Falklands/Malvinas Islands: 30 years on
On 02nd April is the 30th anniversary of Argentine invasion of the Falklands that led to the war between Argentina and Britain. The anniversary brings memories and commemorations of the casualties in both countries, as well once again the scenario for the reiterated claims and confrontation between the two countries, both asserting their rights on the islands.
The article below is intended to analyse the anniversary, the impact of that war as well origin of claims and possible solutions. As to ensure impartiality and acknowledging of both position, has been chosen to refer to the Islands in their English and Spanish names: Falkland/Malvinas Islands. In addition, has been seen as unnecessary and completely out of history and logic to analyse UK and Argentina respective military strength as the possibility of military confrontation is remote as the islands itself. We start with a question that was suggested from a road sign in the Argentina-Brazil border: Las Malvinas son Argentinas? The answer, hopefully, will be suggested analysing the issue.
Discovery of the Islands, settlements and origin of the dispute
The Falkland/Malvinas Islands were first sighted by English navigator John Davis of Desire in 1592. Another English navigator Sir Richard Hawkins in 1594 named them Hawkins Maydenlande. In 1598 Dutch navigator Sebalde de Weert named the islands The Sebaldes. The first recorded landing on the Falkland/Malvinas Islands occurred in 1690, made at Bold Cove near Port Howard on West Falkland, by John Strong, who named the stretch of water between West and East Falkland Falkland Sound after Lord Falkland, who was a financial supporter of Strong’s voyage.
The first settlement in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands was established in February 1764 by a French nobleman, Antoine Louise de Bougainville, who named the IslandsIsles Malouines after St. Malo, the port from which the expedition set out. They landed in Berkeley Sound, at what was to become Fort St. Louis settlement. On 12 January 1765 a British exploratory expedition under the command of Commodore John Byron, reached the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. The expedition anchored at what became known as Port Egmont on Saunders Island. A landing was made on 25 January 1765 and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands were formally claimed for the Crown of Great Britain. Byron spent time surveying the coastline of the Islands, but as he did not enter in Berkeley Sound was unaware of the French settlement. In September 1765, a further British expedition under the command of Captain John McBride with precise instructions: any lawless person found on the Islands was to leave or take oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Should any foreign settlement be discovered the inhabitants were to be informed that the Islands belonged to Great Britain, and given six months within which to leave. McBride arrived at Port Egmont on 8 January 1766, named the archipelago The Falkland Islands and the north-west chain of islands The Jasons. On 4 December 1766 McBride discovered FortSt. Louis and informed the French commander de Nerville that the British had had a colony at Port Egmont since January 1765.
The Spanish Crown, meanwhile, based its claims under the 1493 papal bull of Pope Alexander VI. The Pope issued a papal bull which drew a line north to south down the Atlantic one hundred leagues west of the Azores. Everything east of the line was granted to Portugal, and everything west of the line to Spain. Portugal and Spain, the two most important Catholic countries of the age, confirmed this division in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. Spain claimed the Falkland/Malvinas Islands under provisions in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which settled the limits of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. When Spain discovered the British and French colonies on the Islands, a diplomatic row broke out between the claimants. In 1766, a political expediency forced the French to accede to Spanish demands to abandon the colony. The formal act of cession was carried out at Fort St. Louis, renamed Port Soledad or Port Solitude by the Spanish, on 1 April 1767. Spain and Great Britain enjoyed uneasy relations at the time, and no corresponding agreement was reached. In early 1770 Spanish commander Don Juan Ignacio de Madariaga visited Port Egmont and reiterated his country’s claim to sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. On 14 July 1770 Don Madariaga returned to Port Egmont with a much larger contingent of five Spanish warships carrying over 1,000 men, and forced the British to leave Port Egmont and Spaintook de facto control of theIslands.SpainandGreat Britaincame close to war over the issue, but instead, concluded a treaty on 22 January 1771, allowing the British to return to Port Egmont with neither side relinquishing sovereignty claims. A British expedition under the command of Captain Stott arrived on 15 September 1771 formally taking repossession. In 1774 Britain decided for reasons of economy to withdraw almost all its overseas garrisons, and on 20 May 1776 the British forces under the command of Lt. Clayton formally left Port Egmont. British flag was left flying and a plaque was fixed to the blockhouse door restating the British claim to sovereignty of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, leaving Spain in de facto control. From 1774 to 1811, the islands were ruled from Buenos Aires as part of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate. The last Spanish Governor, Don Juan Crisostomo Martinez, was withdrawn from the settlement at Port Soledad in 1806, leaving behind him a plaque stating the Spanish claim to sovereignty of Islas Malvinas.
