In 1982, one of the most unexpected
wars of the history burst. Indeed, Argentina and Great Britain fought a savage battle with an aim of
allotting some islands located in the South Atlantic, where the number of sheep (650 000) is higher than
this of inhabitants (1800). The Falklands isles are located in the southern area of the Atlantic Ocean . They are composed of two hundred islands whose the
larger are the Eastern and Western Falklands, both
including the small contiguous islands. According to the Argentinians,
Spanish navigator Esteban Gomez discovered the Malvinas in 1520. For
British, it was actually done by John Davies in 1592. So when at the
of the 19th century, Argentina became independent of Spain, it affirmed its sovereignty on the
Malvinas without any English protest. However, in 1883, with the favour
disorders in the archipelago, Great Britain sized the Falkland Islands, expelled its inhabitants, proclaiming
that the United Kingdom never had given up its rights. Argentina protested, but without any result. Since,
it did not cease wanting to integrate the Falklands as a whole part of its own territory. Thus are
settled the fundamental roots of the conflict.
Since centuries, the question of the sovereignty
of these islands has been a cause of disagreement between several
there was not any fierce fighting. We can wonder why Argentina decided to use force in order to reconquer the Falklands Islands. To explain this, we can point up three main elements
which are the geostrategical et economical asset of the Falklands, the catastrophic domestic situation in Argentina and the difficulties of Thatcher’s first term.
archipelago, that does not seem to have particular interest at first
been a subject of desire between these countries?
The Falklands Islands are situated in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, are made up by to main Islands and about two hundreds islets that stretch over 12000
However due to its geographical situation, the control
of these islands can be decisive during a war because of the maritime
between Atlantic and Pacific : The Cape Horn. Indeed, in this region,
weather conditions can be so terrible that a naval base is essential to
influence and can be used for a withdrawal.
At first sight, these islands don’t seem to
contain a lot of natural resources but in fact they are full of it.
The main asset of these islands is the proximity of
Antarctic. Actually, this “Ice Desert” is full of economic goods.
First, it keeps 65 percents of worldwide fresh water
and currently this fact cannot be neglected. Indeed, many experts
fresh water issue as the most problematic stake of this century. For
in the poorest regions of the world, like in Africa, fresh water is a very rare good and the repercussions
population are terrible. In the future, it would probably have
regions that are already stroke by military conflicts or faced with
Besides, these islands have also interest for
fishing. Indeed, when a state owns a territory, even if it is just a
island, it also holds it an exclusive fishing zone. This fact is very
as an Exclusive Fishing Area can represent a real godsend in this very
competitive economy sector.
Finally yet importantly, Atlantic oil resources
are quite important and could represent strong reserves for a country
would want to fend off OPEC’s monopoly for oil production.
We have tackled the economic and geostrategic stakes
of the domination of these islands but in fact they are not enough to
why Argentina decided to invade this territory. More precisely, the
main explanation of the start of the war was the catastrophic domestic
situation in Argentina.
Argentina : a country at the
edge of implosion
In 1982, a military junta that had taken power in 1976
thanks to a putsch directed Argentina. Indeed, in March 1976 the 27th, the president of the
Argentinian Republic, Isabel Peron, was toppled by a military Coup d'etat
carried out by the
General Jorge Rafael Videla. The widow of former president Juan Peron
stopped and retained captive by the army. This one constitutes without
a military junta "to fight subversion" in the country. The military
putsch will plunge Argentina in an economic and political stagnation without
precedent. The six
years of military dictatorship will involve the disappearance of 30 000
people. So we can say that between 1976
and 1983, a state of fear existed in Argentina. General Videla took the power after this putsch and
he ruled with an iron hand the country until he retired in 1981.
succeeded him on March 29 1981. Nine months later, on Dec. 21, 1981, the de-facto government announced that Viola was
stepping down for
reasons of health, and General Galtieri took the post.
First, from an economic point of view, Argentina was in prey with a serious economic crisis. Indeed,
during this time, Argentina’s economy was performing poorly and its activity
was collapsing. The
symptoms of this depression were numerus:
The rate of
unemployment was the highest since 1945. Indeed, 25% of the working
the level of
the wages was very low : for an index of 100 in 1975, it was 44 in 1981
Domestic Product (GDP) was shrinking by almost 6 percent a year.
Argentina had a high debt level : 40 billion dollars
Argentina did not control any more its inflation rate and
inflation was about
General Galtieri was Argentina head of state when he decided to reopen Argentina’s demands for the Falklands. Indeed, this
General wanted to distract the population from the economic crisis and
Then, from a social point of view, the authority
of the junta seemed to weaken. The Junta’s worst nightmare was
unfolding : the Labour
Forces were joining forces with “Las Madres de Mayo”, an
represented relatives of political prisoners and missing. It was a
interest group made up of the mothers of children missing during the
suppression. This alliance meant that the enormous Argentine middle
united against the Junta.
The Junta was at time in a very tricky situation;
it was under pressure and was forced to find a solution in order to
itself from popular dissatisfaction. That is why the Junta decided to
the Falklands. It’s true that, for Argentina, the Falklands Islands have always been a focus of national unity so the
government saw them as a primary means of regaining popularity. It
the reconquest of these islands would consolidate its power but the
this military action and the rise of the opposition were not long in
even more their position.
