The Falkland Islands: last refuge of a dying power?

Tensions mount as the Argentine government accuses the UK of “militarising” the South Atlantic.

If you haven’t yet heard of Hector Timerman, you no doubt will in the coming months. He is the Argentine foreign minister, and the man at the helm of recent claims that the UK is, in his words, “militarising” the South Atlantic and behaving like “colonialists”. According to the Argentine foreign office, the UK has stationed Trident nuclear missiles, on board a Vanguard-class submarine, near the Falkland Islands, which – under the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean – lie in a nuclear-free zone.

The claims have been brushed aside by Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, as “manifestly absurd” and “complete rubbish”. The Royal Navy have been hitherto open about the presence of a Trafalgar-class vessel (which is unable to carry nuclear missiles) in the region, but have remained defiant in the face of accusations to the contrary, despite Timerman’s insistence that the Argentine foreign office have both photos and maps that confirm the UK’s culpability.

Timerman’s accusations come at a time of heightened tension between the UK and Argentina. Representatives from both governments have long asserted sovereignty of the islands, which since 1833 have been a UK overseas territory. In 1982, Argentine forces invaded the islands but were forced to retreat 74 days later after surrendering to the British Navy.

Tensions mounted again in 2010 when the UK began its program of oil exploration in the region. The Argentine government re-emphasised its claim to sovereignty of both the territory and the minor ancillary benefit of its possible oil reserves - estimated to be worth $176bn in tax revenue alone. Timerman has described the Falkland Islands as the “last refuge of a dying power”, though with $176bn at stake, he may soon be thinking differently.

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