Argentina declared its independence from Spain in 1816, although this was not then recognised by any of the major powers. Britain recognized Argentine independence on 15 December 1823, as the Province of Buenos Aires, but like the US did not recognise the full extent of the territory claimed by the new state. The new state, the United Provinces of the River Plate, was formed by provinces of the former Viceroyalty of the River Plate and as such claimed sovereignty over the Falklands/Malvinas. In October 1820, the frigate Heroína, under the command of American privateer Colonel David Jewett, arrived in Puerto Soledad following an eight-month voyage and with most of her crew incapacitated by scurvy and disease. The captain chose to rest and recover in the islands, seeking assistance from the British explorer James Weddell. On 6 November 1820, Jewett raised the flag of the United Provinces of the River Plate and claimed possession of the islands for the new state. In 1823, the Argentines granted land on East Falkland to the merchant Luis Vernet and in 1828, the Argentine government granted all of East Falkland, including all its resources, with exemption from taxation if a colony could be established within three years. Vernet, however, before leaving sought permission first from the British Consulate in Buenos Aires and for protection should they return. The Argentine government appointed Vernet governor in 1829, to which the British objected as an Argentine attempt to foster political and economic ties to the islands. Vernet later seized the American ship Harriet for breaking his restrictions on seal hunting. Property on board the ship was seized and the captain was returned to Buenos Aires to stand trial. The American Consul in Argentina protested Vernet’s actions and stated that the United States did not recognise Argentine sovereignty in the Falklands/Malvinas. The consul dispatched a warship, the USS Lexington, to Puerto Luis to retake the confiscated property. By 1831, the colony was successful enough to be advertised for new colonists, although a report by the captain of the Lexington suggests that the conditions on the islands were quite miserable. Vernet having returned to Buenos Aires in 1831 before the Lexington‘s attack resigned as governor. An interim governor, Esteban José Francisco Mestivier, was appointed by the Argentine Government in October 1832 again attracting protests from the British consul in Buenos Aires.
In December 1832 the British returned to the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, concerned by the unlawful activities of the Americans and by the Argentine assertions of sovereignty. On 20 December 1832 they posted a notice of possession at Port Egmont. On 2 January 1833, Captain James Onslow, of the HMS Clio, arrived at the Spanish settlement at Port Louis to request that the Argentine flag be replaced with the British one, and for the Argentine administration to leave the islands. While Argentine Lt. Col. José María Pinedo, was forced to surrender due to the numerical disadvantage. As such he protested verbally, but departed without a fight on 5 January. On 10 January 1834 Lt. Henry was officially installed as British Resident. In 1839 a British merchant adventurer, G.T. Whittington, formed the Falkland Islands Commercial Fishery and Agricultural Association and tried to put pressure on the British government to proceed with the colonisation of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. In May the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners decided that the Falkland/Malvinas Islands were suitable for colonisation. In 1841, General Rosas offered to relinquish any Argentine territorial claims in return for relief of debts owed to interests in the City of London. The British Government chose to ignore the offer. The Falkland Islands’ Dependencies, comprising South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands and Graham Land were established in 1908.
The Falkland/Malvinas after the Second Wold War (1945-1976)
Following World War II, the British Empire declined and colonies in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean gained their independence. Argentina saw this as an opportunity to push its case for gaining sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and raised the issue in the United Nations, first stating its claim after joining the UN in 1945. Following the Argentine claim, the United Kingdom offered to take the dispute over the Falkland Island Dependencies to mediation at the International Court of Justice in The Hague (1947, 1948 and 1955); on each occasion Argentina declined. Following the introduction of the Antarctic Treaty System in 1959 the Falkland Island Dependencies were reduced to include South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Territory south of the 60th parallel was formed into a new dependency, the British Antarctic Territory which overlaps claims by Argentina (Argentine Antarctica) and Chile (Antártica Chilena Province). On 3 March 1962 South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands and Graham Land became part of the newly defined British Antarctic Territory. In 1964, the United Nations passed a resolution calling on the UK and Argentina to proceed with negotiations on finding a peaceful solution to the sovereignty question which would be “bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the Charter of the United Nations and of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).” The resolution recalled the right of all people to self-determination, but also stated its conviction that all people have “an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory.” Argentina claimed that the British administration of the Islands was an affront to their territorial integrity, and in 1964 they raised the future of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands at the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation (also known as the Committee of 24).
The Islanders asserted their wish to remain British, pointing out that their history, language and way of life was bound up with Britain. Far from ending a colonial situation, Argentine control of the Islands would create a colony, in direct contravention of the efforts of the United Nations to end colonialism. In 1965 the Committee on Decolonisation agreed, against Britain’s strong objection, that was not competent to deal with the matter as it concerned a territorial claim not one of decolonisation, that the Falkland/Malvinas Islands were an instance of colonialism and the governments of Britain and Argentina should proceed without delay to hold peaceful talks aimed at ending the sovereignty dispute, consistent with the principle of granting independence to colonial countries and people and “bearing in mind the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands“. The United Nations General Assembly ratified the Committee’s decision and passed Resolution 2065 to this effect. Britain made no further objection, and entered into talks with Argentina, talks which continued on and off without resolution until the 1982 conflict.
