This Thursday will mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina -- a 10-week affair that could be considered Britain’s last “military victory.”
The mini-war killed more than 900 people on both sides and wounded another 1,800.
Reportedly, after the surrender of Argentine troops was announced, Londoners appeared outside Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s residence at No. 10 Downing Street and serenaded her with the patriotic song of empire, ''Rule Britannia.''
Over the past three decades, the conflict over these remote islands in the South Atlantic Ocean has never really subsided – Argentina, which calls the islands Las Malvinas, still claims the territory as its own, citing sovereignty through inheritance from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s.
Argentina wants to negotiate a handover of the islands to Buenos Aires, while London adamantly refuses to contemplate any such thing.
The British government firmly asserts its right to the Falklands under the strength of its near-continuous administration of the islands since 1833. Westminster also cites the Falkland Islanders' right to self determination, including their right to remain British if that is their wish.
British Prime Minister David Cameron complained earlier this year that Argentina has a colonialist attitude towards the Falklands – a statement quickly condemned by the Argentine Senate.
Cameron’s remarks also prompted a protest at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, where Argentine demonstrators demanded that diplomatic ties to London be cut.
Argentina frequently refers to the Falklands (a.k.a. Malvinas) as an “illegally occupied territory,” for example when Prince William made a highly publicized visit to the islands in February.
The matter has flared recently with salty rhetoric between Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and various senior officials of the British government, including Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, who claimed that Buenos Aires is attempting to impose an economic blockade on the Falkland Islands by preventing the development of tourism there.
Among other measures, Argentine ships have turned back cruise ships featuring the Union Jack, while Argentina has also declared that offshore oil exploration projects by British companies in the region are “illegal.”
Not coincidentally, Browne is scheduled to visit the Falklands to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “liberation.”
The British are seemingly eager to hold onto these piles of rocks in the middle of a distant sea.
The chairman of Parliament’s Defence Select Committee, James Arbuthnot, recently even threatened: If the Falkland Islands were by any chance to be retaken by Argentina, we would take it back. Argentina should be in no doubt of that at all.
Located less than 300 miles from the Argentine coast (and 7,900 miles from London), the Falklands comprise two principal islands with a population of about 3,100. The islanders are overwhelmingly of British descent (with a sprinkling of other Northern Europeans) and have UK citizenship.
The islands' economy is tied to farming and fishing, although tourism is increasing in importance. Falklanders use a currency called the “Falkland pound” (which is, in fact, freely exchangeable for the better known pound sterling).
English, of course, is the national language, and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state.
The fact that Britain would fight so hard to keep the Falklands under its umbrella may reflect desperation on its part to hold onto the last vestiges of its once-great empire.
Indeed, the British Empire was the greatest empire the world has ever known – dwarfing those of the Romans, Mongols and Russians.
At its peak in the early 20th century, the British Empire controlled about one-fifth of the planet’s real estate and its population (which, of course, included India). Not even the legendary Roman Empire could compare in size and scope.
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the “British Empire” (or, more appropriately, what’s left of it) seems to consist primarily of a handful tiny islands scattered across the Atlantic, Caribbean, Pacific and Indian oceans: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena; South Georgia and Turks and Caicos.
In the parlance of government, these are classified as “British Overseas Territories,” which basically means that they are self-governing, but remain under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
Combined, they account for a total population of about 260,000 (or less than 3 percent of the population of Greater London). In fact, Pitcairn and South Georgia barely have 200 living souls between them.
Britain’s last great colonial holding, Hong Kong, slipped away in July 1997 – taking with it one of the world’s great financial hubs and a population of some 8 million.
Now, the Falklands, a windy group islands populated largely by sheep, are the remains of empire.