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The South Atlantic: Looking Ahead

A conference organised by the South Atlantic Council on 15 April 2011


Some thoughts about the Falkland Islands

Presentation by Sir Christopher Audland

1.     The contents of a recent release of Foreign Office documents, dating from 1963-1964, and concerning the Falkland Islands, has caused me to consider whether it would be timely for some new thinking - on the part of the UK, Argentina and the Falkland Islanders - about the future of those Islands.


2.     What is my special interest in this matter? As a Diplomat, I spent the years 1963 to 1967 as Head of Chancery - i.e. Head of the Political Section - at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires (BA). In that capacity I drafted a Despatch, which was duly signed and sent to the Foreign Office (FO) by the British Ambassador, Sir George Middleton, on 29 November 1963: this considered the Anglo-Argentine dispute about sovereignty over the Islands, in the light of a recent, marked renewal of Argentine official and public interest, and warned explicitly of the danger that Argentina could easily mount a successful invasion, after which it would be difficult or impossible to evict the intruders before they had consolidated their position. It is true that the Despatch rated such a development as improbable, but it did so at a time when a civilian, Arturo Íllia, was President of the Argentine Republic. Although the Embassy remained in correspondence with the American Department of the Foreign Office until I left, I do not claim to recall many details of what passed. But my belief is that the Embassy put forward the view that if Britain (which was busy reducing its armed forces) was not ready to defend the Islands adequately, she should think of negotiating a deal in which sovereignty would be conceded to Argentina, in return for a special status for the Islands and their inhabitants. Further, I believe we were told that the Despatch had been submitted to the Cabinet, but that there had been no readiness to do much about its recommendations. Before I departed in 1967, following a bloodless military coup d'état in 1970, Íllia had been replaced as President by General Onganía.

3.     After leaving Argentina, I spent a busy life, in various diplomatic positions in Europe, until my retirement in 1986. As a result, I had no further opportunity to keep in personal touch with Argentine affairs, but simply followed developments in the media. I was deeply saddened when, in 1982, the danger of a successful Argentine invasion became reality, and many lives were lost on both sides, in the subsequent British operation to recover the Islands. Chancing to be in Parliament soon afterwards, I ran into the late Lord Sherfield, who had much earlier been my Ambassador during a 1950's posting to Washington. I mentioned the Despatch we had sent from BA, recalling also my doubts about the validity of the British legal claim to the Islands. He responded that he too, as a young Foreign Office official in the 1930's, had been called on to study the Argentine claim. He remembered writing a memorandum to his superiors concluding that the Argentine claim was stronger than the British one. When the Falklands War took place, he had asked the Public Records Office for a sight of the memorandum, only to be told it had been withdrawn from public access on orders from the Prime Minister.

4.     In January, 1983, a Report was published by a Committee, chaired by Lord Franks, which had been set up specially to consider the Falkland War, and the events leading up to it, and to advise on any lessons to be learnt. I had no time to read it then, though I have done so recently.

5.     I was much engaged, following my retirement, in a number of pro bono activities, which there is no need to enumerate. It was not until the late 1990's that I began to write my memoirs (Right Place, Right Time, published in 2004). There was to be a Chapter about my time in Argentina. I asked the Foreign Office to see the relevant files of the American Department, supposing them to be open under the 30-year rule. I was told that they were still closed. As the person who had drafted the Despatch, I was permitted to re-read it, but not to see any of the associated Whitehall papers.

6.     I was prompted to return to the subject by a TV Programme about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), broadcast in the spring of 2010, as one in a series on the "Three Great Offices of State". In the course of it, a participant remarked that, when the Falklands were threatened with invasion by Argentina in 1982, no official in the (then) FO had foreseen this danger. I later advised him that this was not the case.

7.     In October, 2010, I found myself watching another, very interesting TV Programme (on the Sky Discovery Channel), in a series entitled "Élite Forces Day". It was called "The Falklands: how close to defeat?" Several of the British and Argentine Commanders in the campaign participated. They discussed seven specific, key points, on any one of which – if Argentina had operated differently – they felt the battle might have ended with an Argentine victory. Both sides considered that it had been a very close run thing indeed.

