The Falklands

One of my earliest memories is of listening to BBC broadcasts about the Falklands War while holidaying in the south of France, so it’s entirely possible that my thoughts on the dispute are hopelessly tainted by childhood-bred jingoism. Also, there’s the Maradona incident of 1986.

But still, possession is 9/10 of the law and 9/10 of the other tenth comes from winning a war to repel an illegal invasion of said possession. I’m with Hugo Rifkind:

Honestly, where do you people get off calling us colonialists? Generally speaking, we gave our empire back. You moved to yours, and then basically killed everybody. Forgive me, but I just don’t see how this puts you in a morally superior position.

Another thing: I’ve long thought that the Brits would sour on Obama. Well, America’s refusal to immediately put the smack on Buenos Aires over this is another reminder that Mr. Obama is not on “our side.” Nothing new there, I suppose. After all, back in 1982, the US took a lot of persuading to allow British jets to use its runway on Ascension Island.

Ascension Island is British.

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27 thoughts on “The Falklands

  1. where do you people get off calling us colonialists?

    This question presumes that colonialism is evil, by definition. If anything, the British experience with colonialism demonstrates that they were better at it than the Americans, and in a good way.

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  2. Exactly what is America supposed to do in this case?

    Secondly, Obama has shown quite a history so far of snubbing Gordon Brown. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Obama hasn’t done anything right now in this case. I don’t think this is a matter of anti-colonialism.

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  3. There’s obviously no possible rationality on any side of a question like this. How land becomes property, and then becomes part of a country, is clearly a sheer exercise in power with no other considerations involved.

    That said, I’m always going to take the Argentine side of this irrational question. For several reasons! 1) It’s fun to egg Ronan on. 2) I know a lot more Argentine people, and have a lot more Argentine friends, than I do in Britain. 3) Winning isn’t the same as being right.

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  4. Dan,
    Side with its closest ally. What’s that you say? Britain is not America’s closest ally? Fine, but then let the UK forever disentangle itself from American foreign policy. Or not. Someone needs to choose.

    JNS,
    As soon as one European nation has to use a PAPAL BULL to claim sovereignty over some rocks in the Atlantic over another European nation, you know the argument is stupid. Possession since 1833 is all that matters. That and the fact that the Falklanders want to be British.

    I’m glad you have Argentine friends but let’s face facts: the Falklands always receive attention when Argentina is thrashing around for some reason to let off steam. This has nothing to do with sovereignty.

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  5. Ronan, the point about Argentine friends is this: these arguments don’t ever boil down to reason or sensible argumentation. They instead involve loyalty and patriotism.

    Regarding the argument that the inhabitants want to be British, fair enough. But do we generally take that line? It seems that not — we don’t seem to support every separatist or irredentist movement out there. Maybe that would be the logical solution, but I don’t know. From a sort of facts-on-the-ground perspective, it’s clear that the Falklands are British and will probably stay that way. But these conflicts aren’t really about territory or facts on the ground; they’re about myths and symbols, which probably matter just as much.

    Sovereignty is a myth in all cases, isn’t it? But, let’s face all the facts: British government leaders love Falklands conflicts because — just like the Argentine leaders — these little showdowns allow them to get popularity points with their domestic audience basically for free.

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  6. Don’t be comparing Galtieri with Thatcher. It’s that kind of talk from American liberals that makes me want to tear my eyes out. Or torpedo warships.

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  7. The Falkland Islands. I was in 5th grade living in England. Our teacher had us keep a daily journal during “the war” like we were Anne Frank. I had previously lived in Argentina and my father was an American immigrant from Argentina of British/Scottish descent.

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  8. Galtieri and Thatcher? I thought we were talking Labor and Kirchner. Galtieri was a genocidal thug, obviously. Thatcher may not crack my short list of political favorites, but Galtieri is a villain, whole other thing. Just to keep things clear, let me state that I don’t approve of any military approach to the Falklands/Malvinas situation, nor of kicking puppies.

    Also, who are you calling a liberal?

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  9. You.

    I can’t see what Labour have to gain from Kirchner’s bleatings. If it reminds Britain of the Task Force then it will play into the Conservatives’ hands, if anything. But mostly we’re yawning.

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  10. I think the problem here is that Argentine claim to the Falklands is somewhat more tenuous than the Spanish claim to Argentina.

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  11. Mark and Ronan, the British claim to the islands is just as tenuous. Territories just don’t come with logical, rational national possession forms. God forgot to publish them, so it turns out…

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  12. This has stirred memories of my time in Rio Gallegos three and a half years after the war ended. Thanks for that. Rio Gallegos is on the Atlantic Coast, not far from the Magellan Strait, and directly west of the Falkland Islands. I remember melancholy tales of watching air squadrons fly out from the local air base each day, each day smaller than the day before. I remember a middle-aged woman in turn remembering discussion with her daughter of how the Malvinas were said to be “tied” to the mainland by the continental shelf, but perhaps if they could go out to the shore with their sewing scissors and cut them adrift, then the whole issue would go away. I remember an older wool trader who grew up out in the country on sheep ranches and spoke Spanish with a Scottish accent and whose English was very minimal though he had visited New Zealand and South Africa. (Kind of interesting to be a world traveler with no need for the three fourths of the globe north of 30 degrees south.) Perhaps his parents were among the thousands who abandoned the Falklands for the Patagonia in the early decades of the 20th Century. I remember a gendarme air mechanic who spent half his time with his wife and daughters at their home in Rio Gallegos and the other half at his duty station on the Antarctic Peninsula, which was a lot closer to us than Buenos Aires was. I remember the town’s centennial celebration attended by President Raul Alfonsin and Senator/future President Carlos Mennem, and I consider that Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez must have been actively involved that week, about a year before Kirchner was elected mayor, going on later to be governor of that austral province of almost a couple hundred thousand people spread over a quarter million square kilometers. Again, thanks for the memories.

