Jhe 40th anniversary of the Falklands War obliges us to pay tribute and honor the memory of the Argentine and British soldiers who lost their lives there. It should also cause us to reflect on why, four decades after the cessation of hostilities, Argentina and the United Kingdom have not been able to resume substantive dialogue to resolve the sovereignty dispute over the islands. Malvinas, South Georgias and South Sandwich and the surrounding maritimes, despite the call made by the international community through UN resolutions.
The immediate events which sparked the war and the details of the conflict itself are well known to the British public. But it is often forgotten that, for a period of 16 years beginning in 1965, there was a process of bilateral negotiation between Argentina and the United Kingdom which was in accordance with the mandate of the UN resolutions. These were real negotiations on the substance of the matter, sovereignty. During this period, several concrete alternatives have been explored to help resolve the dispute between our countries, taking into account the interests of the inhabitants of the islands.
The United Kingdom claims that there is no conflict of sovereignty over these territories. Why then did the British government negotiate with Argentina during this period?
We believe that no way out of war can resolve a dispute recognized by the international community. This would set a dangerous precedent. The 1982 conflict did not change the nature of the dispute between the two countries, which is still awaiting negotiation and resolution. This is why, in November 1982, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 37/9, which asked the two countries to resume negotiations in order to find a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute as quickly as possible.
The UK and my country are both vibrant democracies, with relevant economies (in fact, we are both members of the G20). We collaborate on key issues on the international agenda such as the pandemic and the protection of human rights – and, most importantly, we share core values and a vision of a rules-based global order. And yet, in the South Atlantic agenda, we behave as if the conflict took place yesterday.
The Argentine government recently presented concrete proposals to advance connectivity between the islands and mainland Argentina through the restoration of regular flights. More flights means more trade, more tourism and more dialogue, as we have done in the past.
Argentina is not a threat to anyone. We have a clear constitutional mandate. The Argentine constitution highlights two important aspects of this mandate: it declares that the recovery of sovereignty is an inalienable objective of the Argentine people, and it also affirms that we must seek it only by peaceful means, in accordance with international law and in accordance with respecting the way of life of the inhabitants of the islands.
Despite this, the UK maintains a major military base in the South Atlantic, conducts periodic military exercises in the disputed area, and maintains restrictions on the sale of dual-use military items to Argentina. I would like to point out that the UK reserves restrictions of this nature for countries responsible for serious human rights abuses. These restrictions have been extended to sensitive technology, raising doubts about Britain’s reliability as a supplier of such equipment. Beyond the fact of the conflict of sovereignty, it is incomprehensible that such treatment is inflicted on our country which has known 40 years of uninterrupted democracy.
We have a positive program in which cooperation is possible and desirable. We can and must continue to work together on global and bilateral issues. In particular, we should seek to build a more thriving bilateral trade relationship, which is currently performing well below its potential.
We have also made great progress over the past 40 years in humanitarian matters, identifying the remains of Argentine soldiers who fell on the islands during the conflict and who are buried there: thanks to the neutral intermediation of the International Committee of the Cross Red (ICRC), we were able to identify the remains of more than 120 Argentine ex-combatants and provide an answer to their families, after so many years of uncertainty.
The UN calls for resolving the sovereignty dispute through peaceful means, as a way to end this special and particular colonial situation. There were statements from the Organization of American States, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Ibero-American Summit, Mercosur and others.
However, the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas remains unresolved. To pretend that he does not exist or that he does not create obstacles in our bilateral relationship is naive. No Argentine government will stop pursuing our sovereign claim. This does not prevent us from making progress in areas of common interest, but we must be aware that without a frank and constructive dialogue concerning the South Atlantic, our relationship will not be able to reach its full potential.
Santiago Cafiero is Argentina’s Foreign Minister
This article was modified on April 2, 2022 to reflect the author’s use in his text of the term Malvinas