On double standards

As a democrat, I believe in people’s equal rights to live under a government of their choosing. I believe in self-determination, and I believe that a people who have lived on their own islands for nearly 200 years and who almost unanimously want to stay under their current government have every right to remain so. As such, I frankly cannot see what is so complicated about the case of the Falkland Islands.

If the argument is territorial integrity, then I fail to see why Argentina’s share of Tierra del Fuego (non-contiguous, on an island mainly in Chile) is legitimate while the Falklands (300 miles away) are not. Nor do I understand why the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, Alaska, French Guiana, Kaliningrad and many others besides somehow fit the bill. I don’t accept that 3,000 people living on a previously uninhabited set of islands are somehow a remnant of colonisation to be subjugated or deported. I simply do not concede that Argentina has any argument worthy of the name.

My party leader’s view that the UK should discuss sovereignty over the Falklands with Argentina, despite the clearly expressed wishes of their people, thus strikes me as unconscionable. Never mind whether British voters believe that British citizens in British territory who wish to remain British have every right to remain so, though they do. Never mind whether a leader who refuses to defend his fellow citizens from foreign aggression is unelectable, though he is. His stance is just plain wrong.

The correct position is: “The United Kingdom holds no selfish or strategic interest in the Falkland Islands and is more than happy to discuss matters of day-to-day concern with the Argentine Republic. Its only concern is to uphold the democratic rights of its people. On the day it can be shown that Falklanders’ wishes have changed, the UK Government will do all in its power to fulfil them. Until that day arrives, it will not abandon its fellow citizens. Sovereignty can only be placed on the table by the Falklanders themselves.”

So far, so simple. But many people who support Corbyn on this issue come back with accusations of hypocrisy. They ask: “But what about the Chagos Islands? What about the handover of Hong Kong? Why is realpolitik fine for them?” The argument extends over huge swathes of British foreign policy.

In many cases, the response is that it’s not “fine for them”. The UK’s treatment of the Chagossians was and remains unconscionable, too: we should never have been willing to remove 2,000 people from their islands just so our ally could be assured of not having anyone anywhere near its military base. We should put matters right now, and Corbyn has every right to point out the West’s hypocrisies in the Indian Ocean. But that makes no difference to the rights and wrongs of the Falklands.

In many others, though, the answer is murkier: unlovely pragmatism is often required in foreign policy. Hong Kong was, at least in part, a case in point. The UK had a permanent legal title to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but not the New Territories. It may well have been that Hong Kongers would have preferred a political arrangement which didn’t involve being part of the largest dictatorship on Earth, but the bottom line was that Hong Kong’s water supplies depended on the New Territories, China had no intention of re-leasing them, the UK would have had no military ability to defend Hong Kong anyway, and no one was going to help us do so.

The only option available was to make the best terms available. You might (validly) question whether the best terms were, in fact, made; you might decry the UK Government’s failure to press China on behalf of Hong Kong since 1997; you absolutely should lay into John Major’s Tories for refusing to offer the Hong Kong Chinese British citizenship. But no UK Government could seriously have been expected to try and defend Hong Kong against the People’s Liberation Army.

Realpolitik is usually ugly, but often necessary. However, there’s no conceivable need to trample on the Falkland Islanders. Argentina’s periodic fits of pique are an irritant, but no more than that. No lease is about to expire; no water supplies depend on Buenos Aires. The UK doesn’t have to put the sovereignty of the Falklands on the table: it would be an act of choice, not compulsion.

One of the most pernicious aspects of much of the hard left’s foreign policy is that it lays into the UK’s cynical or pragmatic compromises (sometimes necessary, sometimes not) not to call for a policy based on consistent defence of human rights or self-determination or the rule of law, but simply a policy based on the assumption that the West is always wrong. And it devalues the very notion of aiming for a genuinely better foreign policy as a result, because it refuses to set consistent yardsticks: we’re wrong whatever we do.

This isn’t just whataboutery to avoid the issue: it’s whataboutery in the name of dismissing virtually every other principle in favour of callow anti-Western, anti-American sloganeering. So Syria ceases to be a question of what can best be done to combat ISIS, or protect civilians, or negotiate a deal – but an opportunity to denounce the sins of Britain, France and America. Ukraine ceases to be about the rights of democracies on the border of an aggressive great power, or how best to allow Ukrainians to live in peace under a government they chose, but a chance to snipe at NATO enlargement. And yes, the Falklands cease to be the home of 3,000 people who have rights like the rest of us and become a chance to complain about British colonialism.

Foreign policy is often murky; double standards are often unavoidable. It is sad indeed that, in the name of a more ethical foreign policy, parts of the left wish to add so many more, with no real need or purpose.

13 thoughts on “On double standards

  1. Well said. The evacuation of the Chagos was not well handled (mainly by Labour governments) but the Mauritians from Chagos have been well compensated as identified at the Court of Human Rights. Three times in fact, although the Government of mauritius appears to have stolen much of the first compensation. Now the Mauritians from Chagos have a different problem. Most of them took British citizenship as part of one of the compensation packages which means they are no longer Mauritians. Last year’s PCA decision means that one day Mauritius will get the archipelago back. The question is, will Mauritius allow the return of now British citizens (with ideas of independence) onto a mauritian archipelago.

