Falkland Islands sovereignty dispute

Falkland Islands sovereignty dispute
Timeline of de facto control
February 1764 – April 1767  France
January 1765 – July 1770  Great Britain
April 1767 – February 1811  Spain
September 1771 – May 1776  Great Britain
February 1811 – August 1829 None
August 1829 – December 1831 Argentina United Provinces
December 1831 – January 1832  United States
January 1832 – December 1832 None
December 1832 – January 1833  Argentine Confederation
January 1833 – August 1833  United Kingdom
August 1833 – January 1834 None
January 1834 – April 1982  United Kingdom
April 1982 – June 1982  Argentina
June 1982 – present  United Kingdom

Sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas in Spanish)[1] is disputed between Argentina and the United Kingdom.

The British claim to de jure sovereignty dates from 1690, and the United Kingdom has exercised de facto sovereignty over the archipelago almost constantly since 1833. Argentina has long disputed this claim, having been in control of the islands for a brief period prior to 1833. The dispute escalated in 1982, when Argentina invaded the islands, precipitating the Falklands War.

Contemporary Falkland Islanders consider themselves to be British. They gained full British citizenship with the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, after the Falklands War. Argentina argues that the islanders do not have the right to self-determination, arguing that they are not aboriginal and were brought to replace the Argentine population that Argentina claims was expelled after the re-establishment of British rule in 1833.[2] The United Nations have called on both countries to begin dialogue over the sovereignty claim.[3]


History of the claims

French claim

Louis Antoine de Bougainville

France was the first country to establish de facto control in the Falkland Islands, with the foundation of Port Saint Louis in East Falkland, in 1764. The French colony consisted of a small fort and some settlements with a population of around 250. The Islands were named after the Breton port of St. Malo as the Îles Malouines, (which remains the French name for the islands). In 1766, France agreed to leave the islands to Spain, with Spain reimbursing France for the cost of the settlement.[4]

Spanish claim

In 1493 the Pope Alexander VI issued a Papal bull, Inter caetera, dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal. The following year, the Treaty of Tordesillas between those countries agreed that the dividing line between the two should be 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands.[5] The Falklands lie on the western (Spanish) side of this line.

Spain claimed the Falkland Islands under provisions in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which settled the limits of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. When Spain discovered the British and French colonies on the Islands, a diplomatic row broke out between the claimants. In 1766, Spain and France, who were allies at the time, agreed that France would hand over Port Saint Louis, and Spain would repay the cost of the settlement. Spain and Great Britain enjoyed uneasy relations at the time, and no corresponding agreement was reached.[4]

The Spanish took control of Port Saint Louis and renamed it Puerto Soledad in 1767. On 10 June 1770, a Spanish expedition expelled the British colony at Port Egmont, and Spain took de facto control of the Islands. Spain and Great Britain came close to war over the issue, but instead, concluded a treaty on 22 January 1771, allowing the British to return to Port Egmont with neither side relinquishing sovereignty claims.[6]

The British returned in 1771 but for economic reasons decided to leave the Islands in 1774. The British withdrawal was completed in 1776,[4] with a plaque asserting British sovereignty left behind, leaving Spain in de facto control. From 1774 to 1811, the islands were ruled from Buenos Aires as part of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate. The Spanish governor was withdrawn in 1806, and the islands abandoned by the Spanish settlers by a 8 January 1811 decree of the Governor of Montevideo, in turn leaving a plaque asserting Spanish sovereignty.[4][7]

Permanence of settlements in the Falklands Islands

British claim

John Byron

The British first landed on the Falklands in 1690, when Captain John Strong sailed through Falkland Sound, naming this passage of water after Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount of Falkland, the First Lord of the Admiralty at that time. The British were keen to settle the islands, as they had the potential to be a strategic naval base for passage around Cape Horn.[8] In 1765, Captain John Byron landed on Saunders Island. He then explored other islands' coasts and claimed the group for Britain. The following year, Captain John McBride returned to Port Egmont, on Saunders, to construct a fort. The British later discovered the French colony at Port Saint Louis, and the first sovereignty dispute began.[4]

The Spanish expelled the British colony in 1770, but it was restored in 1771 following British threats of war over the islands.[4] However, in 1774, economic pressures leading up to the American Revolutionary War forced Great Britain to withdraw from many overseas settlements.[9] By 1776, the British had left their settlement, leaving behind a plaque asserting British sovereignty over the islands.[4] Although there was no British administration in the islands, British and American sealers routinely used them to hunt for seals, also taking on fresh water as well as feral cattle, pigs and even penguins for provisions. Whalers also used the islands to shelter from the South Atlantic weather and to take on fresh provisions.

Luis Vernet approached the British for permission to build a settlement at the former Spanish settlement of Puerto Soledad, initially in 1826 and again in 1828 following the failure of the earlier expedition. In addition, Vernet requested British protection for his settlement should the British choose to form a permanent presence on the islands. After receiving assurances from the British minister chargé d'affaires, Sir Woodbine Parish, Vernet provided regular reports to the British on the progress of his enterprise. Vernet's appointment as Governor in 1829 was protested by the British Consul Parish, in return the Government of the United Provinces of the River Plate merely acknowledged the protest. Britain protested again when Vernet announced his intentions to exercise exclusive rights over fishing and sealing in the islands. (Similar protests were received from the American representative, who protested at the curtailment of established rights and that the United States did not recognise the jurisdiction of the United Provinces over the islands.) Vernet continued to provide regular reports to Parish throughout this period.

The raid of the USS Lexington in December 1831 combined with the United Provinces assertions of sovereignty were the spur for the British to establish a military presence on the islands.