In 1966 an Aerolineas Argentinas DC4 on an internal flight in Argentina was hijacked by a group of twenty nationalist terrorists calling themselves ‘Condors’. The arrival of the plane in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands was timed to coincide with the start of the autumn session of the United Nations. The terrorists took four Islanders hostage, stating they had arrived to take over the Islands on behalf of the country to which they belonged, issued the Argentine flag and demanded to see the Governor, before the plane was surrounded by marines and members of the Falkland Islands Defence Force. The terrorists vowed never to surrender but after a night they surrendered to the local priest until they were handed over to Argentina where they received nominal prison sentences. The hijackers were seen as heroes and two years later a plaque honouring their achievement was unveiled in Buenos Aires. Later it was discovered that this had been the first of three planes planning to land on the Islands. The two other planes, with reinforcements and press, were grounded when the Argentine President was informed of the plan and issued an order temporarily banning all civilian flights. Later that year a small detachment of Argentine marines landed via submarine Santiago del Estero near Stanley for a few hours over a period of several nights to explore potential landing beaches near Stanley. The Islanders rejected a Memorandum of Agreement negotiated between Britain and Argentina in August 1968, and made clear that they were not prepared to accept or cooperate with any proposal which did not have their full approval. This firm stance was backed by a debate in the House of Commons, and by the Falkland Islands Committee, newly formed in London by barrister Bill Hunter-Christie and other supporters of the Islands. The Emergency Committee, as it was known, countered every official move with public reminders that the Islanders were loyal British subjects, and their wishes had to be respected. In December 1968 the British government was forced to pledge that Islanders’ wishes would be paramount.
Britain and Argentina in the pre-war period (1976-1982)
In 1976 the British Government commissioned a study on the future of the Falklands, looking at the ability of the Islands to sustain themselves, and the potential for economic development. The study was led by Lord Shackleton, son of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Argentina reacted with fury to the study and refused to allow Lord Shackleton permission to travel to the Islands from Argentina, forcing the British to send a Royal Navy ship to transport him to the Islands. In response, Argentina severed diplomatic links with the UK. An Argentine naval vessel later fired upon the ship carrying Shackleton as he visited his father’s grave in South Georgia. Shackleton’s report found that contrary to popular belief, the Falkland/Malvinas Islands actually provided a surplus by its economic activities and was not dependent on British aid to survive. However, the report stressed the need for a political settlement if further economic growth was to be achieved, particularly from the exploitation of any natural resources in the water around the Islands.
Later that year Argentina established an illegal and clandestine military base on Southern Thule, South Sandwich Islands, a Falkland Islands Dependency lying to the south of South Georgia. The base was discovered by British Antarctic Survey research ship Bransfield in November 1977. However, a more serious confrontation occurred in 1977 after the Argentine Navy cut off the fuel supply to Port Stanley Airport and stated they would no longer fly the Red Ensign in Falklands/Malvinas waters. Traditionally ships in a foreign country’s waters would fly the country’s maritime flag as a courtesy. The British Government suspected Argentina would attempt another expedition in the manner of its Southern Thule operation. James Callaghan, the British Prime Minister ordered the dispatch of a nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought and the frigates Alacrity and Phoebe to the South Atlantic. The British even considered setting up an exclusion zone around the islands, but this was rejected in case it escalated matters. None of this was ever made public at the time, and Callaghan only revealed the operation during Parliamentary debates in 1982 during the Falklands War. Britain recognised that unless momentum was maintained in talks with Argentina there was a risk that Argentina might seek a military solution. In July 1979 the new Conservative government sent Minister of State Nicholas Ridley to visit the Islands. After his visit, Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington put forward three proposals. His starting point was that ‘Fortress Falklands’ was not feasible as Britain could not afford to maintain a sufficiently powerful military presence on the Islands to deter an invasion. The first option, Sovereignty Freeze, whereby both sides agreed in taking no action to further their claims for a specified time, was seen as unacceptable to Argentina. The second option, Condominium, a joint government, with two police forces, two governors, two official languages, but this was seen as unworkable. Nicholas Ridley was sent back to the Islands in November 1980 to try to persuade Islanders to accept the third proposal for leaseback whereby nominal sovereignty would be given to Argentina but British administration would be maintained for a fixed number of years until the final handover. Islanders were unconvinced, and Parliament gave the proposals a hostile reception, pointing out that British people should not be handed over against their will to such an unsavoury regime as the Argentine junta. In the face of this opposition the Conservative government once again reiterated that the Islanders’ wishes were paramount.