    Life is rarely fair, and always complicated.

    1. Thanks for commenting. The Chagossians’ story is not one from which either Labour or the Conservatives emerge with any credit: both Wilson and Heath’s Governments were involved in their removal and, of course, no Government since has moved on the issue.

      I hadn’t heard that Chagossians had any significant pro-independence body of opinion, I must admit: I’d be interested to see information about that. I understood there was considerable division about whether a resettled population would want to remain linked to the UK or join Mauritius. It’s certainly a cat’s cradle now, but fundamentally our actions were indefensible (whatever the compensation, evicting an entire people from their archipelago can’t be right).

  2. I wonder where is the great pacifist .. now that we know Russia has just dropped a dirty bomb on London to kill somebody and radiate the rest of us?.. The great pacifist’s only reply is to hand in our nuclear weapons! .. When Ukraine did that, the next day the great pacifist’s Mecca: Mother Russia stole a big chunk of Ukraine and started exporting terror to the rest.. The great pacifist will only bring out his stop the war brothers if the obscene took place like if England tried to defend its capital against the terrorist Putin. .. that would be intolerable!
    When Mother Russia messed up Afghanistan for years and now has been messing up Syria for five years.. where is the stop the war campaign.. ? Only against the British of course.. if they dare to defend the British people and the Syrian people..

    1. Thanks for commenting. Trident is a (distinct) issue on which I may well write at some point: certainly, my own view is that we should maintain a nuclear deterrent. As you say, Stop the War seems to be distinctly unfussed about Russian aggression as opposed to Western intervention of any kind (though fairness compels me to mention that, though they did of course have people who felt much the same way, the Stop the War Coalition didn’t exist to be apologists for the USSR in 1979-89!).

  3. Your statement: “The correct position is: “The United Kingdom holds no selfish or strategic interest in the Falkland Islands and is more than happy to discuss matters of day-to-day concern with the Argentine Republic.” is incorrect. The Falkland Islands are a “Self Governing Territory” – as such, any “day-to-day concern” is a matter for the Falkland Islands Government. Although the UK Government is prepared to help the islanders in any way, it’s responsibilities are (strictly speaking) only Foreign Policy and Defence. This is a major part of the issue, as the Argentinian Government refuses to recognise the FIG. It sees the Islanders as colonists or squatters, even though Britain’s claim to the Islands pre-dates Argentina’s by more than 100 years!
    Yes, Britain’s past might not have been as honourable as it should have been, but that does not mean that we are going to act that way now. We can, and have, learnt the lessons of the past. Argentina is a former Spanish colony itself – a fact the Argentinians themselves are quick to forget. Moreover, Argentinians whose opinion is that they couldn’t care less about the Falklands are quickly (and sometimes brutally) silenced. Corbyn should be thanking the fact that he lives in a more tolerant country where he can freely express his opinions.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I should clarify that I was thinking of models like the 1995 and 1999 agreements on offshore exploration and fish stocks, where the UK and Argentina were the negotiating parties formally, but Falkland Islands MLCs were included in the UK delegation. As you rightly say, the Falklands are autonomous in all but foreign policy and defence, but Overseas Territories can’t become party to treaties in their own right without express UK consent. I should probably have been clearer on that: we certainly agree that no one should be acting in areas which fall within the Falklands’ powers without their consent and agreement.

  4. As’re Democrat, I imagine that you too support the self-determination of the people of Crimea. Although Russia ” invaded ” that territory, there is no doubt that most of the population wants to be Russian.
    Meanwhile, today in the Falklands, the ‘natives living makes 200”, are a minority … so much so that since the 90’s came many Chileans, new British, Santahelenos, ect claiming self-determination.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I think there was very considerable doubt whether the majority of the Crimean population wanted to be part of Russia, to put it at its mildest, though if anywhere did, that would be the area. Crimea is undoubtedly overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, but a substantial share of those people are Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Even being ethnically Russian (the majority status) is no automatic guarantee of preferring Russian rather than Ukrainian citizenship. Opinion polling before the intervention suggested a majority supported some sort of status within Ukraine and/or opposed incorporation into Russia. It should also be pointed out that Crimea did vote (narrowly) to endorse Ukrainian independence in 1991.

      I also don’t think it’s acceptable for a state to invade its neighbour to grab territory – full stop. We should be clear on what happened. A few days after Yanukovich fled Ukraine, anonymous Russian troops started to take over Crimea. Even Putin subsequently admitted that Russian troops were at least involved. The referendum was held just over a month after the takeover, with no international observers except from a group who are expressly pro-Putin. Media coverage was one-sided (with one channel closed down); paramilitaries and militia were on the the streets; opposition activists were widely harassed; Tatars’ representative bodies called for a boycott. Perhaps the mood changed post-Yanukovich, but there’s no reliable evidence of that – only a transparently unfair referendum held by fiat.

      You’re right that the Falklands’ population is more mixed than people might think, with a large proportion of work permit holders. Censuses don’t include the military residents on the Islands, either. But a clear majority of residents identify themselves as Falkland Islanders when asked, and a majority of long-term residents were born on the Falklands. In any event, given that the second-largest group by far is people born in the UK, followed by St Helena and then Chile, the wishes of the population aren’t in doubt – as the 2013 referendum (free and fair, unlike the Crimean one) showed.

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