The Gibraltarians want a referendum. The Falkland islanders will have one in a few days. Is a referendum the solution to a sovereignty dispute? Gibraltar, Falkland islands, Kashmir, Kuril islands, and some others have elements in common that make them hard cases in international relations. In very simplistic and schematic terms, we have in all these conflicts two sovereign States that have been and still are claiming exclusive sovereignty over a populated third territory.
We will focus now on one element that has been previously used in some of these disputes and will be used in the Falklands case: the referendum. Any process that is to be considered serious about achieving a peaceful understanding between Argentina and the United Kingdom must provide an answer to the question: what to do with the Falkland islands? Does the referendum address this question?
We have to make clear there are two two main issues here:
a) what really concerns the three parties; in other words, are they really concerned about the sovereignty issue?
b) assuming the main concern of the three parties was the sovereignty over the third territory, what options should be considered for referendum?
We will try with this post to see possible answers to the first question, the real concern of the claiming parties. Why do we think Argentineans, Britons or Falkland islanders are so concerned about the sovereignty over the islands? Is that really so?
A good example of what the political speech says and what people really want is Kashmir. In 2009 a poll was commissioned and administered in this territory. This was the first poll to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the UN-brokered ceasefire on 1 January 1949.
The sample was of 3,774 people with face to face interviews. The respondents were adults aged over 16. Of the total respondents 2,374 were from 11 of the 14 districts in which is divided Jammu and Kashmir. The rest of the respondents, 1400 people, were from seven of the eight districts in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
For the majority the sovereignty issue was an important problem. However, when compared to other realities the poll showed clearly that the people of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control have other concerns they believed more relevant. A vast majority thought unemployment was the most significant problem (66% in AJK and 87% in J&K). Kashimiris were also concerned about Government corruption (22% AJK and 68% J&K), economic development (42% AJK, 45% J&K), human rights abuses (19% AJK, 43% J&K) and the Kashmir conflict itself (24% AJK, 36% J&K).
Similarly, has anyone asked what the main problems for the Argentineans? And what about the Britons and the Falkland islanders? In other words, is the Falkland issue really so relevant for the populations of Argentina, the United Kingdom and the Falkland islands?
In law as in politics we have an ideal and a real side. Ideally, we would have elements and institutions clearly defined and coherently working that secured a fair society both internally and internationally. And none of these elements would be used to hide any other or its consequences. In reality, and in particular in realpolitk, it is more than evident that governments use certain issues to obtain internal cohesion in order to avoid certain other problem. For example, what about if State X used a sovereign conflict to “create” an external threat? Wouldn’t that simple technique help in having internal cohesion? Besides, wouldn’t it “distract” the attention from some other more relevant issues like corruption, unemployment, development and human rights abuses? And that only to mention the ones from the Kashmir poll.
In the next post we will seethe questions that should be considered for a referendum. Assuming that the sovereignty issue was relevant for the three parties, we need to discuss what options would be offered to the respective populations to choose from. Therefore, we will see the implications of having only one question with only one option. For more information in reference to the referendum in the Falklands islands, the question and dates see: