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Debate: Falkland Islands, return of

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Should the United Kingdom return the Falkland Islands to Argentina?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by George Molyneaux. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

The Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the south-west Atlantic Ocean. They are about 300 miles from Argentina and lie just above the Antarctic circle. Their population is about 2500 with an economy based upon agriculture, fishing, tourism and oil exploration. The islands are claimed by Argentina, where they are known as ‘Las Malvinas’. Attempts by Britain and Argentina to reach a diplomatic agreement in the mid-twentieth century failed. Argentina’s military junta launched an invasion of the islands in 1982 but this was defeated after a major British military operation. About 500 British military personnel are now stationed on the islands. Britain and Argentina restored diplomatic relations after Carlos Menem became President of a democratic Argentina in 1989. Argentina agreed not to press its demands for sovereignty, in return for cooperation on fishing, oil exploration and transport links. There has been less cooperation since Nestor Kirchner became President of Argentina in 2003. For example, flights between Argentina and the islands have been stopped. Kirchner, supported by Hugo Chavez (President of Venezuela), demands that Britain return the islands. Many British commentators think that Kirchner has adopted his tough stance to gain domestic political support. Some understanding of the islands’ history is important in this debate. The islands first appear on European maps in the early-sixteenth century. This suggests that Spanish explorers may have spotted them. John Strong, an Englishman, is the first European known to have actually landed, in 1690. The first European settlement of the islands was by France in 1764. A British settlement was established separately the next year. The islands appear to have been uninhabited at this time, but archaeology shows some previous human activity. Spain purchased France’s rights in the islands in 1767. Britain voluntarily abandoned its colony in 1774, but left a plaque asserting its sovereignty. Spain ruled the islands from Buenos Aires (now the capital of Argentina) without opposition until 1811. Spain then withdrew, leaving the islands uninhabited. A significant reason for the dispute is that Britain and Spain simultaneously held claims to sovereignty over the islands from 1767. Argentina gained independence from Spain in 1816 and asserted its sovereignty over the Falklands/ Las Malvinas, organising some settlement of the islands in the 1820s. In 1833, Britain militarily evicted the Argentinean settlers and permanently colonised the islands.

Legality: Is it legal for Britain to occupy Falkland Islands?


  • Britain’s occupation of the islands is illegal. Both Argentina and the islands were ruled by Spain. Spain ruled the islands from Argentina – they were therefore part of the same territory. Upon independence from Spain, Argentina rightfully asserted sovereignty over the former Spanish territory. Britain did not claim sovereignty over the islands when Spain left them in 1811. Nor did Britain immediately challenge Argentina’s assertion of sovereignty in 1816.
  • The "Falklands" are the Malvinas and are part of Argentina. President Kirchner - "The Malvinas are Argentine and they will return to Argentina by peaceful means."[1]


  • Britain never abandons its sovereignty of Falkland Islands. Britain never accepted the Spanish claim to sovereignty, based on the purchase of the islands from France. Britain asserted sovereignty when it left the islands in 1774, leaving a plaque. It therefore had no need to re-assert sovereignty when Spain left in 1811. Britain’s claim far predates Argentina’s. Argentina had no right to assert sovereignty over the islands in 1816.

Self-determination: Do the indigenous want to be ruled by Argentina?


  • Contemporary Falkland inhabitants are not aboriginal; no right to self-determination. Argentina does not recognize the right to self-determination of the inhabitants, citing that they are not aboriginal and were brought to replace the Argentine population that Argentina claims was expelled after the re-establishment of British rule in 1833. The United Nations have called on both countries to begin dialogue over the sovereignty claim.
  • Argentina built public facilities on the Islands. Permanent settlements were built by Argentina in the 1820s. Previous settlements by France, Spain and Britain had been impermanent. Britain did not protest when the Argentinean settlements were first established. The Argentinean settlements were only ended by illegal British military force. Britain’s subsequent settlement of the islands was therefore illegal.


  • The Islanders consider themselves British. Argentina had no right to settle the islands in the 1820s. Britain has continuously settled the islands since 1833. The wishes of the current inhabitants of the islands should be paramount. The islanders overwhelmingly consider themselves British and do not want to be ruled by Argentina. Their right of self-determination should be respected. Unless and until the islanders want to be ruled by Argentina, Britain should not abandon them.
  • Falkland Islands should not be returned without a popular vote.

Strategic Value: Is it necessary for Britain to continue its occupation of the islands?


  • Economically, the islands will be an energy asset to Britain.If military costs are excluded, the islands are self-supporting. They are of great value because they bring rights to fishing and oil exploration. If the oil that has been detected in the islands’ territory can be extracted economically, the islands will be an even greater asset to Britain.
  • Strategically, the islands is a NATO airbase in the south Atlantic.


  • The islands no longer has strategic value to Britain. The islands are of minimal value to Britain. In an era of satellites and long-range ships and aircraft, the islands no longer have strategic value. Maintaining a garrison there is an unnecessary expense. Jorge Luis Borges (an Argentinean writer) likened the 1982 conflict to ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’.

Diplomacy: Will returning the islands improve Britain’s relationship with Argentina and Latin America?


  • It would help build ties between Britain and the region. Returning the islands vastly improve Britain’s relationship with Argentina and Latin America as a whole. This would help Britain’s diplomatic and economic ties with the region.
  • It would be consisted with Britain’s post-war policy of decolonisation. It would also be consisted with Britain’s post-war policy of decolonisation, which has seen it withdraw from almost every other colonial possession since 1945. Not only has Britain withdrawn from India, Africa, Malaysia and much of the Caribbean, it has also handed back Hong Kong to China – surely a similar case to that of the Falkland islands and Argentina.


  • Relations with Argentina are not important to Britain.Britain already has a working relationship with Argentina. In 2001, Tony Blair became the first British prime minister to visit Argentina since the 1982 conflict. The agreements made with the Menem government show the potential for peaceful cooperation without returning the islands. Kirchner’s sabre-rattling will probably decline after the presidential election in 2007. In any case, direct relations with Argentina are of little strategic or economic importance to Britain, except where they affect the Falkland Islands. Trade policy is handled on both sides at a supra-national level, through the EU and Mercosur respectively. The Falkland Islands are simply not like other examples of decolonisation. Elsewhere Britain has given independence to the indigenous peoples of its former colonial possessions, responding to their desire for self-determination. The Falklands have no indigenous population – their inhabitants regard themselves as British in identity and have no desire to be ruled by Argentina.

Argument #5


  • Returning the islands would not be a sign that violence and threats are legitimate. It would be recognition of the justice of Argentina’s claim and the illegality of Britain’s occupation of the islands. In fact, it would show that illegal acts of violence, like that of 1833, will eventually be overturned.


  • Returning the islands would imply that violence and threats are legitimate ways to conduct diplomacy. Britain would be giving in to the invasion of 1982 and Kirchner’s more recent rhetoric. This would set a dangerous precedent that Britain will abandon its interests if threatened.

Argument #6


  • Britain sent its soldiers to fight an unjust war in the Falkland Islands. Their sacrifices do not make British occupation of the islands legal. Indeed, Britain’s conduct of that war has been much questioned, in particular the sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano when it was many miles from the combat zone and heading away from it, and the mysterious deaths of some surrendered Argentine soldiers.


  • Returning the Falkland Islands would be an insult to dead soldiers. 6. If Britain returned the islands, it would be a profound insult to the soldiers who fought and died to liberate them in 1982. The campaign was honourably fought in defence of the rights of the people of the Falkland Islands to determine their own future. It was fought against a military dictatorship which used the campaign in a cynical attempt to divert domestic attention away from its oppressive, corrupt and incompetent rule. One of the positive consequences of British victory was that the military junta fell from power and Argentina became democratic. So Britain, Argentina and the Falkland islanders all have cause to celebrate the outcome of the 1982-83 war.



  • This House believes Britain should return the Falkland Islands
  • This House would let Argentina say ‘Gotcha’ about the Falkland Islands
  • This House believes that one bald man should give the comb to the other
  • That Britain should cede control of Las Malvinas to Argentina

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