The government of the United Kingdom supports a referendum based on the idea of recognising the right to self-determination to the Falklands islanders. The government of Argentina rejects both the referendum and the right to self-determination. In fact, Argentina’s representatives reject any attempt of the Falklands islanders in order to have a discussion with them (or to be more precise, they simply ignore them).
The government of Argentina believes that accepting the right to self-determination of the Falklands islanders would result in resigning to their claim in regards to sovereignty. It is true that self-determination is often seen as linked to or as an step prior to independence. However, that is completely different from seeing them as concepts that have the same implications. So, we have to make clear that self-determination does not mean independence. We need to make clear that it may lead to solutions other than independence.
We have previously seen that self-determination is a principle that allows people to decide their destiny, who will govern them. See below the link to the respective posts:
Falklands and the right to self-determination (part 1)
Falklands and the right to self-determination (part 2)
Although both are legal and political concepts, sovereignty gives priority to the State whereas self-determination gives preeminent place to the people. It is more often than not in sovereignty conflicts that the population of the territory that is being claimed wants independence by applying the principle of self-determination. However, the fact that this territory is granted self-determination, and may become independent, translates into the rejection of at least one of the States that is claiming sovereignty. Falklands islands and the Argentinean position in relation to self-determination is an example.
Indeed, self-determination may result in final independence. But it is not true that independence is the only way in which self-determination may evolve. Indeed, the population may vote to be administered by, or integrated into, one of the States claiming sovereignty. Then self-determination may lead to different results since the population might decide: a) to be independent; to be administered by or be part of one party; c) to have shared sovereignty.
The main problem in the Falklands case for Argentina is that the government of Argentina has been and still is towards rejecting any attempt the islanders make in order to have a closer relationship with the continent. So, why would they be interested in any other result than independence or association to the United Kingdom if the other interested party (Argentina) simply keeps pushing them away? Or is is that the Argentinean government wants to secure a never ending story? For a clarification about what I mean by never ending story in the case of the Falklands see:
Falklands: another never ending story? (part 1)
Falklands: another never ending story? (part 2)
To recapitulate, self-determination may have been useful in specific cases because of their characteristics (e.g. Kosovo). But to use the same international institutions in the same form in cases in which the interrelation amongst the involved agents is already peaceful, apart from the sovereignty difference, adds an unnecessary element of disagreement that goes against peaceful international relations.
To obtain independence through self-determination is not a solution that can be
taken by default. It is exceptional remedy for situations in which a given sovereign State has a certain tension with a group of people, this group of people is large enough, their human rights are not acknowledged, and they have a common identity.
Then, it is not that self-determination is good or bad as a right or as an international remedy per se. Yet, because of the specific situation in which it is applied and the way in which it is used may be.
Therefore, in the case of sovereignty conflicts like the ones we are dealing with, a
solution between status quo and complete independence could be reached. And self-determination can indeed open the door for such a solution.
Self-determination is a collective right a group has to determine their political status. The government of the United Kingdom acknowledges the right to self-determination to the Falkland islanders. The Falkland islanders themselves maintain they have the right to self-determination. The government of Argentina rejects the right to self-determination. Hence, we will see the referendum in March. We will see what the islanders decide. However, because of the lack of Argentinean “validation”, the right to self-determination may only have a moral weight.
Indeed, the right to self-determination can be an institution that may offer a positive result. But until the claiming parties recognise they are three and that they have their interests, and therefore, mutually accept their existence and these interests, any solution will be virtual.