On 2 January 1833, Captain James Onslow, of the brig-sloop HMS Clio, arrived at the Spanish settlement at Port Louis to request that the Argentine flag be replaced with the British one, and for the Argentine administration to leave the islands. While Argentine Lt. Col. José María Pinedo, commander of the Argentine schooner Sarandí, wanted to resist, his numerical disadvantage was obvious, particularly as a large number of his crew were British mercenaries who were unwilling to fight their own countrymen. Such a situation was not unusual in the newly independent states in Latin America, where land forces were strong, but navies were frequently quite undermanned. As such he protested verbally, but departed without a fight on 5 January. The colony was set up and the islands continued under a British presence until the Falklands War.

After their return in 1833, the British began moves to begin a fully-fledged colony on the islands, initially based upon the settlers remaining in Port Louis. Vernet's deputy, Matthew Brisbane, returned later that year to take charge of the settlement and was encouraged to further Vernet's business interests provided he did not seek to assert Argentine Government authority.[10][11][12]

In 1841, General Rosas offered to relinquish any Argentine territorial claims in return for relief of debts owed to interests in the City of London. The British Government chose to ignore the offer.[13]

A colonial administration was formed in 1842. This was expanded in 1908, when in addition to South Georgia claimed in 1775, and the South Shetland Islands claimed in 1820 the UK unilaterally declared sovereignty over more Antarctic territory south of the Falklands, including the South Sandwich Islands, the South Orkney Islands, and Graham Land, grouping them into the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

Following the introduction of the Antarctic Treaty System in 1959 the Falkland Island Dependencies were reduced to include South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Territory south of the 60th parallel was formed into a new dependency, the British Antarctic Territory which overlaps claims by Argentina (Argentine Antarctica) and Chile (Antártica Chilena Province).

In 1976 the British Government commissioned a study on the future of the Falklands, looking at the ability of the Islands to sustain themselves, and the potential for economic development. The study was led by Lord Shackleton, son of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Argentina reacted with fury to the study and refused to allow Lord Shackleton permission to travel to the Islands from Argentina, forcing the British to send a Royal Navy ship to transport him to the Islands. In response Argentina severed diplomatic links with the UK. An Argentine naval vessel later fired upon the ship carrying Shackleton as he visited his father's grave in South Georgia.[9]

Shackleton's report found that contrary to popular belief, the Falkland Islands actually provided a surplus by its economic activities and was not dependent on British aid to survive. However the report stressed the need for a political settlement if further economic growth was to be achieved, particularly from the exploitation of any natural resources in the water around the Islands.

Argentine claim

Argentina declared its independence from Spain in 1816, although this was not then recognised by any of the major powers. Britain recognized Argentine independence on December 15, 1823, as the "province of Buenos Aires," but like the US did not recognise the full extent of the territory claimed by the new state.[14]

Luis Vernet

The new state, the United Provinces of the River Plate, was formed by provinces of the former Viceroyalty of the River Plate and as such claimed sovereignty over the Falklands. In October 1820, the frigate Heroína, under the command of American privateer Colonel David Jewett, arrived in Puerto Soledad following an eight-month voyage and with most of her crew incapacitated by scurvy and disease (a storm had severely damaged the Heroína and had sunk its prize, the Carlota, forcing Jewett to put into Puerto Soledad for repairs). The captain chose to rest and recover in the islands, seeking assistance from the British explorer James Weddell. Weddell reported that only thirty seamen and forty soldiers out of a complement of two hundred were fit for duty, and that Jewett slept with pistols over his head following an attempted mutiny. On November 6, 1820, Jewett raised the flag of the United Provinces of the River Plate and claimed possession of the islands for the new state. Weddell reported that the letter he received from Jewett read:[15]

Sir, I have the honor of informing you that I have arrived in this port with a commission from the Supreme Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata to take possession of these islands on behalf of the country to which they belong by Natural Law. While carrying out this mission I want to do so with all the courtesy and respect all friendly nations; one of the objectives of my mission is to prevent the destruction of resources necessary for all ships passing by and forced to cast anchor here, as well as to help them to obtain the necessary supplies, with minimum expenses and inconvenience. Since your presence here is not in competition with these purposes and in the belief that a personal meeting will be fruitful for both of us, I invite you to come aboard, where you'll be welcomed to stay as long as you wish; I would also greatly appreciate your extending this invitation to any other British subject found in the vicinity; I am, respectfully yours. Signed, Jewett, Colonel of the Navy of the United Provinces of South America and commander of the frigate Heroína.

Many modern authors report this letter as the declaration issued by Jewett claiming the islands for Argentina.[10] Weddell did not believe that Jewett was acting with the interests of the United Provinces in mind but, rather, had merely put into the harbour in order to obtain refreshments for his crew, and that Jewett's assumption of possession was chiefly intended to secure an exclusive claim to the wreck of the French ship Uranie, which had foundered at the entrance of Berkeley Sound a few months earlier. Weddell left the islands on November 20, 1820, noting that Jewett had not yet completed repairs to the Heroína.

