A new defence review released by the UK government sparked an angry reaction in Argentina this week, with Buenos Aires accusing Downing Street of holding a “traditional colonialist view" over the disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.
The document, titled Global Britain in a Competitive Age, represents one of the biggest overhauls of security, defence and foreign policy in the UK since the Cold War era, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
While mention of the disputed islands – which the two sides fought a brief war over in 1982 – was brief, limited in fact to just two paragraphs in more than 100 pages, the Conservative government’s declaration that it would continue defending “the sovereignty” of the islands with military power sparked an inevitable reaction. Britain said its Armed Forces would “maintain a permanent presence” in the Malvinas, in order to ensure security for the islanders.
Within hours, the Foreign Ministry had criticised the UK’s position for its “traditional colonialist perspective,” while urging the European nation to “listen to the international community that promotes the end of colonialism in the world.”
While there was no official response from the UK government to those claims, the document presented by Johnson before Parliament this week underlines the importance of Latin America for post-Brexit Britain.
In the review, which discusses the country’s new outlook and its place in the global market, Downing Street names multiple countries with which it wants to strengthen relations.
“We will deepen our ties with Brazil and Mexico, strengthening partnerships on trade, innovation, climate, security and development as well as working with Argentina, Chile and Colombia to support our interests,” it reads.
Ties between Argentina and the UK improved under former president Mauricio Macri, with the Malvinas dispute put aside to focus on areas of joint cooperation. However, following the change of government here in 2019, the sovereignty dispute has become a more prominent theme in talks between the nations.
Sources from the government said this week that the Alberto Fernández administration is willing to work with and negotiate with the UK, so long as the issue of sovereignty regarding the Malvinas, Sandwich and South Georgia Islands are on the agenda.
The new report also notably announces an increase to Britain's nuclear arsenal, reversing a previous commitment to reduce the stockpile to 180 warheads by pledging to increase it to 260 by the end of the decade, "in recognition of the evolving security environment."
"The overriding purpose of this review is to make the United Kingdom stronger, safer and more prosperous while standing up for our values," the Prime Minister told Parliament on Wednesday. "[It] describes how we will bolster our alliances, strengthen our capabilities, find new ways of reaching solutions and re-learn the art of competing against states with opposing values."
In a foreword to the review, Johnson stated that Britain, which formally left the European Union last year, would look to "enjoy constructive and productive relationships" with remaining bloc members.
But he added the Brexit divorce deal agreed with Brussels "gives us the freedom to do things differently and better, both economically and politically."