This, while reprehensible, may not be particularly shocking news. After all, if the stunning whistle-blowing of recent years- in which Snowden’s role has been documented in the Oscar-winning Citizen Four– has shown us anything, it’s that everybody spies, and the US spies on everybody.
More abnormal and incendiary was the accompanying intelligence that, in tandem with the clandestine spying campaign, the UK government was attempting to influence public opinion in Argentina against the Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner administration. It did so through a full-throttle propaganda war of lies, aimed to undermine CFK’s outspoken stance over the islands’ sovereignty, using social media. The Intercept report, which published Snowden’s findings, said GCHQ (General Communications Headquarters- the UK equivalent to NSA) “has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate page view counts on websites, amplify sanctioned messages on Youtube and plant false Facebook wall posts for entire countries.”
First, British Defense Secretary Micheal Fallon under Prime Minister Cameron’s approval decided to increase the military presence on the islands by introducing new Surface to Air missile systems and Chinook helicopters. Plus, an extra £180 million from the Defense budget will be added to bolster the bristling armaments on the Malvinas. In a purely military sense this was an utterly pointless move, as a quick glance at Argentina’s military capabilities will demonstrate. Simply put, the Islands and their population are under no credible immediate security threat. What’s more, the current Argentine government has repeatedly insisted its opposition to the use of military force over the issue.
The fear-mongering warnings of imminent attack claimed by the legion right-wing press in the UK failed to convince otherwise. They were led by the Sun newspaper, a corporate tabloid now so pro- government (it’s the Conservative party in power after all) that it makes Pravda look like a paragon of balance and objectivity.
This is the same newspaper incidentally that proclaimed “Gotcha!” in one infamous headline during the war for the Islands in 1982. It was celebrating the news that Margaret Thatcher’s order to sink the Argentine warship Belgrano- fleeing at the time back towards Argentina- had been carried out, and 323 young Argentine conscripts forced into military service by the dictatorship were drowned.
The stench of Thatcher’s zombified corpse is still palpable. Its influence over British politics is suffocating enough. But it reaches further afield, touching this dispute too. Like Thatcher, Cameron appears to be using the Malvinas as a political top trump when he finds himself on the ropes at home.
For its own part, Cristina’s administration here in Argentina and its representatives in London responded with justifiable indignation to all these developments. Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Britain’s actions “do not correspond to the world they publicly say that they want to live in, a republican world of respect and in which human rights are a fundamental pillar.”
Meanwhile, both countries have summoned each other’s ambassadors recently as the temperature of the row rises. To what ends, it remains to be seen.
Whatever the future brings, antagonizing each other and so risking another conflict can’t be the best way forward. Wars have been started for less than these current political transgressions and this remote archipelago is not worth the cost of more human lives. If regional opinion is indeed swinging behind Argentina’s claim, then Cristina and whoever her successor may be ought to be patient. Argentina has a sound basis for negotiating, and so can afford to resist rising too petulantly to British provocation.
Pursuit of diplomacy and appealing to international law and NGO’s, as recent Argentine Presidents have done year on year at the UN, is the peaceable and therefore preferable option. Raising the ghost of a tragic war by further militarizing the region, antagonizing the opposite nation and stoking up the possibility of conflict again is as dangerous as it is irresponsible. Whatever government the United Kingdom winds up with by next month, rejecting this current approach to the South Atlantic would be a good way to demonstrate the multilateral and democratic values Britain purports to uphold internationally.