In 1823, the Argentines granted land on East Falkland to Luis Vernet, who first travelled to the islands the following year. That first expedition failed almost as soon as it landed, and a second attempt, in 1826, sanctioned by the British (but delayed until winter by a Brazilian blockade), also failed after arrival in the islands. In 1828, the Argentine government granted Vernet all of East Falkland, including all its resources, with exemption from taxation if a colony could be established within three years. He took settlers, including British Captain Matthew Brisbane, and before leaving once again sought permission first from the British Consulate in Buenos Aires. The British asked for a report on the islands for the British government, and Vernet asked for British protection should they return.[16]

On Vernet's return to the Falklands, Puerto Soledad was renamed Puerto Luis. The Argentine government appointed Vernet governor in 1829, to which the British objected as an Argentine attempt to foster political and economic ties to the islands. One of Vernet's first acts was to curb seal hunting on the Islands to conserve the dwindling seal population. In response, the British consul at Buenos Aires protested the move and restated the claim of his government. Islanders were born during this period (including Malvina María Vernet y Saez, Vernet's daughter).[16]

Vernet later seized the American ship Harriet for breaking his restrictions on seal hunting. Property on board the ship was seized and the captain was returned to Buenos Aires to stand trial. The American Consul in Argentina protested Vernet's actions and stated that the United States did not recognise Argentine sovereignty in the Falklands. The consul dispatched a warship, the USS Lexington, to Puerto Luis to retake the confiscated property.

By 1831, the colony was successful enough to be advertising for new colonists, although a report by the captain of the Lexington suggests that the conditions on the islands were quite miserable.[17][18] The captain of the Lexington in his report asserts that he destroyed the settlement's powder store and spiked the guns, however it was later claimed that during the raid the Argentine settlement at Puerto Luis was destroyed. Upon leaving to return to Montevideo, the captain of the Lexington declared the islands to be res nullius (the property of no one).[16] (Darwin's visit in 1833 confirmed the squalid conditions in the settlement, although Captain Matthew Brisbane[11] (Vernet's deputy) later insisted that those were the result of the attack by the Lexington.) Vernet having returned to Buenos Aires in 1831 before the Lexington's attack resigned as governor. An interim governor, Esteban José Francisco Mestivier, was appointed by the Argentine Government, who with his family arrived at Puerto Luis aboard the schooner Sarandí in October 1832.[16] Mestivier's appointment again drew protests from the British consul in Buenos Aires.

The Sarandí, under the command of its captain, José María Pinedo, then began to patrol the surrounding seas. Upon its return to Puerto Luis on December 29, 1832, the Sarandí found the colony in an uproar. In Pinedo's absence there had been a mutiny led by a man named Gomila; Mestivier had been murdered and his wife raped. The captain of the French vessel Jean Jacques had meanwhile provided assistance disarming and incarcerating the mutineers. Pinedo dispatched the mutineers to Buenos Aires with the British schooner Rapid. Gomila would be condemned to exile, while six other mutineers were executed.

On January 2, 1833, Captain John Onslow arrived and delivered written requests that Pinedo lower the Argentine flag in favour of the British one, and that the Argentine administration leave the islands. Pinedo asked if war had been declared between Argentina and Great Britain; Onslow replied that it had not. Nonetheless, Pinedo, heavily outmanned and outgunned, left the islands under protest. Argentines subsequently claimed that the population of Puerto Luis was expelled at the same time, though sources from the time appear to dispute this, suggesting that the colonists were encouraged to remain under Vernet's deputy, Matthew Brisbane.[16] Later that year, Manuel Moreno, representing the United Provinces before Britain, protested the occupation, which the British rejected six months later. The British did not answer other formal protests that were made annually until 1849.

Back on the mainland, Pinedo faced court martial; he was suspended for four months and transferred to the army, though he was recalled to the navy in 1845.

Sovereignty discussions

Following World War II, the British Empire declined and colonies in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean gained their independence. Argentina saw this as an opportunity to push its case for gaining sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and raised the issue in the United Nations, first stating its claim after joining the UN in 1945. Following the Argentine claim, the United Kingdom offered to take the dispute over the Falkland Island Dependencies to mediation at the International Court of Justice in the Hague (1947,[19] 1948[20] and 1955[21]); on each occasion Argentina declined.

In 1964, the United Nations passed a resolution calling on the UK and Argentina to proceed with negotiations on finding a peaceful solution to the sovereignty question which would be "bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the Charter of the United Nations and of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)." [22]

A series of talks between the two nations took place over the next 17 years until 1981 but failed to reach a conclusion on sovereignty.[23]

Following the signing of the Communications Agreement, on 3 July 1971 the Argentine Air Force broke the islands' airways isolation by opening an air route with an amphibious flight from Comodoro Rivadavia with Grumman HU-16B Albatross aircraft operated by LADE, Argentina's military airline. In 1972, after Argentine request, the United Kingdom agreed to allow Argentina to construct a temporary air strip near Stanley. On 15 November 1972 a temporary runway was inaugurated with the first arrival of a Fokker F-27 with subsequent flights arriving twice weekly. Flights were improved in 1978 with Fokker F-28 jets following the completion of a permanent runway funded by the British Government. This service, representing the only connection by air to the islands, was maintained until the 1982 war.[24][25][26]

Also YPF, which was then the Argentine national oil and gas company, was in charge of supplying the island regularly.[27]

Lack of progress in negotiations

Although the sovereignty discussions had some success in establishing economic and transport links between the Falklands and Argentina, there was no progress on the question of sovereignty of the Islands.

Whilst maintaining the British claim for sovereignty, the British Government considered transfer of sovereignty worthy of improved relations with Argentina. However, the British Government had limited room for manoeuvre owing to the strength of the Falkland Islands lobby in the Houses of Parliament. Any measure that the Foreign Office suggested on the sovereignty issue was loudly condemned by the Islanders, who re-iterated their determination to remain British. This led to the British Government maintaining a position that the right to self-determination of the Islanders was paramount. In return, Argentina did not recognise the rights of the Islanders and so negotiations on the sovereignty issue effectively remained at a stalemate.[28]


In 1976, Argentina landed an expedition in Southern Thule, an island in the South Sandwich Islands which at that time was part of the Falkland Islands Dependency. The landing was reported in the UK only in 1978 although the UK government stated a rejection of the notion of sending a force of Royal Marines to dismantle the Argentine base, Corbeta Uruguay.

