Tensions have been rising between Britain and Argentina in recent weeks over the Falkland Islands. The Falklands lie around 300 miles east of Argentina in the South Atlantic but have been British since 1833, and the 3,000-odd inhabitants have made it clear that they want to remain British subjects.
Argentina invaded the islands in 1982, and Britain retook them in a conflict which cost the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentine servicemen. The ‘Argies’, as we Brits call them, haven’t renounced their claim to the islands, and Argentina’s socialist President Cristina Kirchner has stepped up the sabre rattling in recent months. Kirchner would love to get her hands on oil deposits which Britain is hoping to tap, and she may also be calculating that, with doubts growing about the sustainability of the country’s economic boom, she may soon need to divert the attention of her subjects with a unifying military escapade.
Things have been brought to a head by Britain’s decision to send its newest warship, HMS Dauntless, to patrol the waters around the Falklands, and by the arrival on the islands of Prince William, the Queen’s grandson and second in line to the throne, in his capacity as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot. Argentina’s foreign ministry has called the Prince a ‘conquistador’.
The Obama administration, always eager to support a South American rabble-rouser over a proven ally, has been giving encouragement to the Argentines for some time, and now Kirchner has received the support of leftist clown and occasional thespian Sean Penn. On a visit to Buenos Aires Penn backed Argentina’s claim to the islands, accusing Britain of “archaic” colonialism.
Penn is of course notorious for supporting anti-US tyrants, and in particular Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Now it seems he’s adding Argentina to his Latin American sphere of influence, and it’s no surprise that he’s thrown his lot in with Kirchner, a shrill populist who’s a sort of cross between Chavez and Eva Peron (both ideologically and, it has to be said, physically).
Referring to the islands by their Argentine name, the ‘Malvinas’, Penn claimed the world “is not going to tolerate any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology”. Penn called on Britain to negotiate with Argentina over the islands, as has spineless UN chief Ban Ki-moon. However the British government has made clear that the future of the Falklands isn’t up for discussion, so it’s a case of Kirchner either putting up or shutting up.
If Argentina does try to seize the islands, they’ll find it considerably more difficult than in 1982, when the defenders comprised a handful of Royal Marines. Now four Typhoon fighters are based there, along with air defence systems and some 1,200 personnel, while the waters are patrolled by the aforementioned Dauntless, and according to the Argentinians, a submarine (Britain doesn’t discuss submarine deployments; in the 1982 conflict an Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano, was sunk by a British sub).
If however, they succeed, Britain will be obliged to retake the islands as they did three decades ago. And when that happens perhaps Penn could volunteer to act as a human shield for the Argie invaders. I’d suggest he set up a ‘peace camp’ at the airfield, which, as in 1982, will be a key strategic target, and which, on that occasion, had the crap bombed out of it by the RAF.