Oil. It inspires and devastates. It builds nations and destroys them. It makes men rich and ruins others. It is the stuff of geopolitical legend and international intrigue. Its pursuit has been blamed as the cause of countless wars, its windfalls have supported despots, and its spillage has wreaked environmental havoc. Most recently, it has inspired the British to inflame long smoldering diplomatic rivalries over an oft forgotten corner of the Empire—The Falkland Islands.
The Malvinas Islands (as they are known in Argentina) lie just 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, and since 1833, when the British took control of the islands in the wake of a confusing bunch of colonial swaps and conflicts, the Argentineans have maintained the islands are theirs. They even invaded in 1982, only to be defeated in the Falklands War by the British Army. Yet they were not deterred, nor have they abandoned their claims of ownership.
For their part, the British have little time for Argentinean protests. For example, this week, the sea borne drilling platforms on the way to the North Falkland Basin were told to ignore the South American country’s recently imposed shipping regulations in its waters around the Islands.
Whether or not oil is to be found under the seas off the coast of the Falklands remains to be seen, as this is the second attempt in a little over a decade to drill in the area (the first one was abandoned in 1998). This go round, however, seems more likely to succeed. Most importantly, gas prices are seven times what they were 10 years ago.
Argentina says it will not use military force to take back the islands. Instead they plan on taking their case to the UN. Already too, Latin America has come to the support of their Argentine neighbors, but they are not optimistic about Argentina’s chance. Brazilian President Lula de Silva summed up the Latin position saying:
“What is the geographic, the political or economic explanation for England to be in Las Malvinas? Could it be because England is a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council where they can do everything and the others nothing?”
Thomas Freidman wrote in 2003 “the single most underappreciated force in international relations is humiliation.” At the time he was speaking to the ever-present conflict between the Muslim world and the West, but his mantra: “Never, ever underestimate a people’s pride” is easily exportable. Imagine for a moment that you had lost a war over a territory you believed was rightfully yours, only to find out that it was reasonable to assume that land held untold riches. What would you do to get it back?
-By Nathaniel Foote