April 07, 2007

Nationalism again

The Political Umpire has posted several fascinating articles on the Falklands- his latest raises some interesting questions upon which I wish to elaborate. The argument is basically over what constitutes a nation- the Argentinian claim to the Falklands is based upon the fact that they are part of Argentina, no matter what the opinion of their inhabitants, the British view is that the views of the inhabitants count. In a sense you can see a similar dispute in operation in the South China Sea between China and Taiwan- where China states the first principle and the ROK the second, the same principles are in confrontation also in Gilbrater and in Northern Ireland.

One of the interesting things about these kinds of dispute is that there is an issue about what constitutes a nation- generally we accept the 1919 idea that self determination constitutes a nation- for example Britain is a nation if the majority of the British consider themselves to be British. In that sense it might seem obvious that the Argentinian, Chinese and Spanish claims have to be rejected- but there is a hidden problem here- what constitutes a territory? As it is definitely true say that if the whole of China voted including Taiwan that Taiwan is part of China does that make the legitimate government of Taiwan Chinese- and if it doesn't, where and on what justification do you draw the line. For example were Kent to vote to become French would it matter that the rest of Britain thought it shouldn't. Where do the proper boundaries lie?

My own sense, and it is pretty provisional, is that politics is the art of the status quo. Eventually boundaries govern where nations lie- so the fact that Taiwan exists means that it is an entity whereas the fact that Kent doesn't means that it isn't. That comes with one proviso though- politics is also the art of the possible- and holding together a nation that wants to split apart or that a significant part wants no part of is an enterprise which creates more problems for the government than is worthwhile- consequently self determination in a democratic system will eventually be acknowledged- as the examples of devolution whether in Scotland, Quebec and the Basque Country show, a central government can more or less successfully attempt to mollify those that don't feel part of the whole. On that ground, Taiwan, the Falklands and Gilbrater should remain independent of China, Argentina and Spain.

Even greater issues can manifest themselves- in territories like Tibet or the Western Sahara even the status of occupants in the territories are in question- for example in the Western Sahara should Morrocans who have been imported into the territory by the government of Morrocco be allowed to vote in any referendum. Should Han Chinese in Tibet be allowed the right to determine the destinies of Tibet? And if that happens does that reward oppressive governments who effectively ethnically replace troublesome populations.

The problems here are huge, the issues are in my view not as simple as they appear. I agree with the Umpire that the Falklands should be British but I do get worried by a simplistic evocation of self-determination- it isn't quite that simple.


Matthew Sinclair said...

The British claim to the Falklands doesn't only rely on the status quo or self-determination. These islands have never been Argentinian. This isn't like Hong Kong where we took a part of a pre-existing state. This was signed to us by Spain as one colonising power to another.

The only way the Argentinian claim makes any sense is if you argue that the Spanish, as their colonial power, had no right to sign the Falklands over to us. Even then we have just as strong a claim to it as the Spaniards-Argentinians anyway in terms of original colonisation. Read the Wikipedia page.

The reality is that the Argentinian claim is based on a "it's pretty close to us" logic. There's nothing more articulate than that.

Vino S said...

I agree that, in a lot of these cases of national self-deternmination, where you draw the boundaries is key. The Sinn Fein claim that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic comes from claiming a mandate from the 1918 election - where they won most of the seats on the island. They don't recognise the '6 counties' as a unit for self-determination.

In the same way, apparantly, in the midst of the Quebec sovereignty referendum, spokespeople for the Native Americans said that, if Quebec voted for independence from Canada, then they would ask for independence from Quebec for the sparsely populated northern areas of the province which they historically have predominated in.

Political Umpire said...

Thanks for your kind words and a very thoughtful post. Holiday precludes a substantive response but I will try and revert later.

P Ump

Anonymous said...

The Falklands were populated by British people in 1833. Of course the people want to remain British - they ARE British. It is not purely the people present that determine a nation - were it so Britain would have a claim on Ibiza! When the British invaded in 1833 there was already an Argentine settlement ruled from Buenos Aires. The idea that you can invade an island, populate it with your own citizens and then a few generations later claim it is your purely because the people that live there are your citizens is absurd.

Gracchi said...

Umpire enjoy your holiday!

Anonymous- yes that is precisely the issue I'm trying to get at. Its not as simple as it seems from your narrative. As far as I understand until the 18th Century noone lived on those islands. The history then gets complicated- the British actually arrived there in 1766 establishing a settlement (the French arrived in 1767 and passed their claim to the Spanish) and were then forced out by the Spanish in 1774 and then forced out the Argentinians who had inherited the Spanish claim in 1833. Its more like the idea that the British and Argentinians (or Spanish) arrived at teh same time and have been bickering ever since about who gets the islands. In that case the Islanders do have rights over which nation they belong to.