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Echo of the Falklands War at G20 summit

Argentina – Britain: will the two leaders shake hands in Buenos Aires?

30.11.2018 13:10 Sergey Sayenko, international commentator

Echo of the Falklands War at G20 summit

It has been announced that this year’s G20 summit, to be held in the Argentine capital on 30 November - 1 December, will start with a retreat – an informal meeting for the Group of Twenty leaders. Remarkably, it will take place without representatives of international organizations and members of delegations accompanying the leaders to the event. This will add a certain atmosphere to the Buenos Airess summit and make it somewhat unusual.

The organizers have chosen the format of a retreat to make the meeting more open and let participants talk to each other freely. After all, the leaders of the world’s 20 most developed economics plan to discuss an important issue at this informal meetup: their vision of global development in the coming decade.

Quite a host of important meetings are expected to take place in Buenos Aires. One of the biggest intrigues of the forthcoming forum is how the leaders of Argentina and the United Kingdom, Mauricio Macri and Theresa May will behave. It is no secret that relations between London and Buenos Aires have been quite tense since the Falklands War in 1982.

At previous G20 summits, the two countries’ leaders could avoid contact, but it is unlikely they will be able to do so in Buenos Aires, Argentina being the host of the event. This means that President Macri will be welcoming guests, shaking hands with all of them, and makes one wonder whether he will do this when greeting British Prime Minister Theresa May.

This question is far from rhetorical, since a lot depends on the potential handshake of the two leaders. At the very least, it may give us a hope of a dialog, which would break the impasse in British-Argentine relations, seriously disrupted by the Falklands War.

Here is a brief overview of the conflict. On April 2, 1982, Argentina’s then president Leopoldo Galtieri ordered attack on the Falklands (also known as Malvinas), which used to belong to Buenos Aires. Remarkably, documents that were declassified in 2012 show that Argentina’s attack on the disputed archipelago came as a surprise to Britain, and the position of the Cabinet led by the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher was not totally uncompromising. Under pressure from the United States, which urged Britain to be flexible, London was even willing to reach an agreement with Buenos Aires. But it didn’t turn out that way.

The British government’s decision to engage in a war was to a large extent driven by its desire to take the focus away from miners’ protests caused by the sector’s privatization in accordance with the concept of “Thatcherism”. Quite a lot of blood was shed in the streets of British cities at the time, and a splendid little war was a surefire way to buttress the political foundation, which the UK knew from its vast experience.

In response to the attack on the Falkland garrison, Britain sent its naval troops to the conflict area. Thatcher personally ordered an attack on the Argentine vessels that invaded the islands. As a result, the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano was sunk, killing 323 crew members. It was Argentina’s biggest loss in the conflict. Overall, the war that lasted 74 days took away the lives of 258 British military men and 746 Argentinians. That was the price of the reckless scheme tried 36 years ago.

The conflict resulted in deterioration of relations between Argentina and Britain, down to cutting off of diplomatic ties, which were restored only in 1990. But even a certain warming in their relations in the early 1990s failed to make Argentina give up its claims to the Falklands. In the 2000s, during the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the relations between Buenos Aires and London soured even more. A new escalation happened in 2010, after some big oil and gas fields were discovered around the islands. Some experts believe that London suspected presence of huge hydrocarbon reserves near the archipelago, and that is why it stubbornly clings to the Falklands, even engaging in hostilities with Argentina.

When Mauricio Macri became president of Argentina in 2016, he adopted a more conciliatory stance towards Britain, aiming to normalize bilateral relations. Nevertheless, he has stated that Buenos Aires does not give up on the return of the Falklands as a long-term goal. So it will be really interesting to see how the Argentine and British leaders will behave at the G20 summit.

Discussing the dispute between London and Buenos Aires over the sovereignty of the Falklands, one is tempted to say a few words about Britain’s foreign policy. The Foreign Office recently made a statement, which clearly demonstrated the double standards of the UK authorities: it claimed that the Crimea, where 96.77% of the population voted for its return to Russia in a March 2014 referendum, was illegally annexed by Moscow.

In this case, the official London should consider giving up some of its own disputed territories: Spanish Gibraltar, Mauritian Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, a part of Cyprus and the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, whose sovereignty has been contested by Argentina since the 19th century.

As to the latter disputed islands, it is fitting to remind London that the distance from them to the Argentine shore is mere 463 km, and to Britain 12,000 km. The Crimea, by the way, is much closer to Russia than the Falklands to the United Kingdom. Moreover, the peninsula used to be a part of Russia, and was given to Ukraine, and not quite legitimately, only in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Alexey Pushkov, member of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, rightfully said in this context, “The Crimea has immeasurably more reasons to be part of Russia than the Falkland Islands to be part of the United Kingdom.”

By the way, a referendum was held in the Falklands in March 2013, and a majority of the population (99.3% of those participating in the vote) voted in favor of remaining in the UK. In other words, regaining its historical territory in the Crimea, Russia simply mirrored the actions of the British. Moreover, unlike London in 1982, Moscow managed to do it in 2014 without any mass killings in the sea, air and on the ground.

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