    I was there as an LDS missionary, part of the Bahia Blanca Mission, which took in all the Argentine Patagonia and some of the Pampa. But I learned last week that due to their remoteness, Rio Gallegos and Tierra del Fuego (my companion was the district leader for the two missionaries on the island in my time) were reassigned to the Buenos Aires North mission a few years ago. It shouldn’t matter how that is handled administratively, but I felt a strong Falklands/Malvinas conflict over the news.

    (More here for those with a taste for austral remoteness.)

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  13. I should have included in that first paragraph:

    I remember recounted fears that an attack on Rio Gallegos was coming and anger at Chilean radio stations that were gleefully playing up that possibility.

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  14. JNS: I am sorry but the stuff about the equal irrationality of claims to ownership is just cant. It seems obvious to me that we can draw meaningful distinctions between ownership based on long and uninterrupted possession and ownership based on recent conquest, even if neither can be fully justified by resort to pristine first principles. So much the worse for pristine first principles. The real world of ownership and possession is always messy and begun in the middle of things. Accordingly, the point is not to establish indubitable moral justification but rather to make judgments about the comparative merits of differing claims. Long possession is simply not the same thing as immediate conquest. This means, of course, that illegitimate conquests may become legitimate possession if we sit around for a long enough time. This, however, far from being irrational is actually thoroughly sensible. Upsetting long-established patterns of use is, all things being equal, worse than simply letting things be. Protecting long possession encourages investment on the basis of stable expectations. It lets people plan their lives about the future. It also seems to conform to the way that human brains are put together. It avoids the disruption of upsetting these expectations. These are all valid and sensible reasons for privileging long possession. There is a reason why every legal system of which I am aware recognizes a right of adverse possession.

    I am with Ronan on this: Uninterrupted possession since 1833 matters, and to dismiss such a long period of possession as essentially arbitrary, far from being a mark of sophistication, demonstrates an inability to draw fairly elementary and relevant distinctions.

    Okay, good natured rant over.

    Oh, and Ronan is also right, that Obama doesn’t seem to think that the special relationship is all that special. Yet another of my Obama disappointments…

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  15. Nate,
    Happy to see you here, old man. Also happy to see you invoke adverse possession, the importance of which even surfaces in my dissertation on Babylonian slavery…

    As for Obama: I care not for American healthcare nor any other US domestic morass. But judged solely on this issue — and if this issue is reflective of other issues — we seem to have a White House keen on grand “moral” gestures and not a great deal more.

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  16. Incidentally, government’s keen on grand “moral” gestures and not a great deal more is not a bad summary of how a sizable chunk of Americans view much of the foreign policy of the European continent.

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  17. Obama = Van Rumpuy? Oh dear.

    I have a case of a family slave used almost exclusively by one brother prior to the father’s death. My idea is that he’s trying to establish long-standing “ownership” and hoping therefore to claim the slave from his brothers when the pater familias dies.

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  18. Interesting. In the common law a lot of cases of adverse possession (as well as other kinds of prescription acquisition of rights, such as corporations by prescription and the like) were accomplished by fiction and evidentiary assumption. Hence, if I was in long possession of a piece of land, the court would say that there must have been some title deed in the past but the deed has just been lost. Oh, and by the way, we are not going to let the other party admit evidence to prove that it hasn’t been lost. I could imagine a similar argument in your slave example, “Dad gave him to me! The evidence for this is the fact that I enjoyed long and exclusive possession.”

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  19. Nate, legal interventions aren’t necessarily that helpful in talking about national boundaries. These arguments are about imaginary things like national essences, destinies, homelands, and so forth, not about deeds.

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  20. JNS: I am not claiming that legal interventions are necessarily helpful; only that they are helpful in this context. The functional arguments are very similar, albeit on a larger scale. I agree with you that much of the discussion in arguments over international possession consists of a parade of nonsense. It does not follow from this, however, that all arguments that one might make in favor of one side or the other are equally silly. The functional and practical issues at work in one nation’s long occupancy of a disputed cluster of islands is not that different than the functional and practical issues at work in one neighbor’s long occupancy of a parcel of land claimed by another neighbor. I certainly am not claiming that all of the sorts of arguments that are made about property law can be translated unproblematically into discussion of international boundaries, but certainly the concerns behind adverse possession seem apposite in this case.

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  21. I don’t care who has been in possession of the Falklands for how long. The only thing that should matter is that the people who live there are Britons and want to remain Britons.

    It would be different if there were a native population that had been bullied by European invaders.

    J, there is nothing spurious about the uncontested self-determination of people. In many cases, popular self-determination is messy because self-determination validates multiple claims. In the Falklands, however, the will of the people is clear.

    If we respect the right to self-determination then nobody need to suffer over the Falklands’ territoriality again. That seems to be a good outcome.

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  22. As for the aspirations of the Argentinian people, they would not want to be reassigned to a different nation either. If we appeal to their sense of justice based on the golden rule, reasonable Argentinians will have to admit that.

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