The British lion south of the border is looking more than a tad scrofulous these days.
On 29 July in the wake of a meeting between Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, the pair issued a joint communiqué in which Brazil reaffirmed its support for Argentina’s claim to the Falkland islands, which Buenos Aires refers to the as Malvinas.
Brazil reiterated its intention of banning all Falklands’ flagged vessels from calling at Brazilian ports and described as “illegal” the current British oil exploration in the Falkland Islands’ territorial waters.
The communiqué noted, “The President of Brazil reiterates the support of the country to the legitimate rights of the Argentine republic in the sovereignty dispute relative to the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich islands and its adjoining maritime spaces,” adding that “this position stands on the long tradition of Brazilian diplomacy in support for the Argentine claim and which is based on the deep rooted historic event of 1833 when through an act of force Argentina was expulsed from the Malvinas territory.”
In the specific paragraph dedicated to shipping the communiqué stated that “The President of the Federative Republic of Brazil reaffirms its commitment with the 26 November 2010 UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas: Union of South American Nations) Declaration to adopt in conformity with International Law and respective domestic legislations, all measures susceptible of being regulated to impede the access to its ports of vessels flying the ‘illegal’ colors of the Malvinas Islands.”
The joint release also emphasized Brazil’s and Argentina’s solidarity by labeling Britain’s current hydrocarbons prospecting in Falkland waters as “illegal,” adding that the explorations along the Argentine continental shelf “are unilateral actions incompatible with the resolutions of United Nations on the matter and to not contribute at all to reach a definitive solution to the dispute.” Finally, lest the mandarins of Whitehall be in any doubt as to where Brazilian sympathies lay, Article 26 of the joint communiqué noted that the Argentine President Kirchner thanked Brazil for its standing support in this question, so sensitive, and in particular for its the support in a 21 June meeting of the UN Special Decolonization Committee.
Ah, “Iron Maiden” Prime Minister Thatcher would have known what to do with those stroppy Argies – assemble a task force and kick them back to Buenos Aires, which is what she did in 1982, in a brief but violent conflict that noted Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges compared to “two bald men fighting over a comb.”
Quick! Send the HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier.
Oh, right, it was decommissioned in March.
Now, the Falklands are nothing so much as a dim relic of Britain’s colonial past, when they represented the last port of call for Royal Navy warships and British merchantmen preparing to round Cape Horn, usually after making a final port of call in – Rio de Janeiro. After the Royal Navy transitioned to coal, the islands proved their worth during World War One as a coaling station, but the reality is that they’ve been little more for nearly two centuries than a stopover port of call.
That is, until the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLOS) recognized 12 nautical miles as normal for territorial seas and waters and provided international recognition of 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones, or EEZs. The Falklands suddenly went from windswept colonial outpost to potential resource base.
But ugly fiscal realities rearing their heads in London may put paid to London replaying the Falklands War. A report published on 3 August by Parliament’s Defence Select Committee has MPs suggesting that the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron has sacrificed national security in a quest for savings in the wake of last year’s defense review, which saw the Royal Navy decommission its aircraft carriers HMS Invincible and her sistership HMS Ark Royal and its Harrier jump jets, along with 5,000 personnel.
The Royal Navy is now down to HMS Illustrious and the UK's first Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier will not be completed until 2016 at the earliest, and may not be ready for active service until 2020.
In a poignant note, clicking on the Royal Navy’s website, http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk “aircraft carriers” subsection, one gets “Error 404 : Page not found.”
If there is a silver lining to all this, it is that the recent oil exploration wells drilled by British firms around the Falklands have all come up dry. On the plus side, in June Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced the UK’s commitment to doubling exports to Brazil to £4 billion by 2015.
In the Brave New World of the 21st century, previously worthless rocky islets because of UNCLOS may well become flash points between competing powers, most notably in the South China Sea, where China claims sovereignty over all of the Spratly and Paracel islands, much to the distress of neighboring Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Unlike the Falklands, these waters have been determined to contain hydrocarbon deposits.
Speaking of China, Chinese businessmen submitted a bid for HMS Ark Royal to the UK's Ministry of Defence Disposal Services Agency online auction platform, obviously finding the warship, built in 1978, more attractive than unused printer cartridges, old office furniture and outdated uniforms.
The HMS Ark Royal 's motto was “Zeal Does Not Rest.” Apparently, neither do fiscal realities.
Is Britain willing to jeopardize its booming trade with Latin America and Brazil in particular for 1,500 sheepherders? The answer was clear three decades ago - now it isn’t, especially in light of all those dry boreholes.
By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com