8.     By then I had decided to re-visit the question of the missing Despatch and the associated papers. To my amazement I found that they had still not been released into the public domain - now 47 years after they were written. I wrote to the National Archives on 23 July, citing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, and asked that they be immediately released. A month later, their reply came, refusing my request on the ground that it could put at risk the interests of the UK abroad (Section 27 (1) of the FOI Act). It stated that, after an assessment by the FCO, it had been found that "the public interest lies in non-disclosure" because "the information … relates to the matter of sovereignty over and Argentine claims to the FI", which "remains an area of ongoing discussion between the UK and Argentina. As such the information … is considered highly likely to affect the UK's ability to maintain the current international relationships with Argentina and protect the UK's interests abroad." It added that Argentine claims are "ongoing as shown by recent protests in March, 2010". On 11 November, I wrote a carefully reasoned letter to the Head of the National Archives, appealing against his subordinate's decision, and repeating my request. Two months later, he wrote to say that the documents had at last been released, although some points in them were blacked out. I have meanwhile studied the released documents.

Lessons from the released documents

9.     I naturally read these documents against the background of the Franks Report. I was immediately struck by the fact that the Franks Committee had decided to start its account of developments leading up to the War in the year 1965. Why? It seems to have based this decision on the fact that it was only in 1963 and 1964 that there had been a resurgence of Argentine interest in the Falklands and that a campaign had been mounted in Argentina in support of its claim to the Islands. Moreover, in 1964, the Argentine Government had raised the matter in the UN, through the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (The Committee of 24).

10.     A Resolution (No. 2065) was passed, in December 1965, at the General Assembly. It referred in its preamble to the "cherished aim of bringing to an end everywhere colonialism in all its forms, one of which covers the case of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)"; invited the Governments of Argentina and the UK to start negotiations to find a peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the Charter of the United Nations and of Resolution 1514(XV) [on colonialism], and in the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas); and requested the two Governments to report to the Special Committee, and then to the General Assembly at its next session.

11.     The Franks Report noted that, in September 1966, a further unofficial incident, known as "Operation Condor", took place. An armed group of 20 young Argentines hijacked an Argentine Airlines DC4 and forced it to go to the Falklands, where it landed on the race-course at Port Stanley. The Argentine Government publicly dissociated themselves from the incident, but there were demonstrations throughout Argentina in support of the Argentine claim to the Islands, and shots were fired at the British Embassy in BA while the Duke of Edinburgh was on an official visit in Argentina. In the light of this incident, the Royal Marine detachment on the Islands, which had been established in 1965, but reduced to one officer and five men in 1966, was restored to platoon strength, and retained at that level thereafter. As already noted, I left Argentina in 1967, and so do not note further specific points from the Franks Report at this stage.

12.     It does, however, strike me as strange that the Franks Committee do not appear to have looked at all at Sir George Middleton's Despatch of November 1963. As soon as the "resurgence of Argentine interest in the Falklands" occurred in September of that year (see para 9 above), I had seized the Embassy's file on the Islands, which had received little attention since World War Two. It showed, not only that the Argentines had re-iterated their claims to the FI frequently ever since 1833, when the British started the sovereignty dispute by driving the Argentine settlers out of the Islands; but also that Britain had refused an Argentine request to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). I had concluded - though the Despatch did not actually say this - that the British legal case was not very solid. It was this situation, coupled with the ongoing British military rundown in the S Atlantic, which had led me to draft the Despatch.

13.     It may be helpful to resume here its essence. After recalling past and recent history, it discussed whether the Argentines would continue to leave British interests untouched. It concluded that this would probably, though not certainly, be the case, but nevertheless suggested things which might be done to lessen the danger of the dispute coming to the boil. It discussed the possibility of a reference to the International Court of Justice (ICJ); of the organisation of a formal consultation of the Islanders' opinion; and of replying publicly to disagreeable articles in the Argentine press. It concluded that it would be best to let sleeping dogs lie - so long as that worked.

