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The South Atlantic: Looking Ahead

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

The views expressed below were those of the speaker. None of the presentations are endorsed by the Council.

The Emerging Global Context: New Opportunities

Presentation by Ambassador Fernando Petrella

Let me express my deep gratitude to the South Atlantic Council for this initiative and to the University of Westminster for providing such an impressive venue for our deliberations. My sincere appreciation to Professor Celia Szusterman, a very distinguish scholar, because she was the reason for my presence here. I recognize former ambassadors to Argentina, Robin Christopher and John Hughes. They did a very professional job to improve the bilateral relations with different governments and different attitudes. Ambassador Shan Morgan is now doing a very professional job in not so easy times.

Let me convey to you the special regards from the President of CARI, Dr. Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini. He is always very active in the matter under discussion here, today. My special thanks to Minister Osvaldo Mársico, our Chargé d' affaires, for his generosity and hospitality.

I wish to tell you that I feel very happy to be in the UK one more time, and to enjoy the refinement , the kindness of its people and to breathe the history and culture of this very important country and fundamental international player.

My presentation will be on a personal basis, and I would like to make four main points on the deep change of the global context that can – perhaps – influence in a positive way to sort out the Malvinas/Falkland present “impasse”.

The first one, has to do with the situation of the West. For the sake of clarity, to me, the West – in the context I am referring to – is composed by Europe and to some extent by the United States. In that sense, there are a few facts that make me feel far from complacent. We are, again, involved in another military conflict of internal nature, which is causing innocent casualties. (This is almost impossible to avoid but, nevertheless, is very disturbing). Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have a common denominator: No easy way out and, probably, no predictable outcome.

Even if I admire the resolve of your authorities in mitigating humanitarian crisis and in implementing the “right to protect”, war brings about more problems than lasting solutions, as we all know. To that, I have to add the financial situation, the budgetary restrictions, the skepticism about the eurozone, the energy problems and the apparent difficulties of coordination by the West vis à vis the Magreb and Libyan sudden evolution.

I reject flatly the idea that the West is in decline. Yet, I can not avoid feeling some concern about the simple fact that a number of renowned scholars are considering it. If proven correct, it could mean the end of an era. An era, built upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose legacy has made tolerance to diversity the trade mark of our Western civilization. Argentina is a part of that ideal. In this regard, one has the right to ask, at least, two questions:

Question (a) How many new problems is the West able to carry, at the same time in history, without making the effort to solve the old ones, as the one in the South Atlantic? and,

Question (b) Is the present situation in Europe another “black swan” – following Dr. Taleb's theories – or are we in an irreversible path?

Nobody knows the answer to the two questions. But in any case, my first point is that the context is clearly different from what it was ten years ago.

The second point I would like to make in this connection is that most of Argentina's friends and strategic partners – I mean, those who consistently support the United Nations resolutions over the dispute on the Malvinas/Falkland Islands – are now more relevant within the international system. As we know, the emerging countries account for a huge amount of the world trade, are necessary players in the IMF, the World Bank and in the G20, along with Argentina. These countries make the core of the G77, the Non Aligned Movement and the BRICS group. Today, all of them bear a constructive and respected voice in global matters. Argentina is part of this group, with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

This trend, that shows the growing influence of emerging countries, is not going to be reversed any time soon, because it is structural. It has to do with the relevance of China and India as well as many other countries in different areas of the world. Too many countries to mention – in Latin America, for instance, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru, amongst others. To believe that they count, mainly because they are important markets and enjoy many natural resources, would be a mistake. They count, besides being important markets, and enjoying natural resources, because they support the right causes in the global agenda.

That is why President Barak Obama recently highlighted the crucial importance of Latin America and the Caribbean during his State visit to South America. The most important area of the world for American exports and investment. A region of equal partners, peaceful, democratic and, hopefully, without unsolved disputes on the agenda. The cohesion of the Western Hemisphere, including the United States and Canada, and the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean is a reality today. Argentina helped decisively to craft that unity. In fact, it was Argentina who invited, formally, Canada and the former colonies of the Anglo-speaking Caribbean region, to join the Organization of American States, and other groups in the hemi-sphere, such as the Rio Group.

