Tuesday, February 23, 2010

(UPDATED) Argentina and Britain: the enormous EUlephant in the room...

(+++ UPDATED 05/03/10 +++ - some additional points added to the end of the blog in response to some of the comments made here and at Leg-Iron's place)

The continuing hostile words between Argentina and the U.K. regarding the Falklands Islands is missing a crucial component. Other Latin American leaders are jumping on the bandwagon to criticise Britain and even rattle the sabres. And a number of commentators here in Old Blighty have noticed that, in their current state, the British armed forces could not carry out a repeat of the 1982 Task Force. One commentator over at Guido's place also pointed out that while we are knee-deep in bullshit commitments in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, liberties may be taken with us regarding genuine territorial concerns such as the Falklands.

The Argentine foreign minister is quoted as saying recently that "We will do everything necessary to defend and preserve our rights." Some people are wrting this off as toy-town smackdown talk of no substance. Let us hope so. Because this was similar to the position the Falklands and Britain were in all those years ago - both taken completely by surprise; even if now the country is not under the fist of a dictator general. And it is not as if provactive actions have not already begun. (And it doesn't help that the Guardian appear to be cheering them on: "Before doing anything silly, Kirchner's Argentina might be best advised to wait and see whether there is anything worth fighting over." and then there's the strapline to the article "Sabre-rattling over Malvinas oil" (note the name 'Malvinas', not 'Falklands')).

Now this could all be a storm in a teacup. We'll see what happens if and when significant recoverable oil deposits are found...

All in all, it could spell serious trouble for Britain if it does result in outright aggression given the military's current status and capabilities. Or not:

...What isn't being discussed is the enormous elephant sitting silently between Argentina on one side and Britain and the Falklands on the other. That is the EU and the commitments, now EU law, as ensrhined in the Lisbon Treaty amendments. Of interest in particular is Article 42, Section 7 of the Lisbon amended Maastricht treaty. It states:

"If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power".

And the note in the document accompanying this - in case you weren't already clear on what it meant - states: "Mutual assistance clause for ALL member states in case of an armed aggression."

Having read carefully through all of the consolidated treaties, (Part 2 (Part 1 is here) of my analysis is still in progress - the amendments to the Rome/Amsterdam treaty are far more numerous to those to Maastricht, its going to be a monster piece), what is striking about these sections is the clarity of the language. There are so many places in the treaties where matters are left - I believe intentionally - vague, so as to be amenable to whatever sort of spin the EU wishes to put on them at the time, it is noticable when the treaty suddenly expresses things in crystal clear clarity.

If you read all of the complementary sections (articles 34 up to 42 regarding security issues, and for extra clarity, Articles 24 onwards regarding foreign policy) you will see just how specific the clauses are. When I initially read them (as you can see from my reaction in my earlier analysis), it was from the point of view of the U.K. having to do all of the heavy lifting with regards to a conflict with which - prior to the rise of the EU's power - it would have had no interest in pursuing. Now the tables are turned.

My major point here is that if Argentina attacks, this single issue will call the EU's bluff - and at a potentially far more significant level than current concerns over the status of the Euro.

So who is going to tell the Irish or the French that in signing Lisbon, they might now be shortly committed to sending troops to South America to defend British territory?

In response to some of the comments - there is more to this issue:

Bear in mind the substantive point is that this is likely to become the make - or break - point for the Lisbon treaty and the EU for Britain.

A number of good points have been raised as to how the EU may wriggle out of its support (the most likely I think, the suggestion that they will simply point to the fact that the Falklands is a protectorate of the UK).

It does not need to come to a military confrontation for the point to be forced however.

Under Lisbon, the seats on the UN security council (UK and France) are now supposed to work in unison under one EU position (i.e. our very own one-and-only Cathy Ashton). Argentina are pushing for a UN resolution on the issue.

If the UK and France don't veto in Unison then this is almost as powerful a damning indictment as the EU failing to assist the UK in the event of an attack. There's also the minor matter that Austria also currently sits as one of the non-permanent members of the UN security council. We should watch how they vote on any resolution also.

Read through Articles 24 to 34 in the Lisbon amended Maastricht treaty - the stance on a unified Foreign Policy is made very clear. And despite the idiocy of the Argentine government and stupidity of Team Obama, this is a very clear cut issue. Clinton has acted as if Argentina has a case. It does not.

A final point - on the issue of NATO not leaping to the UK's defence, don't forget that NATO is a U.S. dominated institution. A lot of people involved in the EU project dearly want to find something that would give the EU 'big-hitter' status. Backing the UK on this would achieve both this goal and that of bringing the UK onside for continued EU expansion. Also remember the EU response was quite belligerent with regard to recent tensions between Russia and Estonia, not to mention the rhetoric flying around with regards to Georgia (and proposed EU membership of the latter)...


Anonymous said...

Yes, but the EU will deem the UK the imperialist aggressor and the Falklands not EU territory and ignore it, and how do we enforce it?

Katabasis said...

I think even the most anglophobic member of the EU will be forced to regard the Falklands as sovereign UK territory.

I'd agree with you if the U.K. launched some kind of pre-emptive strike. However if Argentina attacks first (again), the rest of the EU member states are either committed to what it says in article 42 or they are not. If they aren't then the entire treaty can then be seen to be bunk IMHO.

Anonymous said...

France has even more "anachronic" overseas possessions than the UK. It would be in their benefit to set a precedent.

Anonymous said...

Feedburner provides the facility for fans to subscribe to your posts via email.

Should you add this widget to your blog, I'd be happy to be your first subscriber.

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Anonymous said...

Yeah thats all very nice in theory. But the Eu is a financial power, it doesn't have any teeth. The USA has already attacked the EU for lacking any commitment for military actions.

Katabasis said...

@Fausty - thanks for the suggestion! I have added a subscription by email feedburner block on the right (under 'followers').

@other commenters - I've added some more points in response to comments here and elsewhere.