US should support self-determination in Falkland Islands

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The U.K. was the first country to declare sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in 1765, and it peacefully administered the islands continuously since 1833. The Falklanders worked their land and built their economy for generations with little outside help as a self-governing British territory. But after nearly 150 years of peace and prosperity, Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982. The U.K. was shocked by the invasion, which led to the senseless death of nearly 1,000 British and Argentine soldiers. As Margaret Thatcher later told a review committee, “It was such a stupid thing to do, as events happened, such a stupid thing to even contemplate doing.”

Led by President Reagan, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Argentina following the Falkland invasion and provided the British with military support to counter the Argentine aggression. After 74 days, the British government declared an end to the hostilities. 

But over 30 years later, Argentina is again threatening Falkland security. In an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner wrote, “Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.” 

There is, however, no evidence that Argentina ever actually occupied the Falkland Islands. And in the past, Falkland Islanders have voted overwhelmingly to remain British subjects. The British government has said that it will not negotiate the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands as long as Falklanders wish to remain a British overseas territory. 

Nonetheless, the Obama administration has repeatedly called on Argentina and Britain to negotiate the status of the Falkland Islands. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, “We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way.” 

While this is a seemingly neutral position, by encouraging discussions, the Obama administration is actually reinforcing the flawed Argentine position that there is legitimate dispute over the Islands’ sovereignty. Yesterday and today, the Falkland Islanders are again voting to decide whether they want to remain a British territory. The U.S. should support the right of self-determination and honor the outcome of this vote. If we don’t, I fear we are not only putting peace in the South Atlantic at risk, but we would also be failing to support one of our closest allies and undermining the foundations of freedom and liberty that our own country was founded on.     

Sensenbrenner is a Republican from Wisconsin and is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.