The Falklands war was thirty years ago this year, but for David Cameron, the conflict’s not over, argues Jack Penn.

Argentinean prisoners of war

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the seventy four-day Falklands war, in which 907 people were killed and nearly 2000 were injured. The shooting war may have been thirty years ago, but the current hostile rhetoric between David Cameron and the Argentinean President Christina Kirchner shows the conflict over the Falklands is far from over.

In a move demonstrating both foolishness and arrogance, David Cameron has accused Argentina of a ‘colonialist’ attitude for reiterating their call of sovereignty over the islands, better known to Argentineans as the Malvinas. Last week he announced that the UK National Security Council was drawing up plans to reinforce the islands.

The hypocrisy of a British Conservative Prime Minister calling anyone else colonialist was not lost on the Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who called Great Britain a country ‘synonymous with colonialism’ which was in ‘imperial decline’. This isn’t just a historical point: the UN Committee on Decolonisation has sixteen cases open on places that remain colonies, of which no less than ten are British colonies.

Many Argentineans were already outraged that Prince William is to be posted to the Falklands next month, a posting that just happens to coincide with the anniversary of the war. Cameron’s latest actions provoked hundreds of activists organised by the Argentinean Socialist Workers Movement (MST) to descend on the UK embassy in Buenos Aires last weekend, burning Union flags and calling for the Argentinean Government to break off diplomatic relations.

MST members protestThe promise of significant oil reserves in the seabed surrounding the Falkland Islands is undoubtedly part of the cause of the build-up in tension between Argentina and the UK. In recent years, British companies have stepped up oil and gas exploration around the islands. Prospectors have their hungry eyes set on up to 8.3 billion barrels of oil this year alone, three times more than current UK reserves. Oil drilling companies are scrambling over each other to get in on the latest oil rush, despite the fact that the UK is breaking a UN resolution by prospecting for oil in these disputed waters.

Argentina’s claim to Las Islas Malvinas has growing support, particularly in Latin America. Last December the South American trading bloc Mercosur, which includes Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay, banned all ships sailing under the Falkland Islands’ flag from docking at their ports. President Kirchner’s strategy will be to utilise this support to isolate the UK diplomatically over the issue. Even the US government, despite the supposed ‘special relationship’ will not give the UK any active support.

Cameron’s claim is that the majority of the population the Falkland Islands want to remain British. On the face of it this seems a reasonable justification for opposing Argentinean demands for the islands. However, it’s worth remembering that the Falklands have a majority British population only because the British Navy forced the Argentineans off the islands in 1831 and repopulated the islands with British settlers. The islands are 250 miles away from the coast of Argentina but over 4700 miles away from the shores of the UK.

Important as a new source of oil would be for the government, it isn’t the whole story. You wonder whether David Cameron, like Margaret Thatcher before him, thinks that he could be saved from the political consequences of austerity and cuts by a war in the Falklands.