In July 1981 the British Joint Intelligence Committee reported that the most likely Argentine response to the lack of progress on sovereignty talks would be to take punitive economic measures against the Islanders or even to occupy uninhabited parts of the Falkland Islands Dependencies along the Southern Thule model. The view was that Argentina would invade the Islands only if it was convinced there was no prospect of eventual transfer of sovereignty. Ridley advised that leaseback remained the only feasible solution and recommended that Britain initiate an education campaign to persuade Islanders, but this proposal was rejected by Lord Carrington who felt that any attempt to put pressure on Islanders would be counter-productive. However, Argentina saw some signals as British lack of interest in the islands: the stalled sovereignty negotiations, the British Nationality Act 1981 which would deprive many Islanders of their rights as full British citizens, the announced withdrawal of HMS Endurance, the shelving of plans to rebuild the Royal Marine barracks at Moody Brook, and the proposed closure of the British Antarctic Survey base at Grytviken on South Georgia.
The Falklands War, Guerra de las Malvinas or Guerra del Atlántico Sur, in 1982 was the result of a long standing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which lie in the South Atlantic, east of Argentina.
Lead-up to the conflict
Argentina was lead by a military junta since the coup of 1976 and known as one of the ruthless and bloody military government in South America. Widespread human rights violations put the regime under the attention of the international community and tensions at the border increased animosity with Chile. In the period leading up to the war, and especially following the transfer of power between military dictators General Jorge Rafael Videla and General Roberto Eduardo Viola in late-March 1981, Argentina had been in the midst of a devastating economic crisis and large-scale civil unrest. In December 1981 there was a further change in the Argentine military regime bringing to office a new junta headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo and Admiral Jorge Anaya. Anaya was the main architect and supporter of a military solution for the long-standing claim over the islands, calculating that the United Kingdom would never respond militarily. The military government pressured at home by economic crisis and abroad by international condemnation on human’s right violations, hoped to divert the attention and restore its legitimacy by starting a military campaign in the Falklands/Malvinas. The attack on the islands would have provided the national support and the victory a definitive legitimacy for the junta. The tensions between Argentina and Britain started to grow already on 20 December 1981 when an Argentine scrap metal merchant Constantino Davidoff landed without permission at Leith on the island of South Georgia. He had arrived on board the Argentine naval icebreaker Almirante Irizar, to survey the old whaling station at Leith. The landing was reported by a French yacht that happened to be in the vicinity to the British Antarctic Survey base 15 miles away at Grytviken. When the base commander reached Leith he discovered that the Argentines had gone, but had left behind a chalked message claiming that South Georgia belonged to Argentina. On 3 February 1982 Britain lodged a formal protest at the unauthorised landing of 20 December 1981. Davidoff subsequently called at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires to apologise, and to tell them that he would be returning to South Georgia, as he had signed a contract with Christian Salvesen (formerly a major player in the South Georgia whaling industry) to dismantle their property at Leith. The Embassy informed Davidoff that upon his return he should first report to Grytviken and follow the normal procedure for entry. On 9 March 1982 Davidoff notified the British Embassy in Buenos Aires that a group of his workers would be leaving for South Georgia two days later on a vessel chartered from the Argentine navy, the Bahia Buen Suceso. When the vessel reached South Georgia, on 19 March, it sailed directly to Leith and failed to report to Grytviken. Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey informed the captain of the Bahia Buen Suceso that the men had entered South Georgia illegally. Rex Hunt, Governor of the Falkland Islands and its Dependencies (including South Georgia), gave orders that the Argentines were to return to their ship and report immediately to the authorities at Grytviken. He also informed London and the British Embassy in Buenos Aires was instructed to notify the Argentine Foreign Ministry that they were taking the affair seriously and ready to take action if necessary. HMS Endurance was given orders to sail from Stanley to South Georgia with a group of 22 Royal Marines and its Wasp helicopters. The Bahia Buen Suceso left Leith on 21 March with most of the workers aboard. On 24 March the Bahia Paraiso arrived in Leith and unloaded more stores, together with a troop of Argentine marines under the command of Captain Alfredo Astiz. On 2 April, after hearing of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, the Royal Marines landed on South Georgia and engaged in battle before surrendering to a large force of Argentine marines.
