Monday, 5 March 2012
The Falklands' Air Link Threat: Part I
Argentina's bullying strategy to isolate the Falkland Islands, diplomatically and economically, has reached a critical point. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's latest offer of direct Aerolineas Argentinas flights to the Islands from Buenos Aires, instead of trying to cut the islanders' air link with Chile, is the culmination of months of pressure, and rather than a climbdown, represents a threat to the island's strategic air link to Britain.
De Kirchner's muscular but skilful diplomatic offensive started when oil drilling began off the Falklands in 2010. Persistent bullying since then has included canvassing Latin American neighbours for diplomatic support, threats to trade, and barring Falklands-flagged ships, ships of Britain's Royal Navy, and vessels of any flag that have visit the islands, from visiting Argentina's and other South American ports. A fortnight ago, cruise ships Adonia and Star Princess were denied entry to Argentina's port of Ushuaia.
Why would Argentina make this latest move? On the most superficial of levels, offering to open flights between Argentina and the Falklands looks like a softening of policy. Argentina's offer has been described by a Chilean diplomat as “an attempt to collect international support and look less mean”.
In fact, it is nothing of the sort. It is a thinly veiled attempt to make the islanders dependent on Argentina for their links to the outside world, after months of pressuring the UK into giving way to such influence. For the Falklands, surrendering the air link to Argentina's siren call would leave the 3,000 islanders' air link to the UK dependent on a hostile foreign power, determined to subjugate them without any concern for their UN-enshrined rights to self-determination.
For the underlying military threat to the Falklands' air link, read Part II.