Argentina's long-term Falklands strategy laid bare with ‘hope for US intervention’
The British Antarctic Territory is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the UK as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories, of which it is by far the largest by area and overlaps the claims of Argentina and Chile. The area includes three regions which were previously administered by the British as separate dependencies of the Falkland Islands – Graham Land, the South Orkney Islands, and the South Shetland Islands. The UK’s claim to the region has been suspended since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, Article 4 of which states "No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica".
In 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, followed by the invasion of South Georgia, in a conflict that lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender and more than 900 casualties.
But, as diplomatic relations over the area continue to be strained, Royal Holloway's Professor Klaus Dodds has stated history will not repeat itself.
He told Express.co.uk: “I think, for the moment, conflict between the UK and Argentina is unlikely.
“The UK and Argentina have, in a sense, some common cause here.
“Despite all their disagreements in places like the Falklands, there is a common cause because both countries are long-standing, but smaller Antarctic nations.
“The Antarctic Treaty System protects both of their territorial claims.“
The Antarctic Treaty System entered into force in 1961 and sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, for freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on the continent.
Prof Dodds says the South American countries will not break this agreement, but other countries might.
He added: “The last thing the UK and Argentina want – and Chile because they claim the same part – is the treaty to fall apart.
“That is of no strategic advantage to any of those three countries.
“So what Argentina and Britain will do in the future is continue to trade in a war of words over the ownership of the Falklands and South Georgia, but they don’t want conflict.
“There is no incentive and both would look on with concern in terms of what Russia and China might wish to do in Antarctica and hope that the US would be an important strategic counterbalance.”
Russia currently has the most icebreaker ships in the region and China is building more, in what experts have already warned could lead to future tension.
They are both trying to contest marine protected areas, to allow for more fishing, which some say is a proxy for mineral mining.
In 2048, several elements of the Antarctic Treaty will come up for contention, but Prof Dodds warns that China and Russia can “chip away” at the treaty well before then.
He continued: "In the next five to 10 years, a lot of this tension will make itself known, so there’s no point obsessing about dates on the treaty.
What’s going on now is a source of concern, not what happens in 2048 – a lot of these things are already revealing themselves.
“We’ve got to stop thinking of these places as remote, unimportant or disconnected, they’re not – they are centre stage in global politics.
“Western countries want to hang on to the treaty, so what China will do is it will keep chipping away at the terms – in the sense of the collective will and determination of the others to try and block them – because they don’t want China to walk away, or Russia.
“That’s why consensus often leads to uncomfortable compromise, it’s a Catch-22 – you want to keep the big players, but it carries with it costs and dangers.”