However, a more serious confrontation occurred in 1977 after the Argentine Navy cut off the fuel supply to Port Stanley Airport and stated they would no longer fly the Red Ensign in Falklands waters. (Traditionally ships in a foreign country's waters would fly the country's maritime flag as a courtesy.) The British Government suspected Argentina would attempt another expedition in the manner of its Southern Thule operation. James Callaghan, the British Prime Minister ordered the dispatch of a nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought and the frigates Alacrity and Phoebe to the South Atlantic, with rules of engagement set in the event of a clash with the Argentine navy. The British even considered setting up an exclusion zone around the islands, but this was rejected in case it escalated matters. None of this was ever made public at the time, and Callaghan only revealed the operation during Parliamentary debates in 1982 during the Falklands War.

In the end, no military action occurred and diplomatic relations between Argentina and the UK were restored.

Falklands War

Location of the Falkland Islands

The Falklands War of 1982 was the largest armed conflict over the sovereignty of the islands. The war was largely started following the occupation of South Georgia by Argentine scrap merchants. However the UK had also reduced its presence in the Islands by announcing the withdrawal of HMS Endurance, the Royal Navy's icebreaker ship and only permanent presence in the South Atlantic. The UK had also denied Falkland Islanders full British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981.

In 1982, Argentina was in the midst of a devastating economic crisis and large-scale civil unrest against the repressive military junta that was governing the country. On 2 April, with Admiral Jorge Anaya, the Argentine Navy commander-in-chief at the time, as the main architect and supporter of the operation, a combined Argentine amphibious force invaded the Islands. Immediately, the UK severed diplomatic ties with Argentina, began to assemble a task force to retake the Islands and a diplomatic offensive began to gain support for economic and military sanctions. The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 502 calling on Argentina to withdraw forces from the Islands and to both parties to seek a diplomatic solution.[29] Another resolution called for an immediate cease fire but was vetoed by both the United States and Britain.[30] The European Community condemned the invasion and imposed economic sanctions on Argentina, although several EC states expressed reservations about British policy in this area, and two EC states (Denmark and Ireland) defected from cooperation.[31] France and Germany also temporarily suspended several military contracts with the Argentine military. The United States supported mediated talks, via Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and initially took a neutral stance, although in private substantial material aid was made available to the UK from the moment of invasion. The USA publicly supported the UK's position following the failure of peace talks.

The British Task Force began offensive action against Argentina on 23 April 1982 and recaptured South Georgia following a short naval engagement. The operation to recover the Falkland Islands began 1 May and after fierce naval and air engagements an amphibious landing was made at San Carlos Bay on 21 May. On 14 June the Argentine forces surrendered and control of the islands returned to the UK.

Following the Argentine surrender, two Royal Navy ships sailed to the South Sandwich Islands and expelled the Argentine military from Thule Island, leaving no Argentine presence in the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

Post war

Following the 1982 war, the British increased their presence in the Falkland Islands. RAF Mount Pleasant was constructed. This allowed fighter jets to be based on the islands and strengthened the UK's ability to reinforce the Islands at short notice. The military garrison was substantially increased and a new garrison was established on South Georgia. The Royal Navy South Atlantic patrol was strengthened to include both HMS Endurance and a Falkland Islands guard ship.

As well as this military build-up, the UK also passed the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, which granted full British citizenship to the islanders. To show British commitment to the islands, high-profile British dignitaries visited the Falklands, including Margaret Thatcher, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra, The Hon Lady Ogilvy. The UK has also pursued links to the islands from Chile, which had provided help to British Forces during the Falklands War. LAN now provides a direct air link to Chile from Mount Pleasant.

In 1985, the Falkland Islands Dependency was split into the Falkland Islands proper and a new separate territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Under the 1985 constitution the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) became a parliamentary representative democratic dependency, with the governor as head of government and representative of the Queen. Members of the FIG are democratically elected, the Governor is effectively a figurehead. Theoretically the Governor has the power under the 1985 constitution to exercise executive authority, in practice he is obliged to consult the Executive Council in the exercise of his functions. The main responsibilities of the Governor are external affairs and public services.[32] Effectively under this constitution, the Falkland Islands are self-governing with the exception of foreign policy, although the FIG represents itself at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation as the British Government no longer attends.

Queen Elizabeth II greets Carlos Menem at Buckingham Palace, London in October 1998

Relations between the UK and Argentina remained hostile following 1982, and diplomatic relations were not restored until 1989. Although the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the UK and Argentina to return to negotiations over the Islands' future,[33] the UK ruled out any further talks over the Islands' sovereignty. The UK also maintained an arms embargo against Argentina that was initiated during the 1982 war, which forced Argentine armed forces, traditionally a UK buyer, to switch to other markets.[citation needed]

Relations improved further in the 1990s between the UK and Argentina. In 1998, Carlos Menem, the President of Argentina visited London, where he reaffirmed his country's claims to the Islands, although he stated that Argentina would use only peaceful means for their recovery. In 2001, Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom visited Argentina where he stated that he hoped the UK and Argentina could resolve their differences that led to the 1982 war. However, no talks on sovereignty took place during the visit and Argentina's President Néstor Kirchner stated that he regarded gaining sovereignty over the islands as a 'top priority' of his government.[34]

