By Prof Klaus Dodds, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
Sean Penn, who is never shy of voicing an opinion on a range of political topics, has been busy informing the world about the Falklands Islands. After meeting the President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, he declared that the world would not tolerate ‘any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology’. While such a claim might find some resonance in Argentina and with some South American neighbours, it appears to be deeply ignorant of the contemporary Falklands and the British position which has been to champion the right of the community to self-determine their future. And of course this troubles Argentina, as we get closer to the 200th anniversary year of continuous British settlement (i.e. 2033).
I have visited the Falklands numerous times, and I am author of Pink Ice: Britain and the South Atlantic Empire (2002), and have been following the recent controversy involving the dispatch of Prince William (as a search and rescue pilot with the RAF) and a British destroyer HMS Dauntless to the South Atlantic.
The combination of royalty and the British armed forces is a toxic one in the context of the Falklands. For Argentines, it is a further reminder that the Prince’s safety is not considered to be an issue (compare the reaction to Prince Harry going to Afghanistan) and to describe anything as ‘routine’, including a royal deployment, is always likely to cause anger in Buenos Aires.
The disputed Falklands are considered to be anything but routine – and something that Argentina is desperate to negotiate not least because there is a fear that a substantial oil and gas find in the waters around the Falklands will allow the Islanders and the British government to reject, with confidence, any Argentine overtures.
As ever, the dispute is not a simple one despite what Hollywood actors might think. It is one based on competing stories about colonisation and occupation (Argentina is also a colonising power), and one in which territorial ownership is juxtaposed against the rights of a community to self-determine its future. For Argentines, the failure to resolve the Falklands issue is profoundly irritating and a reminder that they are not being taken seriously as a substantial regional power.
For the British, it is not just a question of the Falklands, but connected to long-standing interests in other South Atlantic overseas territories and British Antarctic Territory. Strategic, resource and geopolitical interests, combined with national pride and memories of war make these disputed territories anything but straight forward.