Great Britain : The Thatcher years
In Great Britain, the year 1979 marked a milestone in British History
with the election of the first woman Prime Minister : Margaret
Indeed, she had taken the Tory Party leadership from Ted Health in
1979, she led the party to victory and was to do so again in 1983 and
is why political commentators gave to this period the name of
We can say that Thatcher’s decision to land
forces in the Falklands Islands was the result of two main factors : the difficult
internal situation in Great Britain and Thatcher’s political ideas, above all in
She militated for
virtues of rigour such as a strong defence, a vigorous foreign policy
and she was
for very firm standpoint on the law and the internal order. Moreover,
believed in a strong government more nationalist than turned towards Europe.
So we can say that Margaret Thatcher was really an
Lady “who was not ready to make concessions and even less to let
be attack without trying to counterattack.
That could be also found in a style that was founded on a direct and
behaviour and a constant refusal of the consensus.
However, its political convictions are not enough to
its decision to retort with the Argentinean aggression. In addition, we
now have a look at what occurred in Great Britain at the beginning of
situation in Great
Mrs. Thatcher’s early
years as prime minister
were marked by a multitude of difficulties. She entered office upon a
scene that would only get worse. Her policy of high interest rates hit
business, prolonging a deep recession brought about by an international
crisis in the summer of 1979. When she arrived at power, she wanted to
economic decline and to reduce the extent of the state. During
term, Britain suffered
economic and social tension that would make more difficult her desire
to stop Britain’s
decline since the end of the Empire.
a severe recession in the early 1980’s, and the Government's
was widely blamed. Various aspects of this crisis :
unemployment was in constant increase
and was at its highest level since decades : Unemployment soon passed
million, a figure unthinkable just a few years before
inflation was too much important for
a financial power such as Great Britain since it was 20%
in the same time there was a fall of
solidarity and an increase in the inequalities
Industry, that is the traditionally
strong sector in Great Britain, knew a strong recession
which resulted in the
fall of the industrial production and the multiplication of the strikes
And last but not least, Thatcher’s
economic reforms were inefficient. Indeed, the government’s harsh
policy of high interest rates has just made worst the situation.
at the beginning of the year 1982 the economic situation in the United Kingdom was rather bad and
was, in the same time, the result of the difficult international
situation and of the policies of Margaret Thatcher. Indeed during the
years, there were radical changes for the English economy such as
tax cuts, rigorous control of the money supply, a lot of privatisation.
▪ Moreover, there were also many political tensions in Great Britain, and Margaret
Thatcher was to face a strong opposition at Parliament and even in its
party. Confidence towards the government was very limited and the
a new centre force started to shake the Tory’s position.
The House of Commons played an important part in the
that led the British Forces to recover the Falklands Islands in 1982.
It was the opposition of Tory deputies that prevent British government
continuing the negotiations with Argentina who
aimed at yielding these islands to Argentina. After
the invasion of the Falklands, the
pressure exerted by the House of Common had been so terrible that
Thatcher did not have many options, she only could send a task force to
these islands. If she had not announced on April 2 at an extraordinary
the sending of a task force, it is probable that the Tory deputies
reversed the government. Therefore, she was obliged to follow her
and to send troops in the Falklands Islands.
With the sight of the conjunction from these two
it is easy to explain Thatcher’s decision to make war on Argentina. To a
lesser extent, this war was a good occasion for Thatcher to hide its
difficulties and to regain some prestige.
April the 2nd of 1982, Buenos Aires carried out the unloading of five
thousands argentine marines, who outclassed the tiny British garrison
occupied the whole of Falkland, the islands of South Georgia and Sandwich. The pictures of British prisoners sparked off the
anger and the humiliation of the British opinion. Moreover, the British
Minister Margaret Thatcher refused an attack by a dictator. Consequently, April the 5th
of 1982, the two thirds of the British fleet leaved towards the South Atlantic with on board, the perfectly involved
crews and a few thousands of professional soldiers having already
However, the length of the way to the Falklands did not allow a peaceful solution. a
diplomatic settlement had disappeared and the confrontation appeared
inescapable. The British defined as zone of war a sector of two hundred
around Falkland and threatened to sink any Argentinian
ship in this area.
the 25 of 1985, the hostilities were opened by the unloading of the
in the island of South Georgia and the neutralization of the Argentinian
garrisons. The 30, an air and maritime blockade encircled the
the Argentinians replied by giving the order to their navy and air
break it. So Argentinian aircraft attacked the English ships, causing a
damage in Royal Navy, whereas the Argentinian ships, sailing in extreme
of the delimited zone, were sinking by British submarine.
The May 28, the English troop seized Darwin Port and the airfield of Goose Green, and then
moved to Port Stanley. However, the southern winter conditions
blocked the offensive, and General Moore, commanding the operations,
hitch to convince his adversary to avoid useless losses. June 13, the
attack was carried out. The young Argentinian soldiers, resulting from
conscription, could not resist very long to the British professional
Their lines were quickly inserted and, the Argentinian command, in
with his government, decided to withdraw with his eight thousands men.
