Wednesday 24 February 2016

The Falklands: two sides to the story.

 The "comment" by Anonymous to the previous post deserves more than a comment in reply.

Anonymous, and I suspect most people in the UK, see the Falklands War as a source of national pride – putting the “Great” back into Great Britain (which is actually a geographical term, nothing to do with political eminence).

But there’s another side of the story .  

Britian's title to the Falklands, which was claimed as a Crown Colony in 1841, was always a bit dubious,  and disputed by Argentina from the beginning. 

For some years before 1982, when the war took place,  the Britain's Foreign Office had been toying with various options, such as joint sovereignty with Argentine, to extract us from sole responsibility for the Islands.

When the Defence Secretary,  John Nottannounced in 1981 that HMS Endurance, the only British naval presence in the South Atlantic, was to be withdrawn, the Argentine government , anxious to distract attention from its domestic problems, decided Britain was no longer too bothered about the area and decided to put a toe in the water by organising an allegedly civilian occupation of South Georgia.

Mrs Thatcher certainly showed admirable guts, grit and determination in organising and sticking with her Task Force which would,  of course, been unnecessary but for the wrong signals sent out by  proposed  withdrawal of the Endurance. During the voyage out,  opportunities for a diplomatic compromise were proposed but  these were turned down, and the war was won by  Britain with the human cost of 255 British and 649 Argentinian deaths, most of the latter teenage conscripts.

Mrs Thatcher received her reward in two subsequent election victories.    But the problem remains and the diplomatic solution which the Foreign Office were seeking in the 1970s is still being sought and will eventually be achieved.

To me, after the deaths, innumerable other casualties, post conflict suicides and traumatic stress disorder, the part of the “adventure”  I found then and still find most  distressing is the re- emergence of jingoism – exemplified by the Sun’s “Gotcha” and “Up yours, Galtieri”  headlines.  I thought that, with the demise of the Boys Own Paper and the  post Second World War literature and comic strips on which I fed as a child and adolescent (Achtung!  Schweinhund!) we had grown out of that.  

 Alas no (and I suspect some of it remains and will flavour the Brexit debate)

It’s instructive  to compare our reaction to the Falklands to our supine (but sensible) handing over of Hong Kong to China.  We were fed the myth that the colony was only on a 99 year lease so we were legally obliged to hand it over.  

 But that was not true.  The 99 year lease applied to the New Territories (on the mainland)  but not to the island of Hong Kong, which was  a Crown Colony  and to which Britain had a much stronger title than to the Falklands.

Wisely, Mrs Thatcher sent no task-force to the South China Seas:  instead Chris Patten was sent to haul down the flag. 

 Bullies only enforce their principles when the adversary is weak.


  1. The correct diplomatic solution, of course, is for Argentina to recognise the expressed will of the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands and renounce its claims to the territory.

    If could do that tomorrow and the problem would be solved.

    While it refuses to do that, the problem will remain.

    (There is no workable 'joint sovereignty' option)

    1. That the "other side" should cave in completely does not usually work in diplomatic disputes, or most other human situations where there is disagreement, for that matter.

      Why should "joint sovereignty" be so firmly ruled out? Britain and France successfully jointly managed the New Hebrides as a Condominium until they became independent as the Republic of Vanuatu in 1980. There may, of course be other alternatives which don't require the humiliation of one side or the other.

      Incidentally, Papua New Guinea, where I'd been working for most of the 1970s, gained great self confidence as a nation when their army helped defeat some sort of attempted coup in Vanuatu in the early 80s.

  2. Mrs Thatcher certainly showed admirable guts, grit and determination in organising and sticking with her Task Force which would, of course, been unnecessary but for the wrong signals sent out by proposed withdrawal of the Endurance

    And this spectacularly audacious piece of blame-shifting is exactly equivalent to saying, 'The police showed admirable guts, grit and determination in tracking down and capturing the rapist, which would, of course, have been unnecessary but for the wrong signals sent out by the victim by wearing a short skirt and walking alone down a dark alley after 10pm.'

    1. The parallel with girls wearing short skirts and walking alone down dark alleys is an interesting one, but surely the whole essence of diplomacy is to be sensitive to signals put out by other nations and the nuances implied in any verbal expressions.

      Businesses, the the military and, presumably the diplomatic services, use Game Theory to try to predict "what would we/they do in response to such and such an action by so and so?" Game theory has been around since the 1940s. Either the UK Foreign Office hadn't caught up by 1980, or it wasn't looking, or the politicians decided to ignore FCO advice.

    2. The UK Foreign Office may have misread the signals, but you must agree, surely, that if an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation leads to the deaths of 904 soldiers, responsibility for those deaths lies with the aggressor, not the defending country?

      After all, while the withdrawal of the Endurance may have given Argentina the opportunity to invade, nothing forced them to do so. They could simply have refrained from invading another nation's sovereign territory, something most nations manage to do most of the time.

      Why do you feel the need to imply that the UK had any responsibility for death which were the result of an unprovoked invasion and therefore clearly the responsibility of the nation which launched that invasion?

  3. Stuart Archer is still experiencing technical difficulties but Emails::

    "Still unable to comment on your blog but I strongly agree with your Falklands view.
    It was a waste of time to fight for a barren island with more sheep than people.
    Thatcher's 'Rejoice, rejoice!' should have been 'Lament,lament!'

    1. It was a waste of time to fight for a barren island with more sheep than people.

      Interesting. At what ratio of sheep to people does it become worthwhile to fight?

      I ask because the most recent agricultural survey has 938,600 sheep in Northern Ireland to 1.811 million people. That's over half a sheep per person. So at what point between that and more than sheep per person does a territory become not worth fighting for, and would Mr Archer care to explain and defend his suggestion sheep / person ratio to the unionists of Northern Ireland?

    2. A friend has drawn my attention to a speech made in the House of Lords by Liberal Emlyn Hooson, after the Task Force had sailed but before the fighting started.

      These extracts make a fitting conclusion to this debate:

      "It is true of jingoism in any country that when national pride and national honour are involved it unites the people, and of course the people of Argentina have been more united in favour of their junta than they have ever been before."

      "It is an extraordinary thing that a country that was not prepared to spend the money on extending the runway of the Falkland Islands, that was not prepared to have a single frigate or a submarine down there, could suddenly find that the thing was so vastly important that we are really embarking on a path which could lead to the third world war."

      "Fifthly, even if there were a huge military success, it would not solve the future of the Falkland Islands at all. It might solve the future of the Government of this country."

      Starting a Third World War may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but he was right about saving Mrs Thatcher's government (and the problem remaining with us)