The Argentinean wordsmith Jorge Luis Borges could be cryptic. But his powers of perception were always daunting. The 10-week conflict in 1982 that took place over the Falklands, or the Malvinas, as the Argentineans prefer to call it, has provided the participants in the Anglo-Argentine war with various perspectives. Borges came up with an excellent description: it was a battle by two bald men over a comb. That rather costly comb, as we know, still resides with the British – and it has proven to be non-negotiable.
The current bald men in the business are members of the Cameron government on the one hand, and the Cristina Fernandez Kirchner administration on the other. Both are playing to a gallery they believe is full – the British, to remind themselves that they could still win wars, deploy such ships as the HMS Dauntless, and dress in suitable military attire (go, Prince William, you good thing!); the Argentineans, that they could still make some claim over the islands they have longed for since their small settlement was expelled by the British in 1833. This year provides both governments a chance to commemorate, extol and badger their constituents over one of the most needless wars of the twentieth century.
Kirchner herself has taken the approach of giving ‘peace a chance’, a gear that politicians immediately move into when they want to flirt with conflict or etch themselves into some contrarian corner of history. Lest we forget – till the next war bugle is sounded. On Tuesday, she began her evening speech on national television by reading the decree declassifying the Rattenbach report ordered by the country’s Junta following its defeat in June 1982.
Well as she might – the report itself, the bitter fruits of General Benjamin Rattenbach’s labor examining the failings of Argentina’s war effort, was only previously fed in parts to the public given its perceived sensitivity. ‘This will show that the full responsibility of the military adventure was a spurious military Junta, not the Argentine people; the Junta was the war monger, not the people in spite of circumstantial support for the events of 1982.’ Kirchner herself is leafing through the book of true politics – minimize responsibility; isolate the appropriate scapegoats. War is evidently best left to people other than generals. Nor was it the outcome of madly misdirected nationalism by a nation, but the adventurist lunacy of men in uniform.
Kirchner’s strategy is now to remove, or at the very least anesthetize nationalist sentiment, while arguing that the British have themselves submitted to mad dog nationalism in times of desperation. (One might see mirrors here – the 1982 war beginning in a desperate effort by the Junta to focus attention on something offshore and away from a disastrous economic situation; the current British ‘militarization’, an effort to do the same even as CFK seeks a distraction of her own.)
Cameron’s rebuke is to speak of the welfare of citizens of the Falklands in the face of neo-colonial efforts. ‘What the Argentines have been saying recently, I would argue, is far more like colonialism because these people want to remain British and the Argentines want them to do something else.’
The Malvinas, Kirchner claims, could not be seen to be merely of interest to Argentina, but was, in fact, ‘a continental cause, a South American cause.’ The disease taking place in the South Atlantic is militarization. ‘I have instructed our foreign secretary to submit before the UN Security Council and the UN assembly this militarization, which is a serious risk to international security.’ Put aside the war drums in favor of diplomatic techniques, but still demonstrate the country’s hang ups over the islands.
Even if the Argentine war horse was to be saddled up, what would it amount to? Obsolete Pucara, Skyhawk and super Etendards perhaps. Other measures are being sought. Embargoes, for all their worth, are always on the cards. CFK has convinced the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC), to formally adopt ‘all measures that can be put into place to impede entry into its ports of ships that fly the illegal flag of the Malvinas Islands.’ The Kirchner government might do a better job convincing constituents that the Falklands is the comb that it is, a black hole for British taxpayers, a drain on the treasury.
Both parties, in past and present, have behaved in appropriately idiotic fashion, and this is hardly a statement on what the Duke of Cambridge has been wearing. At the end of the day, the contestants remain those hopelessly bald men in search of combs with a considerably high price tag.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org