14.     The Despatch then considered what sort of trouble the Argentines might make for us, a passage which I resume as follows. Political: chiefly at the UN. Economic: by making trade with the UK more complex to conduct, and making direct UK investment in Argentina more difficult. Military: where the Argentines could rapidly and unobtrusively prepare a small body of men capable of overcoming resistance from the FI's population or Voluntary Defence Force, to be quickly followed by a larger force. (The Ambassador rated this as "improbable".) And legal: where Argentina could suggest referring the dispute to the ICJ.

15.     The Despatch finally suggested seven points which might be considered with a view to preparing the ground in case the Argentines decided to press their case more vigorously, as follows. (1) Explore likely reaction in the USA and South American countries, notably in case of a military intervention. (2) Consider the constitutional position in the FI, in particular the possibility of internal self-government. (3) Seek to encourage more Argentine involvement in the UK economy as such. (4) Consider the UK reaction to an Argentine occupation of the FI. (5) Circulate to HM Representatives concerned a full statement of the legal arguments supporting British sovereignty. (6) Consider suggesting a reference of the dispute to the ICJ. (7) Prepare material refuting non-legal criticisms of our administration of the FI made by the Argentines. In a closing passage, the Despatch remarked that the new (Íllia) Govt. was "of marked nationalistic tendency".

16.     The FO minutes recently made available show that the Despatch was considered by the FO Desk Officer to be "most interesting and timely"; and there is an interim reply to the Ambassador, dated 13 December, 1963, from the Head of American Dept. describing it as "excellent". One cannot but wonder whether its apparent non-submission to the Franks Committee might have reflected a feeling in the FO that it would show that Office in a poor light.

17.     It is relevant to note that another very important document must have been excluded from the Committee's attention by its choice of the 1965 start-line. On the very same day he sent the Despatch, Sir G Middleton sent a letter to Mr R M K (Dick) Slater, the Head of American Dept., setting out additional thoughts (which I must surely also have drafted). He remarked that the Despatch was specifically based on the assumption that our policy was to maintain our position in the Islands substantially unaltered during the foreseeable future. He explained that he had done this because he thought it was still the assumption generally held in Whitehall. But he personally felt that

"a number of developments which have taken place in the last few years may have affected the factors on which it is based. Our strategic thinking on the value as bases of small islands in the event of nuclear war has presumably matured. Our view on the value of our Antarctic Territories may have altered now that we know more about them, while the entry into force of the Antarctic Treaty [in 1961] may have had some impact on the argument that we should stay in the FI inter alia to strengthen our claim in Antarctica. In the world of international politics, colonies are under daily increasing fire. This applies strongly in the Americas where, now we have granted independence to all our territories except British Guiana, British Honduras and the FI, and have declared early independence as the aim for the first two, the Islands are in a category of their own. I realise that the granting of independence to the FI would in fact bring the dispute with Argentina to a head."

18.     The Despatch was very widely circulated within the FO, and also sent to the Board of Trade, Treasury and Colonial Office. (The letter - as far as I can understand - was circulated with it.) Substantial parts of the FO minutes these documents provoked are however "blacked out" in the released copies. In other words they remain exempt from disclosure "under Section 27 (1) (a) and (d)" of the FOI Act. This means that, in the opinion of the NA, their release would be likely to, prejudice: (a) relations between the United Kingdom and any other State, or (d) the promotion or protection by the United Kingdom of its interests abroad. There are nevertheless interesting items which emerge from the minutes, as shown below.

19.     A long minute by the American Department Desk Officer on the two documents - Mr Spreckley - is addressed to six FO Depts, including that of the Legal Adviser. He favoured the "let sleeping dogs lie" option. He remarked that "the military paragraph is alarmingly convincing". As regards this, he ventured to

"presume that the MOD and the Admiralty have this possibility in mind, but the only sure answer is to station a garrison or ship there permanently. In the context of our world-wide defence commitments an infinitely stronger case would have to be made out before Service Departments would even look at such a suggestion".