Argentine invasion and international reactions
On 2nd April 1982, Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, following the civilian occupation of South Georgia on 19th March. Britain discovered the invasion by news coming from a Ministry of Defence operative in London that had a conversation with Governor Hunt’s telex operator, who confirmed that Argentines were on the island. Later that day, BBC journalist Laurie Margolis was able to speak with an islander at Goose Green, who confirmed the presence of a large Argentine fleet and that its forces had taken control of the island. Following the invasion on 2nd April, approval was given for the formation of a task force to retake the islands. This was backed in an emergency session of the House of Commons the next day. On 6th April, the British Government set up a War Cabinet to provide day-to-day political oversight of the campaign which, until it was dissolved on 12th August, met at least daily. Britain sought first legitimacy from the UN and on 3rd April, by presenting Britain’s United Nations a draft resolution to the UN Security Council. The resolution, which condemned the hostilities and demanded immediate Argentine withdrawal from the Islands, was adopted by the council the following day as UNSC Resolution 502, which passed with ten votes in support, one against and four abstentions: China, the Soviet Union and Spain among them. The UK received political support from the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Economic Community, which imposed economic sanctions to Argentina. Argentina was politically backed by a majority of countries in Latin America and the Non-Aligned Movement. The United States initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. However, when Argentina refused the U.S. peace overtures, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations.
Most important of all was the military support that Britain received from other countries. The United States provided the United Kingdom with military equipment ranging from submarine detectors to the latest missiles. France provided aircraft training so Harrier pilots could train against the French aircrafts used by Argentina. French and British intelligence also worked to prevent Argentina from obtaining more Exocet missiles on the international market. Chile gave support to Britain in the form of Intelligence about Argentine military and radar installations.
Argentina received support from France by a technical team that remained in the country throughout the war. French government sources have confirmed the French team was engaged in intelligence-gathering but simultaneously provided direct material support identifying and fixing faults in Exocet missile launchers. According to an article in La Nación, and quoting from a book Operation Israel, advisors from Israel Aerospace Industries were in Argentina and continued their work during the conflict. Also, Israel sold weapons and drop tanks in a secret operation in Peru. Peru openly sent Mirages, pilots and missiles to Argentina during the war. Through Libya, Argentina received 20 launchers and 60 SA-7 missiles, as well as machine guns, mortars and mines.
British Military Intervention
The British government was caught by surprise and did not have any plan to counter the Argentine invasion. The agreed task force to retaken the islands was put together from whatever was available at the time. The nuclear submarine Conqueror set sail from France on the 4th April, whilst the two aircraft carriers Invincible and Hermes, in the company of escort vessels, left Portsmouth only a day later. The whole task force comprised 127 ships: 43 Royal Navy vessels, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and 62 merchant ships. The military campaign to retake control of the Islands was considered extremely difficult and was excluded a failure. One point of concern was the total disparity in air cover: the British had total of 28 Sea Harriers and 14 Harriers available for air combat operations, against approximately 122 serviceable jet fighters. The U.S. Navy considered a successful counter-invasion by the British to be ‘a military impossibility’. The Royal Air Force had set up the airbase on the mid-Atlantic British overseas territory of Ascension Island, including a sizeable force of Avro Vulcan bombers, Handley Page Victor refueling aircraft, and McDonnell Douglas Phantom fighters to protect them.
South Georgia: Operation Paraquet
The British had already sent a task force in South Georgia, under the command of Major Guy Sheridan, and consisted of Marines from 42 Commando, a troop of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS). The first landings of SAS troops took place on 21st April, but the weather conditions were so bad that their landings and others made the next day were all withdrawn after two helicopters crashed in fog on Fortuna Glacier. On 25th April, the submarine Santa Fe was spotted on the surface by a Westland Wessex helicopter from HMS Antrim, which attacked the Argentine submarine. Two more helicopters were sent to attack the Santa Fe that was damaged enough in forcing the crew to leave the submarine at King Edward Point on South Georgia. Major Sheridan decided to gather the all his 76 men and made a direct assault, supported by a naval bombardment from two Royal Navy vessels, Antrim and Plymouth. The Argentine forces surrendered without resistance.
On 1st May British operations on the Falklands/Malvinas opened with the Black Buck 1 attack, of a series of five, on the airfield at Stanley. A Vulcan bomber from Ascension flew over 8,000-nautical-mile (15,000 km; 9,200 mi) to drop conventional bombs across the runway at Stanley and get back to Ascension. The raids did minimal damage, the runway and radars were quickly repaired. The Falklands/Malvinas had only three airfields, with the longest and only paved runway at the capital, Stanley, but still unsuitable for fast jets. This forced the Argentines to launch their major strikes from the mainland.
The first major Argentine strike force comprised 36 aircraft (A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers, English Electric Canberras, and Mirage III), and attacked on 1st May. Planes from Grupo 6, including IAI Dagger, attacked British ships firing at Argentine defences near the islands, whilst other Argentine aircrafts were intercepted by Sea Harriers operating from HMS Invincible with a Dagger and a Canberra shot down. Air Combat broke out between Sea Harrier fighters and Mirage III, with one Mirage shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile (AAM). Stanley was the main strong point in Argentine defences: despite the Black Buck and Harrier raids on Stanley airfield and overnight shelling by detached ships, it was never out of action.