I wonder which might have been the topic of conversation between President Cristina Kirchner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Argentina a few months ago? Besides security matters and non-proliferation, I would not discard that the situation in the South Atlantic was in the agenda, considering the seriousness of the situation and the relevance the United States is giving to the region as a whole. This is – precisely – the region that recently adopted two important documents on the Malvinas/Falkland question: the Cancun and the UNASUR Declarations. These documents, plus the ones approved by the Organization of American States, refer to the core of the problem and, more specifically, to the UK's unilateral hydrocarbons activities in the South Atlantic.

The Declarations have been signed by all the Presidents of the region. President Calderón of Mexico, President Rouseff of Brazil, President Piñera of Chile, President Santos of Colombia, President Garcia of Peru plus the presidents of Venezuela, Uruguay, Guyana, Bolivia , Suriname and Ecuador as well as Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina. The sum of these countries count for trade, natural resources, energy, political gravitation and international presence, as never before. They feel – as we do – that there is no room for unilateral actions in the South Atlantic. They will not be sustainable! The Western Hemisphere is supporting Argentina's position. Here again, we have the second dramatic change of context. The situation is different from that ten years ago. The political power is, now, a shared commodity.

Let me turn now to the third point I would like to make. As we have stated many times, Argentina will always be ready for dialogue, to talk, to discuss or to negotiate, any issue, to improve the situation in the South Atlantic. For us, this is a must, since we have exclusive responsibilities in the area, taking into account the relevant UN Resolutions on the dispute.

Bear in mind that Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world. The external limit of our continental shelf has added another maritime territory, granting us additional resources. We are the largest exporter of clean energy through biofuels and the second world producer; we are the second world producer of lithium; we enjoy huge reserves of uranium, and are one of the largest and most efficient producers of food in the world. Besides, we master the technology for the use of satellites and, since the 1960s, nuclear technology, but we never threatened anyone with it, despite a few tragic historical mistakes. We have grown consistently for the last ten years and - even if our diplomacy could be considered sometimes to be laborious - we managed to establish strategic partnerships with Brazil, Mexico, China, South Africa and Russia. Among the non-English speaking countries in the world, Argentina ranks as one where your language, the English language, is most widely spoken and read. Of course, there are a lot of problems, but again, the reality shows another deep change of context. The “power base” of Argentina has been reborn. Definitely, things are different from the recent past.

Finally, I have reached the last point I would like to share with you. As I mentioned at the beginning, the West has already too many conflicts for two old friends - like the United Kingdom and Argentina - to stay put on their old dispute. I believe that we have a moral and practical obligation - to our friends, allies and peoples - to seek another opportunity to take up the all the aspects of the dispute, with good faith, equilibrium in the management of the “practical matters”, and no surprises. If we did it in the past - not that long ago - we can do it again now. Let's take advantage of the momentum provided by the change of context in the international system. Let's do it before positions become more entrenched. Nobody wants the Islands isolation from our part of the continent. It is in nobody's interest. It is morally unacceptable. I am sure that the Islanders do not want that either. We share with them many concerns. I am sure that they are also aware of the new international and regional context.

This leads me to my concluding remark. Perhaps the South Atlantic Council could reconvene again, us so called “experts”, to further explore the way to join forces and move along together? Maybe, in Buenos Aires, or on the Islands themselves. Why not?

Finally, let me convey Mr. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, my best wishes and support, for his difficult task in these challenging times, as well as my gratitude to all the participants in this exercise for the ideas and comments put forward so far during our deliberations. Thank you very much.

Reply to question on oil exploitation:

If oil is discovered in substantial amount and assuming someone is ready to risk the legal and political consequences, four things could happen:

  1. A few, and I mean, a few Islanders will become very rich. Richer than what they are today. They will buy Rolls Royces, to drive them around the block, as in the ninety eighties when the the fishing industry began.
  2. The rest of the islanders will be better due to the improvement of public services, but they might not feel a great difference.
  3. The way of living on the Islands will change forever. People from the industry will have to settle and that will have an impact whose consequences nobody can predict.
  4. If big companies come, they most probably will seek accommodation with Argentina because they will need the continent for logistic support.

*** ***

Ambassador Fernando Enrique Petrella joined the Argentine Foreign Service in 1965. He has been posted at the United Nations, the FAO and the OAS. He was Deputy Foreign Minister, 1992-1997; Under-Secretary for Foreign Relations, 1991-1992; and 2002-2003; and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1997-1999. He is a professor at the Argentine Diplomatic Academy and a member of the Argentine Council for Foreign Relations (CARI) Executive Committee.





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