Falklanders Vote to Stay British

PD63100425_dtho201_2505713b-300x187In an move hailed by organizers as a solemn act of self-determination, the Falkland Islanders voted on whether to remain British. With turnout at around 92% in an electorate of around 1,650, all but three votes were in the affirmative. The actual question was “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?” A better questions is, why bother?

The UK and Argentina have gone round and round on whose islands they are, including the 1982 war. Under international law, Argentina has a rather strong case, and Britain’s is not as air-tight as some might think. This organizers of this referendum wanted to get the wishes of the Kelpers, as the residents are known locally, on the record in a formal and legally binding way. The right of self-determination has been part of international ;aw ever since Woodrow Wilson stupidly brought it into the Versailles Treaty discussions. Peoples have the right to decide their own destiny; actually, it should have been individuals. The trouble has been deciding what standards must be met for a bunch of individuals to be a people entitled to self-determination.

The British are a people under international law. Some argue that the Kelpers are British, and so their self-determination occurs as part of the British polity. Others may point out that the English,Welsh, Scots and Irish are peoples who have chosen to act as the UK without losing their status as separate peoples. So, the Kelpers may well be a distinct people who have chosen to be part of Britain.

In Argentina, there is a large group who argues the Kelpers have colonized the Falklands. Under international law, colonial powers are not entitled to the same self-determination as an indigenous people. It rather begs the question of where Argentina came from; colonial occupation is at the root of every republic in the Americas. The ice on which this argument rests is paper thin.

Of course, the law is mere politics masquerading as principle. Britain wants to keep the islands because there may well be oil and natural gas off-shore. The North Sea oil and gas is depleting, and if the Scots declare independence at their own referendum in 2014, England will have very little left. Meanwhile, the Kirchner government in Argentina is mismanaging the economy, and it is using the Falklands dispute as a way to divert attention away from its own massive failings. In fairness, the Cameron coalition in London benefits from the rattling of South Atlantic sabres as well.

As a publicity stunt, this referendum was well-done. As a way of resolving the conflict, it achieved nothing. As a way of keeping two politicians in power who aren’t having a good time of it, it was flawless. Of course, that’s not the issue on which the Kelpers voted.