully discovered Americas into two parts – everything west of the line to the Spanish empire and everything east to it to the Portuguese Empire. This treaty is among the foundations of Argentina’s claim over the Falkland Islands, as the legitimate successor to the Spanish empire in the region.
The Anglo-Spanish war and the Madrid Treaty – The Anglo-Spanish war, which spanned from 1654 to 1670, culminated in a highly favorable treaty for the UK, called the Madrid Treaty, in 1670. Under this treaty, Spain legally recognized the territories gained or colonies settled in the Americas by the British up until 1670. These British settlements and colonies up until then were not legally recognized by Spain and were considered as illegal adverse colonies, in violation of the Tordesillas Treaty, which had granted Spain everything west of Brazil to make colonies and settlements. One thing must be noted that the Falklands were still not discovered and thus are not subject to the terms of this treaty.
Peace of Utrecht 1713 – In 1713, after the Spanish wars of succession, a treaty was signed by the British and Spanish thrones to respect the territorial integrity of the Spanish empire and its successors in the light of Tordesillas and Madrid treaties, in Utrecht.
Discovery of Falklands Islands – The islands remained uninhabited until the 1764 establishment of Port Louis on East Falkland by French captain Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Then in 1766, a British captain John MacBride also founded Port Egmont on Saunders Islands. The settlements’ awareness of each other is still debated by historians.
In 1766, France surrendered its claim on the Falklands to Spain. Problems started when Spain detected and captured Port Egmont in 1770. War was narrowly avoided by its restitution to Britain in 1771.
The British and Spanish settlements coexisted in the archipelago until 1774 when Britain’s new economic and strategic considerations led it to voluntarily withdraw from the islands, leaving a plaque claiming the Falklands for King George III. Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (predecessor to the Argentine state) became the only governmental presence in the territory.
Amid the British invasions of the Río de la Plata during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the islands’ governor evacuated the archipelago in 1806. Spain’s remaining colonial garrison followed suit in 1811, except for gauchos (Argentinian herders) and fishermen who remained voluntarily.
Thereafter, the archipelago was only visited by fishing ships. Its political status was undisputed until 1820, when Colonel David Jewett, an American privateer working for the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, informed anchored ships about Buenos Aires’ 1816 claim to Spain’s territories in the South Atlantic. Since the islands had no permanent inhabitants, in 1823 Buenos Aires granted German-born merchant Luis Vernet permission to conduct fishing activities and exploit feral cattle in the archipelago. Vernet’s venture lasted until a dispute over fishing and hunting rights led to a raid by the American warship USS Lexington in 1831, when United States Navy commander Silas Duncan declared the dissolution of the island’s government.
Buenos Aires attempted to retain influence over the settlement by installing a garrison, but a mutiny in 1832 was followed the next year by the arrival of British forces who reasserted Britain’s rule. The Argentine Confederation (headed by Buenos Aires Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas) protested against Britain’s actions, and Argentine governments have continued since then to register official protests against Britain. The British troops departed after completing their mission, leaving the area without formal government.
In 1840, the Falklands became a Crown colony of the British, and Scottish settlers subsequently established an official pastoral community.
In 1982, Argentina landed its forces on the Falklands, starting the Falklands War between the UK and itself. It lasted for more than 2 months and ended with a British victory on 14th June 1982 with the surrender of Argentine forces, returning the island to British control. Both parties then agreed to resolve this sovereignty dispute through dialogues as per UN framework.
The strategic importance of the Falklands Islands lies in its geographic location, which grants it a commanding position in the South Atlantic region. The Falklands also give access to the sub-Antarctic islands and a section of Antarctica, which until 1985 formed the basis of British territorial claims over them. The Falklands also played a minor role in the two World Wars as a military base aiding control of the South Atlantic. The discovery of oil in the region has made it even more important now.
The legitimacy of claims of both Argentina and the UK is as follows:
Argentina claims the territory according to the various treaties signed in the past discussed earlier.
The UK claims the territory according to the “will of the people” argument, where it claims that the inhabitants of the islands, that is the settlers, want to be a part of the UK.
The caveat here being that the inhabitants are actually not native to the islands as discussed earlier, and hence this dispute has been recognized as a sovereignty dispute and not colonial.
As we can see, this topic is pretty complex, which can’t be solved easily. It will be interesting to see how things turn out in the future as this can have huge global ramifications regarding not only settlements of territorial disputes in the world but also in the greater geopolitical arena.
One thought on “Falkland Islands dispute”
What happens if we face the same threat as for andaman and nicobar islands
Where china’s ever increasing presence
And india’s threat to jeopardize trade in the malabar strait….
Wouldn’t china try to invade the islands
Just as it is doing for South china sea in the name of some historical basis
As we had accepted the invasion of aksai chin, and various lands in the past I don’t think we wouldn’t hesitate to accept this too…