The British government’s latest military manoeuvre seems fresh out of a Monty Python sketch: 150 British soldiers who just returned from a tour in Afghanistan are being redeployed to the Falkland Islands, a land mass roughly the size of Connecticut, almost 13,000 km from Britain.
The saga began this month, when Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner published a letter in two British newspapers staking her claim on the Falklands (the Malvinas, as they are known there), which are just off Argentina’s coast. “In a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism,” she wrote, “Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas.” Fernández urged the UN to restore the islands’ “territorial integrity.” British Prime Minister
David Cameron didn’t miss a beat, quickly appearing on the BBC to declare his “extremely strong” resolve to keep the islands British. Already, military chiefs have drawn up plans to prevent hostile action by Argentina, London’s Telegraph reports.
Of course, we’ve been here before. And memories of 1982 are certainly guiding Cameron’s hand, says Graham Stewart, author of A History of Britain in the 1980s. That year, prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s firm action during the 10-week Falklands War—which cost 650 Argentine and 250 British lives—helped solidify her political support, and shape her legacy. “Cameron is clearly aware of the legacy,” says Stewart.
Most of the 3,000 Falklanders, who make their money in fishing and wool, “feel firmly British,” says Falklands MP Richard Sawle. Each year on June 14, Falklanders celebrate “Liberation Day,” the day in 1982 when British troops gave Argentina the boot. But Argentina has appeared increasingly belligerent on the issue—possibly due to the commercial quantities of oil that have recently been found around the islands. As tensions escalate, Falklanders are preparing for a March referendum on the matter of their territorial status. Falklands MP Barry Elsby anticipates “at least 98 per cent” will vote to remain British. In the meantime, in response to President Fernández’s entreaty, Britain’s Sun published an ad in the Buenos Aires Herald, issuing a stern warning to Argentina: “HANDS OFF!”