After Margaret Thatchers memorable turn as Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”, there was a predictable flurry of Falklands-related guff, from both Buenos Aires and Whitehall. Events today, with the riot outside the British Embassy show that the war fought thirty years ago is still alive for many, even those not born at the time.
Now I believe that it is vital that those of us who consider ourselves to be part of the sane British Left to address this issue, and to reiterate the point made by the late Michael Foot in 1982, namely that the right of the Falkland Islanders to national self-determination is paramount. They have an unquestionable right to be British, and to the protection of the British Crown. The Islanders have no wish to be part of mainland Argentina, which for all practical purposes is as distant as Southampton to them.
Lets look at the underlying forces at play here. A Peronist Government, forced by the economic crisis to make vastly unpopular cuts in Argentina has played the only card it has left – the Malvinas. In Whitehall, the ministers of an unpopular Coalition, also embarking on a harsh and unwarranted cutback/privatisation programme cannot be indifferent to the possible patriotic side effects of “standing firm on the Falklands”. After all, last week they tried petrol panic and pasty eating as diversions. In the real world, neither government has the forces to hand to either invade or re-take the islands.
However, once the diplomatic sphere is included, things look grimmer for Britain than in 1982. Virtually the whole of South America agrees with Argentina that these rocks, first settled centuries ago by the British, are really part of Tierra del Fuego. The U.S. State Department, true to form, has no fixed view, but would like to see negotiations, no doubt with a resolution that would favour her South American ally. US foreign policy has long regarded the break up of the UKs remaining dependencies as a good thing.
Spain will predictably side with its ex-colony. France? Well lets just hope that whoever wins the election there can be as steadfast as Mitterand was in 1982. China and Russia are always ready to humiliate Britain, and India could go either way. I should think that most Arab states would back Argentina post Iraq.
Altogether not a happy picture for the Islanders, and one that would take both careful Diplomacy and decent Defence spending to reverse. Unfortunately neither looks likely until we kick this Coalition out. Camerons Defence Review is sending William Hague naked into the conference chamber – never an appealing thought.
As we remember those who fought and gave their lives fighting against a Fascist Junta thirty years ago, let us remember that their sons and daughters may well have to do the same.