The discovery of huge oil reserves under the seas around the Falkland Islands has raised tensions between the UK and Argentina, according to the Sunday Express. Argentinian authorities have prevented a ship, the Thor Leader from leaving the port of Campana last Thursday. It was carrying a cargo of 7,000 tonnes of steel tubes to be used for drilling, which the Argentinian Government allege has been ‘illegally promoted’ by Britain.
Argentinian objections are believed to centre around UN resolutions which call for the two Governments to renew talks on sovereignty of the Islands. Quite how the Argentines can complain about this is interesting, as recently President Cristina Kirchner has vowed to regain the Islands. And in my opinion the UK Government is quite right in that as long as the Islanders themselves want to remain British, there is nothing to discuss. Therefore it is slightly mischievious of the UN to call for negotiations.
Geologists estimate up to 60 billion barrels could lie beneath the sea bed, potentially the second largest oilfield in the world. Argentina is facing an economic crisis, and ratcheting up pressure over the Falklands is an age old resort of Buenos Aires. It will not have gone un-noticed that British forces are severely stretched in Afghanistan, and the Royal Navy is much smaller than it was in 1982. The upcoming Defence Review is bound to cut the Armed Forces even further.
The Islands themselves are better protected than they were in 1982, with air defence missile systems, Typhoon Fighters, an infantry company and several Royal Navy vessels on station. But although the tripwire is stronger than in 1982, that the UK’s military’s forces are so much smaller are bound to have an impact on diplomacy.
That a signifcant oilfield is in UK sovereign territory has to be taken into account in the Defence Review, as Britain could not rely on international support should Argentina keep raising the pressure.