The Falklands War


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, the Spanish navigator Esteban Gomez discovered the Malvinas in 1520. For the British, it was actually done by John Davies in 1592. So when at the beginning 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 of 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.


              I.      Causes of the Falklands war


Since centuries, the question of the sovereignty of these islands has been a cause of disagreement between several countries but 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.


A.     The stakes of the domination of these islands


                Why this archipelago, that does not seem to have particular interest at first sight, has been a subject of desire between these countries?


1.      A geostrategic stake


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 square kilometres.

However due to its geographical situation, the control of these islands can be decisive during a war because of the maritime passage between Atlantic and Pacific : The Cape Horn. Indeed, in this region, weather conditions can be so terrible that a naval base is essential to retain influence and can be used for a withdrawal.


2.      An economic stake


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 consider the fresh water issue as the most problematic stake of this century. For example, in the poorest regions of the world, like in Africa, fresh water is a very rare good and the repercussions on the population are terrible. In the future, it would probably have consequences in regions that are already stroke by military conflicts or faced with terrorism

Besides, these islands have also interest for fishing. Indeed, when a state owns a territory, even if it is just a little island, it also holds it an exclusive fishing zone. This fact is very important 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 that 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 explain 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.


B.    Argentina : a country at the edge of implosion


1.      A confused political context


Zone de Texte: Général VidelaIn 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 was stopped and retained captive by the army. This one constitutes without awaiting 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. Roberto Viola 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.


2.      A worrying internal situation


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 population was unemployed.

-          the level of the wages was very low : for an index of 100 in 1975, it was 44 in 1981

-          Gross 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 200%

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 the heavy-handed actions.

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 organisation that represented relatives of political prisoners and missing. It was a special interest group made up of the mothers of children missing during the years of suppression. This alliance meant that the enormous Argentine middle class was 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 protect itself from popular dissatisfaction. That is why the Junta decided to invade 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 thought that the reconquest of these islands would consolidate its power but the failure of this military action and the rise of the opposition were not long in weakening even more their position.


C.    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 Thatcher. Indeed, she had taken the Tory Party leadership from Ted Health in 1975. In 1979, she led the party to victory and was to do so again in 1983 and 1987; that is why political commentators gave to this period the name of “Thatcherism” or “Thatcher era”.

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 foreign policy


1.      Her political convictions


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, she believed in a strong government more nationalist than turned towards Europe.

So we can say that Margaret Thatcher was really an “Iron Lady “who was not ready to make concessions and even less to let his country be  attack without trying to counterattack. That could be also found in a style that was founded on a direct and aggressive behaviour and a constant refusal of the consensus.

However, its political convictions are not enough to explain its decision to retort with the Argentinean aggression. In addition, we must now have a look at what occurred in Great Britain at the beginning of the 80’s.


2.      Zone de Texte: The Iron LadyThe situation in Great Britain


 Mrs. Thatcher’s early years as prime minister were marked by a multitude of difficulties. She entered office upon a dark economic scene that would only get worse. Her policy of high interest rates hit business, prolonging a deep recession brought about by an international oil crisis in the summer of 1979. When she arrived at power, she wanted to reverse Britain’s economic decline and to reduce the extent of the state. During Thatcher’s first 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.

There was a severe recession in the early 1980’s, and the Government's economic policy was widely blamed. Various aspects of this crisis :

-          unemployment was in constant increase and was at its highest level since decades : Unemployment soon passed three 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 monetary policy of high interest rates has just made worst the situation.

Therefore, 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 economic situation and of the policies of Margaret Thatcher. Indeed during the Thatcher’ years, there were radical changes for the English economy such as deregulation, 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 own party. Confidence towards the government was very limited and the appearance of a new centre force started to shake the Tory’s position.

The House of Commons played an important part in the events that led the British Forces to recover the Falklands Islands in 1982. It was the opposition of Tory deputies that prevent British government from 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 Margaret Thatcher did not have many options, she only could send a task force to recover these islands. If she had not announced on April 2 at an extraordinary session the sending of a task force, it is probable that the Tory deputies would have reversed the government. Therefore, she was obliged to follow her deputies’ opinion and to send troops in the Falklands Islands.


With the sight of the conjunction from these two elements, 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 internal difficulties and to regain some prestige.


            II.      Phases of the conflict



A.     British humiliation


Zone de Texte:  An Exocet lunched by a Super-EtandardApril the 2nd of 1982, Buenos Aires carried out the unloading of five thousands argentine marines, who outclassed the tiny British garrison and 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 Prime 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 achieved commando operations.

      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 miles around Falkland and threatened to sink any Argentinian ship in this area.


B.    The hostilities


Zone de Texte: The Argentinian cruiser « Belgrano » sunk by Royal Navy.April the 25 of 1985, the hostilities were opened by the unloading of the Royal Navy in the island of South Georgia and the neutralization of the Argentinian garrisons. The 30, an air and maritime blockade encircled the archipelago, and the Argentinians replied by giving the order to their navy and air force to break it. So Argentinian aircraft attacked the English ships, causing a heavy damage in Royal Navy, whereas the Argentinian ships, sailing in extreme cases 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, used this hitch to convince his adversary to avoid useless losses. June 13, the final attack was carried out. The young Argentinian soldiers, resulting from the conscription, could not resist very long to the British professional soldiers. Their lines were quickly inserted and, the Argentinian command, in agreement 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.



          III.      The lessons drawn from 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.


A.     The failure of diplomacy


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.


1.The different contributors


From the time of the breaking of formal diplomatic relations (during the 70’s), Peru represented Argentine diplomatic interests in the UK and Switzerland represented UK interests in Argentina. Argentine diplomats in London were considered 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.


2.UNO attempt


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 UN, 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 cessation of hostilities. Obviously this resolution was not apply !


B.    The US involvement


1.The Reagan foreign policy


Support for anti-communist groups including armed insurgencies against communist governments was the main part of administration policy. For example, the administration funded "freedom fighters" such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan (calling them "an inspiration to those who love freedom"), the Contras in Nicaragua (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 anti-Communist position. He had received a reportedly warm reception when he visited the US.


2.An equivocal position


Reagan famously declared at the time that he could not understand why two allies were arguing over "That little ice-cold bunch of land down there". Support of the USA was initially equivocal, and is reported to be the result of urging by a diplomat : Caspar Weinberger, 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.


3.IATRA versus NATO


Zone de Texte: The US involvement : an equivocal positionLegally, 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 help and 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 Assistance.


C.    Consequences and political impact on both sides


The Falklands War illustrates the role of political miscalculation during a war. Both sides seriously underestimated the 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 message 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.


1.In Great Britain


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 1983. 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 increase 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.


2.In Argentina


On the other hand, the Argentine military government was ousted after mounting protests by human rights and war veterans groups. Galtieri was forced to resign, paving the way for a new democracy. Elections were held on October 30, 1983 and Raúl Alfonsín, the Radical Civic Union (UCR) party candidate, took office on December 10, 1983.


3.A few of fiction history


First, the war could have ended in an Argentine victory if one of the Exocets had hit an aircraft carrier, or if the frequent unexploded bombs had detonated on striking some of the ships, because in 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 weak.

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 allowed to remain for long.