The dispute over the Falkland Islands may get a boost at the UN, thanks to Spain’s designs on Gibraltar. According to the Spanish newspaper El Pais and reported in the Telegraph, Spain’s foreign minister has traveled to Argentina to discuss the possibility of both countries supporting each other’s territorial ambitions at the expense of the UK — and self-determination:
Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo will use a trip to Buenos Aires next month to raise the possibility of forging a joint diplomatic offensive with the South American country over the disputed territories, sources told Spain’s El Pais newspaper.
Spain’s foreign ministry was also discussing whether to take its complaints over Gibraltar to the United Nations, the newspaper reported on Sunday.
The sources did not specify whether Spain would ask the UN to back a request for Britain to give up sovereignty or just adhere to certain agreements.
It could take its petition to the Security Council or take up the matter with the UN General Assembly.
Spain is also considering the option of denouncing Gibraltar to the International Court of Justice in the Hague for its “illegal occupation” of the isthmus – the strip of land connecting the peninsula to the mainland that was not included in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.
Gibraltar, like the Falklands, has a semi-autonomous relationship with the UK. In both enclaves, the people living there have repeatedly voted to remain independent and aligned with the UK for defense and foreign relations. Both are strategically important for the UK — the Falklands as a south Atlantic naval base and oil source, and Gibraltar for access to the Mediterranean. It wasn’t that long ago that Great Britain needed that security for Mediterranean operations; it was just seven decades ago, a rather brief period in the context of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.
This weekend, Spain made it clear that it wants to play hardball by imposing harassing border checks into the isthmus:
The UK government is considering legal action against Spain over the imposition of additional border checks in Gibraltar, Downing Street has said.
A spokesman said the prime minister was “very disappointed” by Spain’s failure to remove the checks over the weekend.
Legal action through the EU would be “unprecedented”, the spokesman added.
The Spanish government, which has said its checks are essential to stop smuggling, said it would not relax border controls.
Spain said it had an “obligation” to police the border, and insisted its controls were legal and proportionate.
A government spokesman also said Spain was considering taking the dispute to the UN Security Council, where it could seek the support of Argentina.
Argentina will leap at the chance to get the UN to rule on the Falklands, but it’s quite a different situation, and the UN Security Council isn’t likely to back a consolidation of the issues. Gibraltar and the isthmus are attached to Spain itself, for one thing, while the Falkland Islands are 250 miles off of Argentina’s coast, far outside of national waters under any definition. After Argentina’s attempt to invade the islands in the early 1980s, the UN is probably not disposed to look favorably on Argentina’s claims, at least not where it counts, especially when the islanders themselves have repeatedly made it clear that they want nothing to do with Argentina.
That’s not to say that Spain has a much better claim, at least legally speaking. The treaty in 1713 remains in force, and Spain’s citation of it regarding the isthmus inadvertently endorses its continuing legality. Their sudden interest in forcing the issue came after the creation of an artificial reef which Spain argues interferes with fishing rights, but that is an issue for direct diplomacy, not the UN, and neither is the Treaty of Utrecht, which has been in force longer than most nations in the UN — including the US.
The only real measure of the claims made by both countries is that of self-determination, after centuries’ worth of status quo. Any attempt to use the UN to force a change in sovereignty would violate the UN’s supposed bedrock principle of self-determination, and the UK will certainly make extensive use of its Security Council veto to make sure that doesn’t happen. The end result of Spanish-Argentinian plotting will be a continuation of the status quo, with an extra added benefit of exposing the bad-faith motivations from both governments.
Update: It must be a Monday. I know damned well that the Falklands are in the Atlantic and not the Pacific, and yet …. well, it’s been fixed. Sorry about that.