Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Falklands

We talked about the latest controversy over The Falkland Islands in class a few weeks ago. I figured I’d give you an optional primer.

We got onto this subject from the post about the outlandish fines that Brazil is trying to extract from Chevron for small oil spill in deep, but territorial, waters. That led to a discussion of continental shelves, the 200 mile exclusive economic zone, and the United Nations Convention On the Law of the Sea. And that led to a discussion of Argentina claiming the Falklands.

Anyway, The Falklands are a British colony with more sheep than people.

They are about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, and about 8,000 miles from the U.K.

They are part of the South American continental shelf (in cyan below, and which extends quite far to the east at the continent’s southern end).

The Islands had no aboriginal inhabitants. The Dutch discovered them. The British landed on them first. The French colonized them first, Britain second. The French ceded their colony to the Spanish in 1762, who didn’t add any more colonists (this is the same story as New Orleans). Both Spain and Britain withdrew their colonists and abandoned the islands. At this time, Argentina became independent, and … officially did nothing … but unofficially dispatched a few pirates to the Falklands who tended to acknowledge British ownership. Then the British recolonized. They’ve now been British longer than Texas has been American.

Argentina is claiming the islands because they are part of the continental shelf that comes off of Argentina. If you look at the map, this is analogous to the U.S. claiming The Bahamas, or France claiming Britain and Ireland.

Argentina wants the islands because there is oil under them, and that might help Argentina get its economy out of the tank. Their claim is being given a hearing by people who … don’t care that they never had a claim.

The U.K. says it owns the oil, under the same law that Brazil is using to claim jurisdiction over Chevron, as shown on this map:

Rory had asked how they determine such a border when two countries’ claims might overlap, and you can see here that the border goes about halfway in between.

Argentina’s right-wing military junta (i.e., a dictatorship by a small group instead of one person) invaded the islands 30 years ago this month. It was early winter then, and popular opinion is that they didn’t think the U.K. would have the stomach for a fight. The U.K did, and really kicked the cra*p out of the Argentinians. I was 17 and good chunk of this was on TV. The Argentinian junta collapsed after this, and Argentina’s politics and economy improved for 20 years.

Now Argentina has a left-wing dictatorship. And, just like before, claiming the Falklands is probably a good way to divert attention from the fact that the polity and economy have gone down the toilet over the last 10 years.

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