Editor’s note: The Argentinian embassy has requested that we post the following letter to provide more contextual background on the ongoing dispute over the Falkland Islands. We would like to remind our readers that the Atlantic Council does not necessarily share the views expressed by our writers. http://imgur.com/XoBTyBU
The Falkland Islands lie 480 kilometres off the coast of Argentina and are smaller in area than the city of Beijing at just 12,173km2. The islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom and have a population of just under 3,000. This area has been the source of an ongoing conflict since the 1800’s. This conflict boiled over in April 1982 when Argentina invaded and took control of the Falkland Islands which caused the British government to respond militarily, resulting in a ten week war, which the UK won. Argentina accepted defeat and accepted British claim to the islands until 2006 when it began laying claims over fishing and petroleum rights to the Falklands, creating tension between the UK and Argentina. This tension has risen once again now that oil has been found off the coast of the islands.
On April 2, 2015, Premier Oil and Falklands Oil and Gas announced that their drilling activities at one of their exploration wells discovered oil and gas reserves that far surpassed their expectations. After this announcement, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Argentina filed charges on April 9th 2015 against several oil companies including Premier Oil and Falklands Oil and Gas for carrying out explorations without the permission of the Argentine Energy Secretariat. These charges were filed in accordance with a 2013 piece of legislation that stipulated companies need permission from the Argentine Energy Secretariat before drilling off the country’s coast. Britain for its part has rejected this law and subsequent lawsuit arguing that it could not be applied to a zone which is under British legal ownership.
Another source of tension comes from the UK announcement that it would be spending £180 million over the next ten years to renew and improve defences on the islands in addition to sending two Chinook Helicopters to the Falklands immediately. President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina responded by calling the announcement a provocation and that the Malvinas, as The Falklands are known in Spanish, will belong to Argentina sooner or later. She also called it a ploy to win an election and please arms manufacturers. This resulted in Britain summoning the Argentine ambassador to voice its objections to these statements. Argentina responded in kind by calling in the British ambassador to respond to documents released by Edward Snowden that Britain has been spying on Buenos Aires in case they were thinking of making an attempt to retake the Falkland Islands.
While Argentina insists that Britain has nothing to worry about from Argentina in terms of a military threat, that does not mean that Argentina will drop its claim to the Falklands. The oil that lies under the islands would go a long way to helping Argentina’s debt stricken economy and improve public feeling towards the government. However the United Kingdom shows no sign of renouncing its claim to the islands, and thus it would appear that Argentina and the UK will continue to compete for the Falkland Islands for the foreseeable future. Britain has showed its willingness to defend the islands in the past so any attempt to retake the islands by Argentina could lead to a serious conflict in the South Atlantic.