The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The Falklands issue is still unresolved which presents an opportunity for the United States to play a ‘constructive’ role.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom. It is noteworthy that this year may open a window of opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough between Buenos Aires and London. The Falkland Islands (in Spanish, they are called Islas Malvinas) are a British overseas territory.

A series of events could facilitate a breakthrough; a potentially constructive role by the United States. It is important to note the absence of stridency in commemorating the war on the part of Argentina or the United Kingdom. Both Argentina and the UK are quite somber in how they approach the war that killed 649 Argentineans and 255 Brits. Today, the pain of the war doesn’t call for excess or bellicosity.

The post-Cold War period in which the West was the main architect of an unfulfilled new international order that promised peace and stability is now fading away. Recurrent political, financial, military, and environmental crises around the globe have produced a kind of worldwide stress. Overcoming unresolved disputes and preventing latent clashes is an urgent task. Latin America as a zone of peace, in particular, and the Americas, in general, have a shared interest: avoid the return of a Cold War that was damaging for Latin Americans and detrimental to inter-American relations. The Biden administration has yet to show a real change in terms of U.S.-Latin American diplomacy.

In this context, it is helpful to go back to 1982 and find in that year a sort of “key” to reorient, at the present juncture, the management of the Falklands issue. After the hostilities ended, Argentina continued its sovereignty claim. It achieved a transcendental resolution at the United Nations. The UN General Assembly approved Resolution 37/9 in 1982, which was submitted by twenty Latin American countries and received a favorable vote of the United States.

According to the resolution, “the maintenance of colonial situations is incompatible with the United Nations ideal of universal peace.” It asserted “the need for the parties to take due account of the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands.” Thus, it “requests the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to resume negotiations in order to find as soon as possible a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute relating to the question of the Falkland Islands.” In addition, and very specifically, the declaration “requests the Secretary-General, on the basis of the present resolution, to undertake a renewed mission of good offices in order to assist the parties in complying with the request made.”

Falkland Islands mapLikewise, on November 20, 1982, the Organization of American States endorsed Resolution 37/9. Regrettably, however, the resolution has not been carried out. Basically, the different heads of the United Nations did not have the external incentives nor the personal willingness to open a realistic and reasonable process of negotiation between London and Buenos Aires.

It is hoped that António Guterres, the current UN Secretary-General, may implement that four-decade-old resolution. Of course, this is a sensitive and risky action for Guterres. But so is the fact that he has a responsibility to restore the credibility and legitimacy of the UN.

UN Security Council members, including the United Kingdom, must recognize at this point that sensitive problems involving international peace and security that are not solved will most probably metastasize over time. Several examples are testimony to this fact.

The United States could assume the role of “constructive neutrality” with respect to the Falklands as suggested by Argentine officials to General Laura J. Richardson, commander of United States Southern Command, during her visit in April to Argentina. If China’s maneuvering in the region is a matter of concern for Washington, the United States and its allies including the UK, are far better off with a prosperous and confident Argentina. Hopefully, Guterres will realize that, for him, for the UN, and for the international community at large, resolving the Falklands issue will contribute to regional stability.

The “constructive neutrality” of Washington may include another component related to the South Atlantic. Latin American and African countries on both sides of the basin need both security and stability. Washington is in a very strong position to persuade London that after excluding the Falkland Islands from the Brexit deal, militarizing the Falklands is counterproductive for everybody in the long run.

If the United Kingdom wants to increase its attention and resources in the Indo-Pacific it is more sensible and cost-effective to trust the major nations of the South Atlantic basin to guarantee maritime peace, avoid illegal fishing, and impede illicit trafficking. The larger the presence and stakes of responsible middle powers of Latin America and Africa in the South Atlantic the less likely it is a non-Western power will project its influence in the area. There may be another important benefit: preserving Antarctica as a crucial environment powerhouse instead of a spot on the map to be conquered.

Argentina today has a clear commitment to human rights, nonproliferation, and international peace. Federico Villegas, a career civil servant, is the president of the UN Human Rights Council; Rafael Grossi is the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency; and Guillermo Pablo Ríos has been named Head of Mission of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. Argentina is devoted to stability in the South Atlantic and has historically been a key actor in the governance of Antarctica.

The United States’ “constructive neutrality” in the Falklands question may generate positive outcomes for all parties involved.

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian obtained his Ph.D. in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and is currently a Professor of International Relations at the Universidad Di Tella.