One of the rare successes for British arms in the past fifty years took place in 1982, when the United Kingdom successfully regained control over the Falkland Islands (which Argentina calls Las Islas Malvinas) in a hard-fought victory with significant diplomatic strength. Given that the Falkland Islands are still heavily under dispute, despite the fact that its inhabitants desire to remain with England (and that Argentina’s lust for the islands and the possible oil wealth in the continental shelf nearby is bolstered by its refusal to accept the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders on fallacious grounds that they do not represent the will of the islands original inhabitants ).
During the 1982 war, Argentina’s heavy advantages in location were countered by adroit British diplomacy, which allowed it to receive support from the United States and divide Argentina’s attention and force it to defend against the possibility of a threat from Chile simultaneously, allowing Britain to overwhelm the Argentine garrison that had occupied the Falkland Islands. The result was a costly but successful war for England, discrediting Argentina’s military junta and leading to its loss of power as a result of its loss of face. Clearly, the Falkland Islands are an issue of great contention between both Argentina and the United Kingdom, and it would be difficult for a government in other nation to retain power if it is viewed by its people as not strongly defending their nation’s interests in those islands.
Not surprisingly, both nations are active in seeking help from others. Argentina has been trolling the Americas looking for nations to support its claim for the Falklands, and American President Obama made a rather serious gaffe in attempting both to curry favor with the Argentines and retain a position of neutrality between Argentina and the United Kingdom, calling them the Maldives . He should have simply called them by their real name, the Falkland Islands. Nonetheless, those Americans who continue to support the traditional alliance between the United States and Great Britain and disdain such political posturing are happy to register their displeasure in the coming US elections. A continuance of such posturing would signify a decline in the diplomatic strength of Great Britain concerning maintaining its hold over the islands.
Each side in the Falkland Island dispute has some strengths and weaknesses. The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands (there are only a few thousand) support maintaining their position as an autonomous area within Great Britain. However, Argentina is far closer to the islands than Great Britain is, making Great Britain’s position rather extended. As a result of the 1982 war, Great Britain garrisoned South Georgia Island, strengthened its local naval presence, and built an air force base on Mount Pleasant allowing fighter jets to be based locally. These strengthen the military position of Great Britain with regards to the Argentines.
Nonetheless, in the absence of support from either the United States or Chile (and it remains unclear what continuing relationship exists between Chile and Great Britain to ensure that Argentina cannot focus its whole attention on regaining the Falkland Islands), it remains difficult to see how the British would be able to hold off a determined assault from Argentina, given that its supply and reinforcement lines are so lengthy compared to those of Argentina. Continued British control of the islands in accordance with the wishes of the islands’ inhabitants will depend on the continued political will of Great Britain’s people and leaders to defend the islands, the diplomatic savvy to ensure that Great Britain is not alone in the matter, and the ability to communicate the depth of Great Britain’s resolve to Argentina. A just and long-term peace would require Argentina, perhaps with some compensation, to drop its claims altogether and accept the will of the Falkland Islanders. This remains unlikely, and so the longstanding conflict between the two sides, which has gone on for almost two centuries, seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.