So, the June 14, the British
made a triumphal entry in Port Stanley released, putting an end to the conflict.
The result of the invasion of the Islands was a three-month war and the destruction of all
diplomatic progress on
the succession issue before the invasion.
Until the end of April, nobody considers
seriously a military conflict. On the diplomatic level, Great Britain is supported by the countries of the EEC, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And Argentina is supported by the countries of the Andean Pact, Panama and Cuba. At the end of April, all the chances of a diplomatic
exit disappeared and the confrontation appears inevitable.
From the time of the breaking of formal diplomatic
relations (during the 70’s), Peru
diplomatic interests in the UK and Switzerland
represented UK interests in Argentina. Argentine diplomats in London
as Peruvian diplomats of Argentine nationality and the UK diplomats in Buenos Aires
were considered as Swiss diplomats of British nationality. Despite this
civility, and although Peru and Switzerland exerted great diplomatic effort to avoid war, they were
unable to head
off the conflict ; a peace
plan proposed by Fernando Terry
was not accepted.
Great Britain argued that the Falkland Islanders were entitled to
use the principle of self-determination. Of
course Mrs Thatcher knew that the
inhabitants want to stay British citizens. However, Argentina rejected it, because of territory based on actions
before 1945 and the creation of the UN. After escalating pressure in
the Argentinians invaded on April 2 1982, destroying the years of negotiations and permanently
changing the face
of the dispute to the state it is in at the present. So on April 3
the UN Security Council
passed Resolution 502,
calling for the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the islands and the
of hostilities. Obviously this resolution was not apply !
The US involvement
Support for anti-communist groups
including armed insurgencies against communist
governments was the main part of administration policy. For example,
administration funded "freedom
fighters" such as the mujahideen
(calling them "an inspiration to those who love freedom"), the Contras
(whom he considered the "moral equivalent of our founding fathers",
despite their killing of thousands of civilians.
That is why Reagan sympathized with Galtieri, because of his
He had received a reportedly warm reception when he visited the US.
Reagan famously declared at the time that he
could not understand why two allies were arguing over "That little
bunch of land down there". Support of the USA was
initially equivocal, and is reported to be the result of urging by a
who advised the President to
support the UK.
The US preoccupation was the Soviet Union
and the spread of the communism.
In the broader sense of the Cold War,
with the performance of UK forces watched closely by the Soviet Union, it was worthwhile for the UK to handle without assistance a conflict minor in
scale compared to an all-out NATO vs. Warsaw Pact
war. Regardless, American non-interference
was vital to the U.S.-British relationship. Finally the USSR supported officially Argentina (the Great Alliance between fascist and communist
regime), that was the signal for Reagan to openely support Great Britain.
Legally, the United States had military treaty obligations to both parties in the
war, bound to
the U.K. by NATO and to Argentina by the Inter-American
Treaty of Reciprocal
Assistance. Made in 1947, it
still an agreement among many American countries, is
also called the Rio
treaty. Following this, Argentina demands an assitance from the US, because the treaty stipulates: “an armed attack
coming from some State against American State will be regarded as an attack against all the
American States. Consequently, each contracting Part is committed to
be facing the attack”. American critics of the U.S. role claimed that, by failing to side with Argentina, the U.S. violated its own Monroe
Doctrine. In September 2001, Mexican
president Vicente Fox
would cite the conflict as proof of the failure of the Inter-American
Treaty of Reciprocal
The Falklands War illustrates the role of
political miscalculation during a war. Both sides seriously
importance of the Falklands to the other. To some, Britain was a former colonial
power, seeking to reclaim a colony from a local power, and this was a
that the Argentines initially used to garner support. To others Britain was seen as the stable democracy
that had had its territory invaded by a military dictatorship.
The war cost the UK 255 men, and more than 1.6 billion pounds, but the
campaign was considered a great victory for the United Kingdom. The war was a massive boost to the popularity of
Margaret Thatcher and played a role in ensuring her re-election in
Several members of her government resigned, including the former Foreign
Secretary Lord Carrington.
It has also
been said by diplomats that following the British victory there was an
in international respect for Britain, formerly regarded as a fading colonial power. As
mentioned earlier, the victory was not overlooked by the USSR and was an important junction in the Cold War.
On the other hand, the Argentine
military government was ousted after mounting protests by human rights
veterans groups. Galtieri was forced to resign, paving the way for a
democracy. Elections were held on October 30, 1983 and Raúl
the Radical Civic Union (UCR) party candidate, took office on December 10, 1983.
First, the war could have ended in an Argentine
victory if one of the Exocets had hit an aircraft carrier, or if the
unexploded bombs had detonated on striking some of the ships, because
reality 75% of the British task force was damaged or sunk. With the Great Britain being an US ally and important part
of NATO, to
permit a loss
would have been a signal to the USSR that
the NATO alliance was militarily and politically
Then, an Argentine victory would have been an
unacceptable show of weakness on the part of the UK during an intense period of the Cold War,
and as a result it's highly doubtful such an outcome would have been
remain for long.