Argentina renewed claims in June 2006 citing concern over fishing and petroleum rights, amid concern when Britain changed from annually granting fishing concessions, to granting a 25 year concession.[35] On 28 March 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that there was “nothing to discuss” with Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine president, over sovereignty of the islands, when they met in Chile on his pre-2009 G-20 London Summit world tour.[36] On 22 April 2009 Argentina made a formal claim to the UN to an area of the continental shelf encompassing the Falklands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and parts of Antarctica, citing 11 years worth of maritime survey data.[37] The UK quickly protested these claims.[38]

In February 2010, in response to British plans to begin drilling for oil,[39] the Argentine government announced that ships travelling to the Falklands (as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands) would require a permit to use Argentine territorial waters. The British and Falkland governments stated that this announcement did not affect the waters surrounding the islands.[40][41] Despite the new restrictions, Desire Petroleum began drilling for oil on 22 February, about 54 nautical miles (100 km, 62 mi) north of the Islands.[42]

Current claims

Claims by Argentina

A sign at the Argentine-Brazilian border, translated into English, proclaims "The Malvinas [Falklands] are Argentine" to visitors entering the country from Brazil.

The Argentine government has maintained a claim over the Falkland Islands since 1833, and renewed it as recently as June 2009.[43] It considers the archipelago part of the Tierra del Fuego Province, along with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Supporters of the Argentine position make the following claims:

  • Sovereignty of the islands was transferred to Argentina from Spain upon independence, a principle known as uti possidetis juris.
  • Spain never renounced sovereignty over the islands, even when a British settlement existed.
  • Great Britain abandoned its settlement in 1776, and formally renounced sovereignty in the Nootka Sound Convention. Argentina has always claimed the Falklands, and never renounced its claim.
  • The British return in 1833 (classified as an invasion by Argentina) was illegal under international law, and this has been noted and protested by Argentina since June 17, 1833.[44]
  • Self-determination principles are not applicable since the current inhabitants are not aboriginal and were brought to replace the Argentine population (see below).[2]
  • The Argentine population was expelled by the British invasion of 1833.[2]
  • The islands are located on the continental shelf facing Argentina, which would give them a claim, as stated in the 1958 UN Convention on the Continental Shelf.§[45]
  • Great Britain was looking to extend its territories in Americas as shown with the British invasions of the Río de la Plata years earlier.[46]

§ Although a signatory to the 1958 convention, Argentina never ratified the convention.[47] The 1958 Convention was superseded by 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, ratified by Argentina in 1995.

The Nootka Sound Conventions

In 1789, both the United Kingdom and Spain attempted settlement in the Nootka Sound, on Vancouver Island. On October 25, 1790, these two Kingdoms approved the Nootka Sound Convention, also known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo del Escorial. The Conventions included provisions recognising that the coasts and islands of South America colonised by Spain at the time were Spanish, and that areas south of the southernmost settlements were off limits to both countries, provided (in a secret article) that no third party settled there either. The conventions were unilaterally repudiated by Spain in 1795[citation needed] but implicitly revived by the Treaty of Madrid in 1814.[citation needed]

The sixth article of the convention states:[48]

It is further agreed with respect to the eastern and western coasts of South America and the islands adjacent, that the respective subjects shall not form in the future any establishment on the parts of the coast situated to the south of the parts of the same coast and of the islands adjacent already occupied by Spain; it being understood that the said respective subjects shall retain the liberty of landing on the coasts and islands so situated for objects connected with their fishery and of erecting thereon huts and other temporary structures serving only those objects.

Whether or not this includes the islands is disputed.[49][50]

Constitution of Argentina

The Argentine claim is included in the transitional provisions of the Constitution of Argentina as amended in 1994:[51][52]

The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and non-prescribing sovereignty over the Malvinas, Georgias del Sur and Sandwich del Sur Islands and over the corresponding maritime and insular zones, as they are an integral part of the National territory. The recovery of these territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respecting the way of life for its inhabitants and according to the principles of international law, constitute a permanent and unwavering goal of the Argentine people.

Claims by the United Kingdom

The UK exercises the sovereignty de facto on the islands

In 1964 the Argentine government raised the matter at the United Nations in a sub-committee of the Special Committee on the situation with regard to the implementation of the UN Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. In reply the British Representative on the Committee declared that the British Government held that the question of sovereignty over the islands was "not negotiable". Following a report by the Special Committee, UN Resolution 2065 was passed on December 16, 1965, at the General Assembly. In its preamble it referred to the UN's "cherished aim to bring colonialism to an end everywhere", and later added that all settlements between nations had to be peaceful and, in this case, "in the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands".[53]

In January 1966 the British Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, visited Buenos Aires when the Argentine claim to the islands was raised with him, following which, in July, a preliminary meeting was held in London, where the British delegation "formally rejected" the Argentine Ambassador's suggestion that Britain's occupation of the Islands was illegal.[53]

On 2 December 1980 the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Nicholas Ridley, stated in the House of Commons: "We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands... we have a perfectly valid title".[53]

The current United Kingdom position remains the same and regards the right of the islanders to self-determination as "paramount".[53][54]

  • The British were the first to claim the islands in 1690 and have never renounced that claim.
  • The islands have been continuously and peacefully occupied by the UK since 1833, with the exception of 2 months occupation by Argentina.
  • Argentina's attempts to colonise the islands in 1820–33 were "sporadic and ineffectual".
  • The islands had no indigenous or settled population before British settlement.
  • In an Argentine-inspired poll in 1994, 87% of the island's population rejected any form of discussion of sovereignty under any circumstances
  • UN General Assembly resolutions calling for negotiations "are flawed because they make no reference to the Islanders' right to choose their own future."[55]
  • The European Union Treaty of Lisbon ratifies that the Falkland Islands belong to Britain.[54]

Falkland Islands Constitution

The Falkland Islands Constitution, which came into force on 1 January 2009, claims a right to self-determination, stating that:[56]

All peoples have the right to self-determination and by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development and may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit and international law; The realisation of the right of self-determination must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

International position

The international position on the sovereignty of the islands is varied, with some countries supporting the British claim and others supporting the Argentine claim. Some countries maintain neutrality on the issue.