20.     Commenting on the idea of a full statement of the legal arguments supporting British sovereignty, Mr Spreckley interestingly remarked that "it might tend to be self-defeating, as our case is far from fool-proof". He also commented that "the one omission in this survey … is any serious discussion of our position in the FI Dependencies and the British Antarctic Territory". He saw a close connection, and indeed argued that "if the Argentines were to start more firm action against us, they would be likely to begin in a small way in South Georgia etc. If they met with no resistance there, they might then contemplate action against the FI themselves". He was prescient. This was in practice the sequence of events.

21.     A minute by Dr B B Roberts - not himself a Legal Adviser - is heavily censored. The first "blacked-out" portion must undoubtedly, from its context, have referred to the legal question of sovereignty claims to the FI. Interestingly, it specifically asks: "Could Mr Watts (Legal Adviser) confirm my memory that the Legal Advisers have been and remain against a British initiative in taking the Falklands to the Court" [i.e. the ICJ].

22.     A Mr Symon referred to an upcoming meeting with Sir Patrick Dean (then UK Permanent Representative at the UN) and the Colonial Office, "when the question of territorial claims in the UN context (Committee of 24) will be discussed" and suggested that the FI question be raised.

23.     A later minute by Mr Spreckley is again heavily censored, and once again the omission clearly relates to the sovereignty claims. He does however make clear that the legal issues have been discussed with Mr Watts. He expressed the view that Argentina was unlikely to seek to take the UK before the Court. And he also remarked that "The exceptions to our 'standing' acceptance of the Court's jurisdiction, particularly the exclusion of disputes arising out of facts or situations before 5/2/1930, as well as the exception with regard to States accepting the jurisdiction simply in order to make the UK a defendant shortly thereafter, might well operate to exclude the case, even if Argentina did commence proceedings". Mr Spreckley was thus consistent in his doubts about the strength of the British claim (see para 20).

24.     The Despatch also provoked comments from the Colonial Office. On 24 December 1963, the Hon. Alec Cumming-Bruce wrote to Mr M Holton (MOD) drawing attention to the "military" paragraph of the Ambassador's Despatch, and suggesting that, subject to any FO views, a study of the contingency of an Argentine landing on the FI should be undertaken by the Defence Planning Staff [DPS] or CICC (one letter undecipherable). Mr Waterfield in the PUS Dept. asked whether one could "say or quote anything by JIC on [the] threat" and suggested that, if not, the Ambassador's views should be borne in mind next time the JIC reviewed the South Atlantic etc. A Mr White replied, on 9/1/64, that

"I cannot trace anything of use for this purpose by JIC, and there is no routine review of this kind of remote possibility. There may have been something in earlier versions of the ODC paper on the Role of Colonial Territories, but threats are not now included in that paper. If DPS want it, however, JIS could quickly prepare an assessment of Argentine capability".

25.     On 15 January, 1964, Mr Waterfield issued the letter to Mr M Holton (MOD), commenting on that of Cumming-Bruce, and agreeing that it would be prudent if a DPS Study could be made of what military measures might be taken to meet an Argentine threat to the Islands. The study should consider two situations: "a forestalling operation, where we had evidence of Argentine intention to invade, and an evicting operation".

26.     That is the end of the story told by the now released documents.

Some reflections on the Franks Report

27.     It is impossible to read the Franks Report without being struck by the fact that, so far as I can tell, the Committee never itself gave any thought to a question of enormous significance, namely the relative weight of the British and Argentine legal claims to sovereignty over the FI. Its terms of reference called on it to "review the way in which the responsibilities of Government in relation to the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies were discharged in the period leading up to the Argentine invasion of the FI on 2 April 1982, taking account of all such factors in previous years as are relevant; and to report". [Italics supplied.] British Government policies, from the time in 1833 when the British drove the Argentine settlers in the FI out to the mainland, and claimed the Falklands as a Colony, right up until the Argentine invasion, had been based on a supposed belief that the British legal claim was sound. Successive Argentine Governments, also from 1933 onwards, had repeatedly made clear to successive British Governments that it considered its own claim to be superior in law. It is evident that senior FO officials, including Legal Advisers, had doubts about the superiority of the British legal claim (see above). These sovereignty issues clearly fell into the definition "relevant factors" used in the terms of reference. Why, therefore, did the Committee not give them thought?

