The government of the Falkand Islands held a vote yesterday on whether or not they wish to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. And it wasn’t exactly close: 1,517 people voted in favor, and three voted against (out of the 1,672 citizens eligible to vote, of a population of 2,900). The referendum wasn’t vested with any particular legal significance, but it certainly reinforces the clear desire of almost everyone who lives on the islands to retain its connection to Britain, spurning Argentina’s perennial claims over the territory.
As one legislator put it, according to the BBC, the decision was an “absolutely phenomenal result which will send out the strongest possible message to the rest of the world about our right to self-determination — a right that was fought for in 1982, and which we have honoured tonight.” He said it was “very clear that these islands never have belonged to Argentina; what is also extremely clear to me here, and from the results that we heard tonight, is that they never will do.”
Residents of the Falklands, or the Malvinas as they’re known to our president, are by birth British citizens, and the islanders are descended from American and British settlers, South Americans who arrived in the 19th century, and some immigrants from other European countries.
Tensions have risen recently over Argentina’s claim to the islands — as Jay Nordlinger quipped a while ago in an editorial meeting, when you see a headline about the Argentinian government making noise over the Falklands, you can basically read it as “the Argentinian economy is in trouble.” And indeed it is these days: The country’s macroeconomic policies are a mess, with frequent price freezes and atrocious trade restrictions, and inflation is so bad that the government repeatedly lies about the data, to the point where the IMF has actually censured the country for its deceptive reporting.
Last year, amid some diplomatic controversy over the issue, the BBC did a fascinating analysis what might happen if Argentina actually tried to retake the Falklands militarily (again), and it’s rather worrisome. The good news is that islands are much better defended than they were 30 years ago, to the point where it would be almost impossible Argentina to take them (the islands are now home to four fighter jets, a destroyer or frigate, and anti-aircraft missiles, versus just a small garrison of men in 1982) . But if Argentina did take the islands, Britain would basically be incapable of winning them back. They could use aerial refueling to bomb the islands, but don’t have the ability to fly sorties from near the island like Argentina does. The Royal Navy still has one commissioned aircraft carrier, the HMS Illustrious, but after retiring their Harrier jump-jet fleet, have only helicopters to fly from it. An amphibious-assault fleet would thus have no air cover, making it essentially an impossible mission. Britain is due to commission two new full-size aircraft carriers later this decade, possibly helping the situation, but only if they choose to purchase fighter jets for them, which isn’t a sure thing.