Resolutions of the United Nations and the OAS

In 1946 the UK included the Falkland Islands on the UN list of non-self-governing territories under Chapter XI of the UN charter.[57] However, the General Assembly of the United Nations did not explicitly address the issue of the Falkland Islands until 1965, which Resolution 2065 noted "the existence of a dispute between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over [said] Islands", and invited those governments "to proceed without delay with the negotiations... with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the Charter of the United Nations and of General Assembly UN Resolution 1514 (XV) and the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)."

The UN General Assembly and the UN Decolonization Committee have repeated this call for the resumption of negotiations since then,[58] and especially since the restoration of democracy in Argentina in 1983.[59] The Falkland Islands Government has requested that the UN Decolonization Committee send a fact finding mission to the islands,[60] to date that request has not been answered (the committee has never visited the islands). Following the visit by the chairman of the C24 to Argentina, the FIG called for a reciprocal visit to the islands.[61]

The Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly has repeatedly endorsed Argentine proposals calling the United Kingdom to restart the negotiations.[62]

Supporters of the British claim

The European Union classes the islands as a special overseas territory, subject to EU law in some areas, and eligible for some European funding initiatives. The inclusion of the islands in an appendix to the proposed European Constitution provoked a hostile Argentine response. Its mention is retained in the treaty replacing the abandoned Constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon.

France has been particularly supportive of the British position, and provided invaluable help to the British military on the French supplied aircraft and missiles of the Argentine military during the Falklands War[citation needed]. France may also be motivated by the fact that it, like the UK, retains many overseas territories that are subject to rival sovereignty claims including the Glorioso Islands, Mayotte and Tromelin[citation needed].

Turkey, which has close relations with the United Kingdom, has also been particularly supportive of the British position, and has voiced this in international organisations.

The people and government of Gibraltar which is also a British overseas territory have been very supportive of the British position. A potential reason for this is that they are also claimed by another country, Spain.[63]

The Commonwealth of Nations recognises the islands as a British territory, though members of the Caribbean Community have recently stated support for the Argentine position.[64][65] The Falkland Islands are not represented in the Commonwealth as they are not an independent state, but they do participate in the Commonwealth Games.

The Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, the Government of the Falkland Islands, opposes Argentinian claims.[66][67]

Supporters of the Argentine claim

Peru is the most vocal supporter of the Argentine claim, and provided material aid during the Falklands War. Brazil officially supports the Argentine claim over the Falklands and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands,[68] and has voiced its support at international organisations.[69] Mexico has also spoken in favour of the Argentine claim. Chile supported the United Kingdom during the Falklands War, but the post-Pinochet democratic governments have given greater support to the Argentine claim,[70][71] calling on several occasions for the resume of the negotiations at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization [72]

Spain, although part of the European Union, has given tacit support to the Argentine claim, voting in the Argentine interest in UN Security Council votes during the Falklands War,[73] although at this time Spain was not a member of the European Union. Argentina, for its part, supports Spain's claim to Gibraltar, also under British sovereignty and also inhabited by people who consider themselves British.[63]

The Union of South American Nations, the Andean Community, and Mercosur have all supported the Argentine claim since their creation, and the Ibero-American Summit has called for negotiations.[74][75]

The People's Republic of China officially supports the Argentine claim.[76]


In 1823 the President of the United States, James Monroe, in his address to the United States Congress put forward a statement that was to become known as the Monroe Doctrine. In his statement he forewarned the imperial European powers against interfering in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American states or potential United States territories. The doctrine was seen by many Americans as an opportunity to build up trade relations with Latin America.[77] However in 1833, United States Secretary of State Edward Livingston declined to invoke the Monroe Doctrine when the Untied Kingdom resumed its presence in the Falkland Islands.[78] The United States has maintained a policy of official neutrality on the islands' sovereignty, since the 1940s. Despite this, the US provided material aid and intelligence to the British during the Falklands War.[79] The CIA World Factbook lists the islands as Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas); and Central Intelligence Agency maps state that the islands are administered by the United Kingdom and claimed by Argentina.

During the 1982 war, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries maintained an official neutrality, despite Argentine diplomatic attempts to acquire support at the United Nations Security Council. Although the UK suspected possible Soviet interference by providing Argentina with satellite intelligence or arms, Argentina claimed after the war that no support was received. Subsequent revelations indicate that, despite the denials, Argentina did receive Soviet satellite intelligence.[80]

Maintaining a neutral view, the United Nations's position for decades has been to ask both parties to begin negotiations regarding this dispute.