28.     Equally striking is the fact that, as early as 11 December, 1968, the Foreign Secretary, then Mr Stewart, made a statement in Parliament which confirmed that the British Government would insist - in any negotiations with the Argentines - on the paramountcy of the Islanders' wishes. This remained unchanged, as the official British position, until the Argentine invasion in 1982. Moreover, no serious attempt appears to have been made by the British side to encourage the Islanders even to consider any solution involving a transfer of sovereignty to Argentina. In the course of 1973, it became clear that an impasse had been reached in the Anglo-Argentine talks. Argentina again took the issue to the UN, where the GA adopted a Resolution 3160 (XXVIII) calling on both parties to accelerate negotiations towards a solution of the sovereignty issue. In January 1974 the Defence Committee did agree that, in view of the Resolution, and the risks of economic and military action against the Islands, the likely attitude of the Islanders to the possibility of a condominium, as an alternative to a transfer of sovereignty, should be discussed with the Governor of the Falkland Islands. Before this could be done, the General Election, of March 1974, led to a change of Government. A Labour Government took office: Mr Wilson (as he then was) became Prime Minister, and Mr Callaghan became Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. This Government decided to consult the Falkland Islands Executive Council on the possibility of initiating talks with Argentina on condominium. The Council indicated that it would raise no objection to such talks going ahead, provided that there was no Islander participation initially. The subject of condominium was broached with the Argentine Government; but, in the face of the Islanders' continuing refusal to participate, it was decided that there would be no purpose in proceeding with the matter, and the Argentine Government were so informed in August 1974. Whilst the talks carried on until the Argentine invasion, it must have been clear to the British that the prospects of success were, in these circumstances, to say the least minimal.

29.     Another very striking point is that the Report does not suggest there was ever any discussion of the long-term interests of the UK itself in the Falkland Islands. Sir George Middleton had raised this question very cogently in his letter of 29 November, 1963. After explaining why he had based his Despatch on the assumption that British policy was to maintain our position in the Islands substantially unaltered during the foreseeable future, he drew attention to a number of recent, very relevant, developments, which might well have affected the policy (see para 17 above). It is to me remarkable that intelligent and experienced British politicians at that time had so little feel, either for the whole trend of world opinion against the maintenance of colonies, or for the fact that the steady decline of British armed forces would make it increasingly difficult for the British Government to defend them.

The Hong Kong Transfer of Sovereignty, and its Consequences

30.     It is relevant to recall that when - less than 3 years after the Falklands War - the future of the British Colony of Hong Kong was raised (in 1984) by the Chinese Government, the Thatcher Government made no reference to the "paramountcy of the Islanders' wishes". On the contrary, it rapidly agreed to a Joint UK/Chinese Government Declaration noting that the latter would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1 January, 1997, as indeed happened.

31.     It is not for a moment suggested that the two sovereignty questions - Hong Kong and the Falklands - posed identical problems. Their scale was quite different: and the racial components also. Moreover, the Chinese held an enormously strong card, in the sense that the British lease on the "New Territories" would expire in 1997, and the Chinese had clearly stated that it would not be renewed. It was felt that Hong Kong without the "New Territories" would not be viable. But the consequences of the Hong Kong change-over are certainly not without interest in the FI context. This transfer of sovereignty was accompanied by the adoption of a Basic Law, which reflected an underlying philosophy of "one country, two systems" within China. It provided that – although part of China - Hong Kong would enjoy "a high degree of autonomy" on all matters, except foreign affairs and defence. As a result, the Island still has a completely different political system from the mainland. Since then, Hong Kong has prospered. It has a population of 7 million, of whom 95% are ethnic Chinese. In 2007, according to the Bank of International Settlements, the Hong Kong Dollar was the 9th most traded currency in the World.

