Jeremy Corbyn and Competing Claims over the Falkland Islands

Jacob Greenberg, Vol. 37 Associate Editor

When the United Kingdom’s Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn, one of the furthest left-wing Members of Parliament, as its leader, reverberations were felt around the world. At home, pundits questioned whether a man who appeared regularly on Iranian and Russian propaganda channels should be briefed on top secret national security matters, as his predecessors had.[1] Scottish commenters wondered whether a reenergized Labour base in Scotland would assist or cripple the movement for Scottish independence.[2] Perhaps the most surprising reaction, if only for its unbridled enthusiasm, came from Argentine President Christina Kirchner. “Hope has triumphed,” she stated, his victory was “a triumph for all those who work for peace and conflict resolution.”[3]

Kirchner’s overwhelming support stems from one of Corbyn’s many unique policy positions: his call for joint UK and Argentine administration of the Falkland Islands (or Malvinas, as they are called in Argentina). England first established a settlement on the Falkland Islands in 1690, and claimed them in 1765.[4] It withdrew its settlement in 1774, but never revoked its claim.[5] Argentina inherited its claim from Spain, and it established its first settlement in 1820.[6] In 1833, Britain, acting on its claim, forcibly evicted the Argentine military.[7] Britain settled the Islands itself and has controlled them up through the present day.[8] Argentina continued to maintain its claim, however, and in 1965 the United Nations General Assembly designated the Islands a colony in need of decolonization, and called upon the UK and Argentina to negotiate a peaceful solution to the dispute.[9] Negotiations never took place though, and in 1982, Argentina’s military dictatorship invaded the Islands. The UK expelled the Argentine force, but only after two months of fighting and almost one thousand dead.[10]

Although Argentina has since elected a democratic government, it continues to maintain its claim on the Falkland Islands as vociferously as before the war. According to Argentina, the British naval force expelled “the legitimate Argentine authorities and population from the Islands [in 1833] and…the colonial dispute remained unresolved, compromising the territorial integrity of Argentina.”[11] The UK, on the other hand, does not even officially consider the Islands a colony, classifying them as a “British Overseas Territory.”[12] As evidence for this reclassification, it points to the fact that the UK and the Islands enjoy a modern partnership, with full rights of self-determination.[13] This point is critical because the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples declares as one of its key planks, that “[a]ll peoples have the right to self-determination.”[14] On March 10-11, 2013, the Falklands Islands conducted a referendum on its status as a British Overseas Territory. With 92% turnout, 99.8% of Islanders voted to maintain the status quo.[15] After the referendum, UK Prime Minister David Cameron declared a British commitment to the Falkland Islands’ right to self-determination and full support in countering Argentina’s claim.[16]

Undeterred by the referendum, Argentina has continued to stake its claim. It argues self-determination is not applicable in this case because the Falkland Islanders are not a people under alien subjugation.[17] It also cast doubt upon the vote itself, claiming it was never called for or approved by the United Nations, and pointing to the lack of official observers.[18] The British used the vote, Argentina claims, to justify its military presence and collection of natural resources in the area.[19] This is a “special and particular colonial situation,” which can only be resolved through negotiations between the UK and Argentina.[20] Argentina does have several United Nations resolutions and regional organizations supporting its position.[21]

Corbyn’s position essentially matches Argentina’s position. During a BBC interview in 2013, Corbyn called for joint administration of the Islands, while retaining their British nationality.[22] Finland and Sweden employed this strategy over disputed islands, and the result would look similar to Hong Kong.[23] Argentina and the UK would also split any oil reserves found in Falkland Island waters.[24] Corbyn argues this would diffuse much of the tension with Argentina and South America generally.[25]

These comments received little attention at the time, since Corbyn was a mere Member of Parliament with little authority, but they have returned to the limelight with his elevation to party leader.[26] Corbyn has very little chance of winning a general election, but this does not mean his policies will have no influence on the future of the Falkland Islands.[27] Outside of Argentina’s occasional saber rattling and the referendum, the Falkland Islands receive little coverage in the UK. After all, they are islands thousands of miles from the mainland with a population under 3,000. It is conceivable that in the near future, Corbyn’s advocacy and general British apathy could convince the UK population these islands are simply not worth continuing centuries of antagonism with Argentina.


[1] See Cor, blimey, The Economist (Sep. 12, 2015), http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21664557-one-britains-most-outlandish-mps-wins-leadership-its-second-largest-party-cor-blimey.

[2] See Alex Massie, Yes, Jeremy Corbyn actually is the most dangerous man in British politics, The Spectator: Coffee House (Aug. 18, 2015), http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/08/yes-jeremy-corbyn-actually-is-the-most-dangerous-man-in-british-politics/.

[3] Jeremy Corbyn praised by Argentina’s president Cristina Kirchner, The Telegraph (Sep. 12, 2015,11:24 PM), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/11861486/Jeremy-Corbyn-praised-by-Argentinas-president-Cristina-Kirchner.html.

[4] Falkland Islands – Overview, BBC, (Jan. 28, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-18425572.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] G.A. Res. 2065 (XX), ¶ 1 (Dec. 16, 1965).

[10] Falkland Islands – Overview, supra note 4.

[11] Spec. Comm. on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Indep. to Colonial Countries and Peoples, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), ¶ 48, U.N. Doc. A/AC.109/2014/15 (Mar. 12, 2014) [hereinafter UN Report].

[12] Types of British Nationality, GOV.UK, https://www.gov.uk/types-of-british-nationality/british-overseas-territories-citizen (last updated July 16, 2015).

[13] UN Report, supra note 10, ¶ 60.

[14] G.A. Res. 1514 (XV), ¶ 2 (Dec. 14, 1960).

[15] UN Report, supra note 10, ¶ 5.

[16] Id. ¶¶ 37-38.

[17] Id. ¶ 48.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id. ¶ 56.

[21] See id. ¶ 49.

[22] Falklands future: Alan West and Jeremy Corbyn, BBC (Jan. 14, 2013), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-21014952.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] See Steven Swinford, Jeremy Corbyn’s Falklands plan tantamount to surrender to Argentina, warns wounded veteran Simon Weston, The Telegraph (Aug. 29, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11833264/Jeremy-Corbyns-Falklands-plan-tantamount-to-surrender-to-Argentina-warns-wounded-veteran-Simon-Weston.html.

[27] See Cor, blimey, supra note 1.