Map of the Falkland Islands, with British names
Map of the Falkland Islands, with Argentine names


  1. ^ WordReference, English-Spanish Dictionary. Falklands: the Falklands, las (islas) Malvinas.
  2. ^ a b c Argentina’s Position on Different Aspects of the Question of the Malvinas Islands. Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The principle of self-determination does not apply to the Malvinas Islands Question ... the fact that the United Kingdom occupied the islands by force in 1833, expelled the original population and did not allow its return, thus violating Argentine territorial integrity. Therefore, the possibility of applying the principle of self-determination is ruled out, as its exercise by the inhabitants of the islands would cause the “disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity” of Argentina.
  3. ^ Special Committee on Decolonization adopts resolution expressing regret over delay in talks to resolve Falkland Islands (Malvinas) dispute. General Assembly GA/COL/3162. UN.org. 21 June 2007
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Lewis, Jason; Inglis, Alison. "Part 2 – Fort St. Louis and Port Egmont". A brief history of the Falkland Islands. falklands.info. http://www.falklands.info/history/history2.html. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  5. ^ "Treaty of Tordesillas – World Affairs, 1494". U-s-history.com. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1028.html. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  6. ^ Harris, Chris (2002-05-27). "Declarations signed by Masserano and Rochford January 22nd 1771". The history of the Falkland Islands. http://www.history.horizon.co.fk/articles/1771decs.html. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  7. ^ Hoffman, Fritz L.; Hoffman, Olga Mingo (1984). Sovereignty in Dispute: The Falklands/Malvinas, 1493–1982. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-86531-605-8. 
  8. ^ Lewis, Jason; Inglis, Alison. "Part 1 – The Discovery of the Falkland Islands". A brief history of the Falkland Islands. falklands.info. http://www.falklands.info/history/history1.html. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  9. ^ a b Lewis, Jason; Inglis, Alison. "A Chronology of events in the history of the Falkland Islands". Falkland Islands Timeline. falklands.info. http://www.falklands.info/history/timeline.html. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  10. ^ a b Destéfani, Laurio H. (1982). The Malvinas, the South Georgias and the South Sandwich Islands, the conflict with Britain. Buenos Aires. 
  11. ^ a b FitzRoy, R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle. Vol. II.
  12. ^ Islas del Atlántico Sur, Islas Malvinas, Historia, Ocupación británica: Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino). Cpel.uba.ar. Retrieved on 2011-11-20.
  13. ^ Lewis, Jason; Inglis, Alison. "Falkland Islands Newsletter, No.14, May 1983". The Long View of the Falklands Situation. falklands.info. http://www.falklands.info/history/history1.html. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  14. ^ Mikulas Fabry, Recognizing states international society and the establishment of new states since 1776, pp. 68, 77 n.88, which cites George Canning's letter to Woodbine Parish of Boxing Day, 1824,; the Britsh did not even decide their position on the status of Uruguay, then disputed with the Empire of Brazil, until 1825; George P. Mills, Argentina, p. 203; see also the website of the Argentine Foreign Ministry. Other sources count effective recognition from the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, concluded February 2, 1825, in Buenos Aires.
  15. ^ Weddell, James (1827). A Voyage Towards the South Pole. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Lewis, Jason; Inglis, Alison. "Part 3 – Louis Vernet: The Great Entrepreneur". A brief history of the Falkland Islands. falklands.info. http://www.falklands.info/history/history3.html. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  17. ^ Wikisource:Report by Silas Duncan Commander U.S.S. Lexington sent to Navy Secretary Levi Woodbury. Report by Silas Duncan, Commander USS Lexington sent to Levi Woodbury, the US Navy Secretary on 2 February 1832.
  18. ^ Monroe, Alexander G. (1997-07-27). "Commander Silas Duncan and the Falkland Island Affair". USS Duncan DDR 874 Crew & Reunion Association. http://www.ussduncan.org/silas_page13.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  19. ^ The Falkland Islands, A history of the 1982 conflict, Preface to a conflict. Royal Air Force. raf.mod.uk
  20. ^ The Times, 21 April 1982, p. 13
  21. ^ The Issue is the Law, The Times, 27 April 1982, p. 13
  22. ^ United Nations Resolution 2065, Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Falkland Islands Information Portal.
  23. ^ UK held secret talks to cede sovereignty. The Guardian. 28 June 2005. Retrieved on 2011-11-20.
  24. ^ H.Cámara de Diputados de la Nación. Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires. 25/08/2006
  25. ^ Grumman HU-16B Albatross. Asociación Tripulantes de Transporte Aéreo. Argentine Air Force
  26. ^ Fokker F-27 Troopship/Friendship. Asociación Tripulantes de Transporte Aéreo. Argentine Air Force.
  27. ^ La Fuerza Aérea en Malvinas desde 1971 hasta 1982. Argentine Air Force.
  28. ^ Bound, Graham. Falkland Islanders at War, Pen & Swords Ltd, 2002 ISBN 1-84415-429-7
  29. ^ United Nations Resolution 502, Adopted by the Security Council at its 2350th meeting held on 3 April 1982. HistoryCentral.
  30. ^ U.N. Resolution On Falkland War - Text - Nytimes.Com. New York Times (1982-06-05). Retrieved on 2011-11-20.
  31. ^ Understanding Europe's "New" Common Foreign and Security Policy. Columbia International Affairs Online.
  32. ^ "Country Profile: Falkland Islands (British Overseas Territory)". Fco.gov.uk. 2009-11-05. http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/country-profiles/south-america/falkland-islands/?profile=politics&pg=7. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  33. ^ "A/RES/37/9. Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)". Un.org. http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/37/a37r009.htm. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  34. ^ "Blair y Kirchner adelantaron diálogo" (in Spanish). BBC News. 2003-07-14. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/spanish/latin_america/newsid_3063000/3063463.stm. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  35. ^ Argentina renews campaign over Falklands claim. The Telegraph. 30 June 2006