The interests of the UK as such in maintaining sovereignty in the Falklands

32.     Let us now briefly reflect on the question whether there are logical reasons - in this day and age - for the UK to continue with its refusal to concede sovereignty over the FI to Argentina, even on terms and conditions favourable to the Islanders.

33.     It is true that the Islanders themselves dislike the idea. This is understandable. They are ethnically British. And few people welcome change in their political context if it can be avoided. So far, the UK has not made the slightest real effort to persuade the Islanders that there could be benefits in such a change. But should the wishes of 3,000 Islanders necessarily be seen as paramount, if they conflict with the interests of the 60 million inhabitants of the UK?

34.     We in the UK need to consider where our own interests lie - as distinct from those of the Islanders. The points made in Sir George Middleton's letter to the Head of American Department of 29 November, 1963, as reasons why a change of British policy on this issue might be desirable, are even more valid now than they were then. It is difficult to see any strategic value to the UK of holding on to the FI. (The same applies to the Dependencies.) Our territorial claims in Antarctica have become completely irrelevant, now that the system of governance established by the Antarctic Treaty has been a success for almost exactly 50 years. Colonialism is dead. There now remain only 14 British Overseas Territories, with a total population of 260,000 people. Just before the 2nd World War, the Empire's population was in excess of 450 million.

35.     We need to consider whether the permanent maintenance of a substantial military force in the FI is something we should afford. Currently, we maintain an air base with RAF fighting aircraft, and significant land forces as well. At present, there is no likelihood of an Argentine attack. But Argentine policy towards the Islands has varied markedly over the years. If Argentina were, one day, to mount another surprise attack, would our present forces on the Islands be sure of repelling it? Or would they first have to be re-inforced? Let us not forget a few relevant facts. In the Falklands War, Argentina's attention was significantly diverted by its ongoing dispute with Chile about the Beagle Channel, which caused it to keep its best troops in reserve, instead of deploying them to the Islands: this dispute between the two countries was however amicably resolved in 1984. Also - when we lost the Islands in 1982 - we needed a Task Force including two aircraft carriers. Today, our last carrier has just been decommissioned. We are currently in the throes of a large cut-back in our armed forces as a whole. There is also the point that, in 1982, the close, personal relationship between the Prime Minister (Mrs Thatcher) and President Reagan meant that much technical and intelligence assistance was given to the UK by the USA. One cannot rely on the same being true in any future war over the FI. Finally, we can never forget that the FI are over 7,000 miles from the UK, but only 450 miles from the nearest Argentine port of Ushiaia.

36.     We need to consider also whether there are any economic benefits to the UK of our sovereignty over the Islands. There has been talk of oil wells in nearby waters. So far, no oil has been found which would be worth exploiting. But, even if it were, would sovereignty matter? The oil would have to be sold in any case, and we could still buy it.

37.     Finally, we need to give due weight to the disadvantages, in terms of UK relations with Argentina, of the continuing running sore of our sovereignty over the FI.

What is Argentina today?

38.     Let us not forget that the Argentina of today is an important, democratic country, of which its inhabitants are pleased to be citizens.

39.     Historically, South America was inhabited only by indigenous peoples, until the Spanish and Portuguese invasions in the sixteenth century. After the fall of the Inca Empire, virtually the whole continent (except for Brazil) was formed into the Spanish Vice-Royalty of Peru. In the first years of the nineteenth century, the Spanish Empire in South America effectively collapsed. Efforts by the British to take control of Buenos Aires by force, were ignominiously defeated by the criollos (local population) in 1806 (an event known as la Reconquista), and again in 1807 (an event known as la Defensa). The Argentine National Day - 25th May - recalls the date in 1810 when the criollos formed their own Government. Six years later, a Constitutional Congress declared that the Spanish Vice-Royalty had become an independent State, The United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, out of which Argentina eventually emerged in its present shape.

