Falklands doin’ the déjà vu shuffle

It may be hard to hear the drum of War beating over the hip-humping bleating of Lady Gaga but Britain just got a shot across its territorial bow once again by Argentina asserting control of all shipping between the contested Falklands and the Argentina coast. Argentina President Cristina Kirchner’s declaration of shipping lane control on Tuesday, February 16 constitutes the first steps towards a naval blockade of the Falklands referred to as “Las Malvinas” by Argentina.

Coming just 28 years after the first Falkland War, when an expansionist Argentina invaded the sleepy, sheep farming islands only to have its head royally handed back to it by British forces, Tuesday’s move by President Kirchner is this time not seen as a demand for the islands so much as a grab for the oil beds that are within Falklands territorial waters and said to be potentially greater than the output of the 40 billion barrel North Seas oil fields. The arbitrary declaration demands that all ships wishing to operate within the waters between the Falklands and Argentina may do so only after getting a new Argentinean permit, effectively stopped the next-day delivery and start of the year-long construction of the Ocean Guardian oil rig to the Falklands offshore oil beds.

The Director of the Falkland Islands Company, Roger Spink, tried to make light of the confrontation by saying, “There has been an economic blockade of the Falklands from Argentina for many years. It’s something we’ve come to expect.”

Anticipating the controversy, Cabinet chief, Aníbal Fernández, commented, “Any boat that wants to travel between ports on the Argentine mainland to the Islas Malvinas, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. . . must first ask for permission from the Argentine Government.”

Tensions have been running high between the UK and Argentina because Britain refused to stop its oil explorations in what is its own Falkland territory. Argentinean jets actually trailed the Ocean Guardian oil rig all the way from its Scottish Highlands point of origin to its approach to the Falklands. Last week the ship, Thor Leader, was boarded and detained by Argentinean forces because that nation claimed the ship was “illegally” bringing in pipes for the oil crews already stationed on the Falklands themselves.

Besides the high seas heavy-handedness, Argentina is also putting in a complaint to the UN to stop Britain’s oil drilling. Argentinean Foreign Minister, Jorge Taiana, hinted darkly that his country was planning to take, “all necessary steps” to assert its claim over the islands.

However, if Argentina expects to go the military route, it will be facing British forces stationed on the island along with a destroyer the UK keeps in Falkland waters. Analysts in the UK think that Argentina’s aggressiveness over the Falkland oil fields is jingoistic saber rattling by President Kirchner to distract from her increasingly unpopular and corrupt government at home.

One angle not anticipated by these analysts is that it is Gordon Brown as the post-nationalist Labour Prime Minister now in the UK and not the nationalist Tory Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in charge. Budgetary cuts have reduced British naval forces and its under-equipped troops are stretched thin in Afghanistan. Leftists are always sneering at going to war over territory or natural resources and a real “war for oil” may not be enough to get them to trade bullets with a failing nation-state like Argentina.

The Falklands are half a world away from the UK and represent the shreds of a once great empire that international socialists like Brown are anxious to forget. Meanwhile, Argentina, separated as it is by only 300 miles of ocean, looks with greed and envy on the Falklands. Their move at this time to reassert what they claim is their ownership is far more calculated now than it was nearly three decades ago. Considering that Gordon Brown just gave the go-ahead for the Port and White Cliffs of Dover to be sold outright to the French, what then would be his justification for maintaining control of the Falklands if national pride, territorial integrity and control of natural resources are not enough for the internationalists currently at the helm in the UK with which to defend Britain and her interests?