As predicted, the inhabitants of the Falklands (Malvinas) islands overwhelmingly voted in favor of a referendum held in March 10, which asked “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”With 92% turnout, 1,513 islanders voted in favor — and three voted against.
The question now becomes whether the results will change at all the ongoing dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the islands. The answer: not likely. Even before the referendum, the Argentine government had labeled it invalid, arguing that the current inhabitants of the islands are not an indigenous community. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has stated repeatedly that London is carrying out a twenty-first century colonialism policy in the South Atlantic via their possession of the islands — while London painted the referendum as a move by to demonstrate to the world that the will of the islanders is being respected. After the results were made public,U.K. Foreign Secretary William Haguereleased a statement explaining that “I welcome today’s result […]All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy.” For her part, Alicia Castro, the Argentine ambassador to the U.K. stated that “for how long can the islanders live isolated from the rest of the continent?” and once again called for negotiations with London over sovereignty of the islands.
It’s a perverse marvel of modern geopolitics that these sparsely populated South Atlantic islands have become such a critical part of Argentine national identity. And the dispute over them is not going anywhere: due to the aggressive declarations made primarily by the Argentine government, the fate of the islands has essentially become a zero-sum game — one whose calculus will become only more calcified should the U.K. present the results of the referendum to the U.N. as validation of its claim to the islands. The one consolation may be that, in spite of all the political positioning and posturing, a repeat of 1982’s war looks unlikely.
For now. But both nations are currently investigating the waters around the islands in search for offshore oil and gas deposits. Long-distance verbal potshots made in the name of national pride are one thing. The sustained and deadly serious wrangling fuel discoveries in contested territory can cause is quite another — and the addition of significant fuel reserves to the fiery rhetoric that has surrounded the Falklands issue might well render the conflict, er, explosive.