40.     In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was much immigration, especially of Italians and British. The Italians stayed mainly in the cities, especially Buenos Aires. The British fanned out over the country, developing the port, railway and telegraph systems; the meat-packing stations, which would enable fortunes to be made from the export of Argentine chilled beef to the United Kingdom; and many associated estancias (very large farms). So there is now a cocktail of cultures, operating at an impressive level. Education is good. The literacy rate is very high. And the country is well esteemed in the Hispanic world in terms of literature, art, dance and music. Argentina is also an important player in UN Peacekeeping operations. It has contributed world-wide to these, including to those in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, the Ecuador-Peru dispute, Western Sahara, Angola, Kuwait, Cyprus, Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Timor Leste. The UN White Helmets, a bulwark of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid efforts, were first deployed in 1994, following an Argentine initiative.

41.     Economically, Argentina, at the beginning of the twentieth century, was enormously rich: that was when the French invented the expression "riche comme un Argentin". To the British, it was so well respected that it was known as "the Fifth Dominion" (alongside of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa). Since WW2, Argentina has been through some difficult economic times. It was not lack of resources or of education which held the country back, but rather the failure, during those periods, to maintain a stable and efficient political system within which the economy could thrive. Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world by land area. It enjoys today a high quality of life. It has a population of some 40 million, and a GDP of around USD 550 billion. (For comparison, the UK has 61 million citizens and a GDP of USD 2,178 billion.) It also has the highest GDP (PPP) per capita in Latin America. It has a solid foundation for future growth in terms of its market size, the levels of foreign direct investment, and the percentage of high-tech exports as a share of total manufactured goods.

What conditions could be secured for the Islanders if sovereignty were transferred to Argentina?

42.     Let us consider, against this background, the possibility (envisaged by the British Embassy in BA in 1963) of negotiating to concede sovereignty over the FI to Argentina, in return for obtaining a special status for the Islands and their inhabitants.

43.     The UK would start such a negotiation from an incomparably better position than it did in the case of Hong Kong. First, Argentina knows that Britain still could defend the Islands from Argentine attack, if it had the political will. Second, Argentina - unlike China - has a democratic Government. Third, there would certainly be no difficulty about agreeing on a philosophy of "one country, two systems". Fourth, anyone who knows Argentina is aware that Provinces distant from Buenos Aires always have a lot of autonomy. Fifth and last, there would be effectively no limit to the privileges which could be negotiated for the Islanders. For example, the system of Local Government – and the legal and judiciary systems – could surely be retained. The English language could be required for all official purposes on the Islands. It could be provided that the Islands' British inhabitants should hold dual nationality (a concept not applicable to persons born elsewhere in Argentina). Arrangements could be negotiated to ensure that, if oil and/or gas in exploitable quantities were found in surrounding waters, the UK would obtain benefits. And so on, and so forth.

44.     The political benefits of such an arrangement to the UK would be massive. The main cause of political trouble with Argentina would simply disappear. Argentina would at once become a very friendly country. It would easily and cheaply assume the defence of the FI. In practical terms, there would be few noticeable changes for the Islands' inhabitants. Indeed their economy would be likely to prosper from being a part of a large – and infinitely closer – market. The economic benefits to the UK of no longing having to be ready to defend the Islands would be huge.


45.     In conclusion, my belief is that the best interests of the UK require that HM Government should change its policy on the Falklands, and set out to make arrangements - tailored in the best interests of the Islanders - to transfer sovereignty over the Islands to Argentina. The first step in such a process would be to inform the Islanders, clearly and openly, of this aim; and of the reasons for it. The Government should simultaneously make clear to them that it is prepared to negotiate toughly with Argentina, to ensure that legitimate Islander interests are well covered in the instruments of transfer. Once we had thereafter explained our basic intentions to the Argentine Government, there is no cause to expect them to press for results with undue haste. There is, however, every reason to believe that they would approach all questions concerning the Islanders' interests in a spirit of helpfulness. Such a change in British policy, if put into effect, would bring us huge savings on our military budget. It would also ensure the strong friendship of Argentina - and many other South American countries - and earn us a lot of credit in the United Nations.

17 March 2011

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