The war soon was extended to the sea, with the loss of the World War II Argentine light cruiser General Belgrano. The nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Belgrano on 2nd May. Three hundred and twenty-three members of Belgrano‘s crew died, with over 700 men rescued from the open ocean despite cold seas and stormy weather. After Belgrano’s sinking the entire Argentine fleet, with the exception of the conventional submarine ARA San Luis, returned to port and did not leave again for the duration of hostilities. In a separate incident later that night, British forces attacked an Argentine patrol gunboat, the ARA Alferez Sobral that was searching for the crew of the Argentine Air Force Canberra bomber shot down on 1st May. The ship was badly damaged and with eight crew dead, the Sobral managed to return to Puerto Deseado two days later, but the Canberra’s crew were never found.
On 4th May, two days after the sinking of Belgrano, the British lost the destroyer HMS Sheffield following an Exocet missile strike from the Argentine 2nd Naval Air Fighter/Attack Squadron, killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. The ship was abandoned and continued to burn for six more days, until it sank on 10th May.
ARA Belgrano Sinking
Concerned by the threat posed by the Etendard-Exocet combination, plans were made to use SAS troops to attack the home base of the five Etendards Fighters at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego. The operation code named “Mikado” was later scrapped, after acknowledging its chances of success were limited. The new plan was to use C-130 to drop SAS operatives several miles offshore at night, to make their way to the coast aboard rubber inflatable and proceed to destroy Argentina’s remaining Exocet stockpile. An SAS reconnaissance team was dispatched to carry out preparations aboard of a a Westland Sea King helicopter from HMS Invincible on the night of 17th May, but bad weather forced it to land 50 miles (80 km) from its target and the mission was aborted. During the night on 21st May the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp mounted Operation Sutton, the amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water, on the northwestern coast of East Falkland facing onto Falkland Sound. The bay, known as Bomb Alley by British forces, was the scene of repeated air attacks by low-flying Argentine jets. The 4,000 men were put ashore along with units from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and armored reconnaissance vehicles.
At sea, HMS Ardent sank on 21st May, HMS Antelope on 24th May, and MV Atlantic Conveyor on 25th May along with a vital cargo of helicopters, runway-building equipment and tents. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor was a severe blow from a logistics perspective. Also lost on 25th was lost HMS Coventry, whilst HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were badly damaged. The Argentines lost 22 aircraft in the attacks. From early 27th until 28th May, British Para formations, with artillery support, approached and attacked Darwin and Goose Green, which was held by the Argentine 12th Infantry Regiment. After a tough struggle the British won the battle: 17 British and 47 Argentine soldiers were killed. In total 961 Argentine troops were taken prisoners.
Meanwhile, the 42 Commando prepared to move by helicopter to Mount Kent. Unknown to senior British officers, the Argentine generals were determined to close down the British troops in the Mount Kent area, and on 27th and 28th May they sent Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles and commandos of the 602nd Commando Company and 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron to Stanley. British forces had intense battles with Argentine commandos but on 31st May, the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC) defeated Argentine Special Forces at the Battle of Top Malo House where a small detachment was barricaded inside a shepherd’s house. Argentine 601st Commando tried to move forward to rescue the 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain but they were forced to withdraw to Two Sisters Mountain. The 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain realizing his position had become untenable ordered a withdrawal. On 30th May, an Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-launched Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS in the vicinity of Mount Kent. Six National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight more wounded in the crash.
By 1st June, with the arrival of a further 5,000 British troops, the new British divisional commander, Major General Jeremy Moore, had sufficient force to start planning an offensive against Stanley. During this build-up, the Argentine air assaults on the British naval forces continued, killing 56. The Guards were sent to support an advance along the southern approach to Stanley. On 2nd June a small advance party moved to Swan Inlet house in a number of Army Westland Scout helicopters. Telephoning ahead to Fitzroy, they discovered the area clear of Argentines and, exceeding their authority, commandeered the one remaining RAF Chinook helicopter to ferry another contingent of Para to Fitzroy and Bluff Cove. The longer journey time and the hesitations over how the landing was to be performed caused enormous delay in unloading. Without escorts, and having not yet established their air defence, the British forces in Port Pleasant were attacked by two waves of Argentine A-4 Skyhawks. The disaster at Port Pleasant caused 48 British casualties and 115 wounded. Three Argentine pilots were also killed.
