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Politics & Law Series: Research Spotlight

Argentina's announcement that the UN had endorsed its claim to waters around Falkland Islands was false, according to new study

Analysis by Emeritus Professor Peter Willetts reveals the UN refused to approve Argentine claim

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

Argentina’s announcement in March 2016 that the UN had endorsed its claim to waters surrounding the Falkland Islands was false, according to a new study.

The findings show that the country has been granted new maritime territory in the region – but this does not include waters around the Falklands and it is a fraction of the area Argentina announced it had gained earlier this year.

Peter Willetts, Emeritus Professor in the Department of International Politics at City University London, has outlined his study in a new paper, Delimitation of the Argentine Continental Shelf.

Argentina originally claimed it had secured a large new area of sea-bed in March, citing new recommendations from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

However, the CLCS recommendations were not publicly available at the time and have only just been published on its website (Monday 23rd May).

Professor Willetts said: “I was surprised by the original news stories and, the more I looked into the question, the more baffled I became. In March, only Penguin News, the weekly newspaper in the Falklands, challenged what the Argentine foreign ministry was saying.

“This analysis shows that neither Britain nor Argentina can separately gain any internationally recognised rights to exploit the resources of the continental shelf, in the south-west Atlantic, so long as the Falklands-Malvinas dispute continues.”

In 2009, Argentina submitted a formal claim to sovereignty over a large continental shelf, across hundreds of miles of the sea-bed to the east and south of Argentina.

In March this year, Professor Willetts says newspapers around the world incorrectly reported the whole Argentine submission had been endorsed.

In late May, the CLCS made public its legally binding Summary of Recommendations, revealing that they had refused to consider Argentina’s claim to three major areas:

  • Seas around the Falkland Islands
  • Seas around another British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic – South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • Seas around Argentina’s territorial claim in Antarctica (not eligible under the Antarctic Treaty).

Now Professor Willetts says there never was any realistic chance of complete success for the country, because international law forbids the CLCS to consider “unresolved land or maritime disputes”.

He said: “It remains a mystery how professional staff in the Argentine foreign ministry could fail to appreciate what was happening in the Commission. It was clear for over six and a half years, from August 2009 to March 2016 that the Commission would not and could not approve the whole submission.”


Delimitation of the Argentine Continental Shelf

To read the full paper, Delimitation of the Argentine Continental Shelf, click here or download a PDF. © South Atlantic Council and Peter Willetts, May 2016.

The paper was written by Professor Peter Willetts for the South Atlantic Council. The views expressed in South Atlantic Council Occasional Papers are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by all members of the Council or City University London. The paper may be freely copied and printed, in whole or in part, for any non-commercial purposes, provided that any quotations are made without any amendments and that both the author and the SAC are cited.

South Atlantic Council

The South Atlantic Council was formed in December 1983, in the aftermath of the Falklands-Malvinas conflict, with the aim of improving relations between Britain, Argentina and the islanders.

Its membership is composed of up to fifty UK citizens, drawn from parliament, academia, business, the media, the law, diplomacy and the churches.

The Council

  • seeks to influence policy-makers and opinion leaders, and to stimulate informed public debate;
  • has contributed to the restoration of diplomatic relations and contact within civil society, through the holding of a series of Argentine-British Conferences;
  • has published a series of Occasional Papers to provide background political analysis and to generate discussion about options for the future of the Islands; and
  • has facilitated discussion, both at the Council's own meetings and at other events, among politicians and officials from Argentina, Britain and the Islands.

The Council is independent and does not collectively take a position on what settlement to the dispute should be adopted, except that it should be acceptable to the three parties.

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