The United Nations endorsed an extension of Argentina’s maritime territory earlier this week, a move hailed as “very significant” by President Mauricio Macri. However, it appears the decision will make little difference to the country’s claim to the British-ruled Malvinas Islands.
The U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf unanimously ratified Argentina’s claim to expand the official area of its shelf in the South Atlantic, where the hotly disputed islands lie, 300 miles (482 kilometers) off Argentina’s Patagonian coast.
Although the decision is not yet final, Argentina's foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, praised the U.N., and suggested the move will further strengthen the South American country’s claim to the islands, known to the British as the Falklands.
"We have taken a great step forward in demarcating the outer limit of our continental shelf," Malcorra said in a statement. "This reaffirms our sovereignty rights over the resources of our continental shelf."
Malcorra said the new maritime boundary will expand the area of continental shelf under Argentine sovereignty by 656,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), into waters that are potentially rich in oil.
Britain and Argentina fought a bloody, 10-week war in 1982 after Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, leader of the Argentine military dictatorship, invaded the islands amid large-scale civil unrest against his repressive regime.
The short conflict claimed the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 British soldiers and three islanders.
Despite the pending increase in Argentina’s territory, it seems unlikely that the expansion will alter the United Kingdom’s sovereignty over the windswept islands.
Soon after the decision was announced, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stressed that the U.N had not ruled on the country's claim over the Malvinas, which is home to a mere 2,932 people.
"The commission did not consider and qualify the parts of the submission that were subject to dispute and the parts that relate to the continental shelf pertinent to Antarctica," Dujarric said.
A U.N. statement added that the commission had previously decided it was not in a position to consider areas that were subject to dispute.
Both the British and Malvinas Island governments were quick to play down suggestions that the U.N. decision might open the door for negotiations over the governance of the archipelago, which has been in British hands since 1833.
“The commission has no jurisdiction over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands,” the U.K. Foreign Office said in a statement released on Tuesday.
A Downing Street spokesperson asked people to consider the will of the islanders to remain as a British overseas territory. A 2013 referendum revealed that 99.8 percent of its residents favored to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Residents receive large subsidies from the British government for living on the islands.
“What’s important is what do the Falkland Islanders themselves think? They’ve been clear that they want to remain an overseas territory of the U.K. and we will still support their right to determine their own future,” she said.
The island's government also rejected Argentina's claims that a maritime border judgment by U.N. experts had strengthened its hand against Britain.
"Argentine statements which suggest that the sovereign position in the Falkland Islands has changed as a result of this decision are wholly misleading," the islands' government said in a statement. "The U.N. statement makes no adjudication on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and has no implications for the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands or our right to develop our territorial waters."
It seems unlikely President Macri will want to stoke political tension with the U.K., unlike his predecessor, President Cristina Kirchner, who campaigned vociferously for a change in the island’s governance.
Upon his election late last year, the right-wing leader told The Guardian he wanted “a new kind of relationship” with Britain, although he said he is believes Argentina’s claim over the Malvinas Islands is valid.