Fall of Stanley
On the night of 11th June British forces launched a night attack against the heavily defended ring of high ground surrounding Stanley. Mount Harriet was taken at a cost of 2 British and 18 Argentine soldiers. At Two Sisters, the British faced both enemy resistance and friendly fire, but managed to capture their objectives. The toughest battle was at Mount Longdon. During this battle, 13 were killed
British Sir Tristram at Fitzroy
when HMS Glamorgan, straying too close to shore was struck by an Exocet missile from the destroyer ARA Seguí. After a night of fierce fighting, all objectives were secured. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The night of 13th June saw the start of the second phase of attacks with British forces capturing Wireless Ridge at the Battle of Wireless Ridge, with 3 British and 25 Argentine dead, and Mount Tumbledown at the Battle of Mount Tumbledown, with 10 British and 30 Argentine dead. With the last natural defence line at Mount Tumbledown breached, the Argentine town defences of Stanley began to fall apart. A cease fire was declared on 14th June and the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Brigade General Mario Menéndez surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore the same day.
In total 907 were killed during the 74 days of the conflict:
Argentina – 649
Ejército Argentino (Army) – 194
Armada de la República Argentina (Navy) – 341
IMARA ( Marines ) – 34
Fuerza Aérea Argentina (Air Force) – 55
Gendarmería Nacional Argentina (Border Guard) – 7
Prefectura Naval Argentina (Coast Guard) – 2
Civilian sailors – 16
United Kingdom – 255 British servicemen and 3 female Falklands/Malvinas civilians.
Royal Navy – 86 + 2 Hong Kong laundrymen
Royal Marines – 27
Royal Fleet Auxiliary – 4 + 4 Hong Kong laundrymen
Merchant Navy – 6 + 2 Hong Kong sailors
British Army – 123
Royal Air Force – 1
Falklands/Malvinas Islands civilians – 3 women killed by friendly fire
There were 1,188 Argentine and 777 British non-fatal casualties.
In addition to memorials on the islands, there is a memorial to the British war dead in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. In Argentina, there is a memorial at Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires, one in Rosario, and a third one in Ushuaia. During the war, British dead were put into plastic body bags and buried in mass graves. After the war the bodies were recovered: 14 were reburied at Blue Beach Military Cemetery and 64 were returned to Britain. The Argentine dead are buried in the Argentine Military Cemetery west of the Darwin Settlement. The United Kingdom offered to return the bodies, but Argentina refused, knowing that the remains would ensure a continuing Argentine presence on the islands.
Argentine (left) and British Graves on the Falklands/Malvinas Islands
There are still 117 uncleared minefields on the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and unexploded weapons are scattered all over the battlefields due to the soft peat ground. No human casualties have been reported in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands since 1984, and no civilian mine casualties have ever occurred on the islands. Between 18,000 and 25,000 Argentine land mines remain dispersed in a number of minefields around Stanley, Port Howard, Fox Bay and Goose Green. In 2009 mine clearance began at Surf Bay, and further clearances took place at Sapper Hill, Goose Green and Fox Bay. Further clearance work was due to begin in 2011.
Consequences of the war
The military junta in Argentina, as a result of the humiliating defeat, lost completely its legitimacy and support even from those sectors usually benevolent. The junta attacked on every side both internally and externally fell and paved the way for the restoration of democracy.
However, the defeat did not change Argentine claims on the islands. If on one side the defeat and the war were seen as a fault and a strategic mistake by the military junta, on the other side, people still believed that the Malvinas should one day return to Argentina.
The military defeat was due to a series of factors. Although Argentina started the war with a clear advantage on a strategic side, soon appeared clear that Argentine forces were not coordinated by a strong, efficient and solid command.
Argentine forces did not have a great disadvantage on a technological side, except for the navy where the sinking of the Belgrano evidenced some backwardness. What really undermined Argentine aspirations was the choice to conduct a conventional war against a well trained army using conscript and ill-trained soldiers. The command appears without a clear strategy and coordination.
This army faced a small, but rather strong task force from Britain that along with a technological armament could display a well trained army, commandos, intelligence, and a well coordinated strategic command. As a result this is still one of the scars of the war in Argentina, as well the idea that if done differently the war could have been won.
In Britain the war gave great support to Margaret Thatcher’s government, ensuring a victory in the next elections as well countering the critics of the military solution. However, even in Britain the war was seen in mixed sentiment and was not exempt from questions, as why to fight a war for islands so far and seen by many as a residual of a long time gone colonial empire.
Britain managed to win the war with support from other countries, but demonstrated a clear superiority in managing a conventional conflict than the Argentinean counterpart, boosting the army morale in a period of cuts and proposed reductions.
Argentina-Britain: Post War Relations
Following the 1982 war, the British increased their military presence in the Falkland Islands. RAF Mount Pleasant was constructed allowing fighter jets to be based on the islands and strengthened the UK’s ability to reinforce the Islands at short notice. A new garrison was established on South Georgia, whilst the Royal Navy South Atlantic patrol was strengthened to include both HMS Endurance and a Falkland Islands guard ship.