  36. ^ Gordon Brown rejects Argentina's claim to the Falklands. The Times. 28 March 2009
  37. ^ Argentina claims vast ocean area. BBC News. 22 April 2009
  38. ^ 'Not so fast,' says Britain as Argentina makes fresh appeal to UN over Falkland Islands. Mail on Sunday. 23 April 2009
  39. ^ Oil drilling begins in the Falkland Islands. Channel 4 News. Updated on 21 February 2010
  40. ^ Argentina toughens shipping rules in Falklands oil row. BBC. 17 February 2010
  41. ^ CONFERENCIA DE PRENSA DEL JEFE DE GABINETE DE MINISTROS, ANÍBAL FERNÁNDEZ, EN LA CASA DE GOBIERNO. (Chief Cabinet Alberto Fernández Press conference). Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires. 16 February 2010
  42. ^ "Drilling for oil begins off the Falkland Islands". BBC News. 2010-02-22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8527307.stm. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  43. ^ "Malvinas: la ONU hará más gestiones para abrir el diálogo". Lanacion.com.ar. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/nota.asp?nota_id=1140883. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  44. ^ Argentine diplomatic protest for the occupation of the Malvinas in 1833
  45. ^ Rupert Cornwall Could Oil Exploration of the Falklands Lead to a Renewal of Hostilities?. The Independent, 23 February 2010; cited by the Global Policy Forum
  46. ^ Luna, Félix (2003). Los conflictos armados. Buenos Aires: La Nación. pp. 12–17. ISBN 950-49-1123-4. 
  47. ^ [1][2] Convention on the Continental Shelf, Geneva, 29 April 1958. UN.org
  48. ^ E.O.S Scholefield British Columbia from Earliest Times to Present. p. 666
  49. ^ Lieutenant Commander Richard D. Chenette, USN, The Argentine Seizure of the Malvinas [Falkland Islands: History and Diplomacy], 4 May 1987
  50. ^ Todini, Bruno (2007). Falkland Islands, History, War and Economics. Chapter 2: Beginning of the disputes over the Falkland islands sovereignty among Spanish, British and French. pp. 252–253. ISBN 978-84-690-6590-7. http://www.eumed.net/libros/2007b/278/3.htm. 
  51. ^ "Constitución Nacional" (in Spanish). 22 August 1994. http://www.senado.gov.ar/web/interes/constitucion/cuerpo1.php. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  52. ^ "Constitution of the Argentine Nation". 22 August 1994. http://www.senado.gov.ar/web/interes/constitucion/english.php. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  53. ^ a b c d The Franks Report — Falkland Islands Review, Pimlico Books, London, 1992, ISBN 0-7126-9840-X: 4
  54. ^ a b "Falklands: "No return to the 80s", tacit UK/Argentine agreement". MercoPress South Atlantic News Agency. 2010-03-29. http://en.mercopress.com/2010/03/29/falklands-no-return-to-the-80s-tacit-uk-argentine-agreement. Retrieved 2010-04-04. "... as a country and as democrats we believe in self determination, and if the people of the Islands want to remain British, that is their choice and we will always support them”, said [Foreign Office minister Chris] Bryant who insisted that “we have no doubts as to whom the Falklands belong”. Besides in the European Union Lisbon Treaty “it is clearly spelled out that the Falklands belong to Britain”." 
  55. ^ "Country Profile: Falkland Islands". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2007-04-13. http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/country-profiles/south-america/falkland-islands/?profile=history&pg=3. Retrieved 2008-04-27. "The Argentine Government has argued that the Falkland Islanders do not enjoy the right of self-determination, on the (false) basis that they replaced an indigenous Argentine population expelled by force. However there was no indigenous or settled population on the Islands until British settlement. The people who live in the Falklands now are not a transitory population. Many can trace their origins in the Islands back to the early nineteenth century. Britain is committed to defend their right to choose their own future. The Islanders are fully entitled to enjoy the right of self-determination. It is a right which cannot be applied selectively or be open to negotiation, and one which is recognised in the UN Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Self-determination does not necessarily mean independence. Britain has willingly granted independence where it has been requested, and will continue to do so where it is an option, while remaining committed to those of its Overseas Territories which choose to retain the British connection. In exercise of their right of self-determination, the Falkland Islanders have repeatedly made known their wish to remain British." 
  56. ^ "Chapter 1 of the Falkland Islands Constitution". Office of Public Sector Information. 5 November 2008 (came into force on 1 January 2009). http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/uksi_20082846_en_3#sch1-pt1. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  57. ^ Laucirica, Jorge O. (Summer/fall 2000). "Lessons from Failure: The Falklands/Malvinas Conflict". Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations. http://diplomacy.shu.edu/journal/new/pdf/VolINo1/laucirica.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-06. [dead link]
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  59. ^ [3] Decolonization Committee requests Argentina, United Kingdom, to resume negotiations on Falkland Islands (Malvinas)
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  63. ^ a b Gibraltor's Strong For Britain. 14 March 1966. p. 10-A. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=20hQAAAAIBAJ&pg=5489,2554883. 
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  67. ^ Argentina still “seeking to colonise the Falkland Islands and its people” « Falkland Islands Government News. Falklands.gov.fk (2010-06-25). Retrieved on 2011-11-20.
  68. ^ Declarações adotadas no encontro do Presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva com a Presidenta da Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – San Juan, 3 de agosto de 2010: Declaração Conjunta sobre Malvinas Ministério das Relações Exteriores. Retrieved on 2010-11-27. (Portuguese)/(Spanish).
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  70. ^ CHILE REAFIRMA SU POSICIÓN SOBRE ISLAS MALVINAS. Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile. 18 August 2004
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