As well as this military build-up, the UK also passed the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, which granted full British citizenship to the islanders. To show British commitment to the islands, high-profile British dignitaries visited the Falklands, including Margaret Thatcher, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra, The Hon Lady Ogilvy.
In 1985, the Falkland Islands Dependency was split into the Falkland Islands and the new separate territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Under the 1985 constitution the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) became a parliamentary representative democratic dependency, with the governor as head of government and representative of the Queen. Effectively under this constitution, the Falkland Islands are self-governing with the exception of foreign policy, although the FIG represents itself at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation as the British Government no longer attends.
Relations between the UK and Argentina remained hostile following 1982, and diplomatic relations were not restored until 1989. Although the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the UK and Argentina to return to negotiations over the Islands’ future, the UK ruled out any further talks over the Islands’ sovereignty. The UK also maintained an arms embargo against Argentina that was initiated during the 1982 war, which forced Argentine armed forces, traditionally a UK buyer, to switch to other markets.
Relations improved further in the 1990s.In 1994, Argentina added its claim to the islands into the Argentine constitution, stating that this claim must be pursued in a manner “respectful of the way of life of their inhabitants and according to the principles of international law”.Since the war, successive Argentine governments have stated their intention to pursue their claim to the islands by peaceful means. In 1998, Carlos Menem, the President of Argentina, visited London reaffirming his country’s claims to the Islands, although he stated that Argentina would use only peaceful means for their recovery. In 1998, in retaliation for the arrest in London of the former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean government banned flights between Punta Arenas and Stanley, thus isolating the islands from the rest of the world. Uruguay and Brazil refused to authorize direct flights between their territories and Stanley. This forced the Islands’ government to enter negotiations with the Argentine government and led to Argentina authorizing direct flights between its territory and Stanley, on condition that Argentine citizens will be allowed on the islands.
In 2001, Tony Blair, UK PM, visited Argentina stating that he hope the UK and Argentina could resolve their differences that led to the 1982 war. However, no talks on sovereignty took place during the visit and Argentina’s President Néstor Kirchner stated that he regarded gaining sovereignty over the islands a ‘top priority’ of his government. Kirchner took actions such as banning flights to the Falklands from Argentine airspace. In June 2003 the issue was brought before a United Nations committee, and attempts have been made to open talks with the United Kingdom to resolve the issue of the islands.
Argentina renewed claims in June 2006 citing concern over fishing and petroleum rights, due to Britain changing from annually to a 25 years grant for fishing concessions. In 2007, 25 years after the war, Argentina reasserted its claim over the Falkland Islands, asking for the UK to resume talks on sovereignty. On 28 March 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that there was “nothing to discuss” with Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine president, over sovereignty of the islands, when they met in Chile on his pre-2009 G-20 London Summit world tour. On 22 April 2009 Argentina made a formal claim to the UN to an area of the continental shelf including the Falklands/Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and parts of Antarctica, citing 11 years worth of maritime survey data. The UK quickly protested these claims.
In February 2010, in response to British plans to begin drilling for oil, the Argentine government announced that ships travelling to the Falklands/Malvinas (as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands) would require a permit to use Argentine territorial waters. The British and Falkland governments stated that this announcement did not affect the waters surrounding the islands. Despite the new restrictions, Desire Petroleum began drilling for oil on 22nd February, about 54 nautical miles (100 km, 62 mi) north of the Islands.
In late 2011, as the 30th anniversary of the war approached, the Argentine government sought to increase pressure on Britain by persuading members of the South American trading bloc Mercosur to close their ports to ships flying the Falklands flag.
In what it described as a “routine” move, early in 2012 the British government dispatched one of its newest destroyers, HMS Dauntless, to the South Atlantic to patrol the Falklands/Malvinas coast.
Buenos Aires responded by formally complaining to the UN that Britain was “militarising” the area.
Claims by Argentina
The Argentine government has maintained a claim over the Falkland Islands since 1833, and renewed it as recently as June 2009. It also considers the archipelago part of the Tierra del Fuego Province, along with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands as belonging to Argentina.
Supporters of the Argentine position make the following claims:
- That sovereignty of the islands was transferred to Argentina from Spain upon independence, a principle known as uti possidetis juris.
- That Spain never renounced sovereignty over the islands, even when a British settlement existed.
- That Great Britain abandoned its settlement in 1776, and formally renounced sovereignty in the Nootka Sound Convention. Argentina has always claimed the Falklands/Malvinas, and never renounced its claim.
- That the re-establishment of British rule on the Falklands/Malvinas (referred to as an “act of force” by Argentina) was illegal under international law, and this has been noted and protested by Argentina since 17 June 1833
- That the principle of self-determination is not applicable since the current inhabitants are not aboriginal and were brought to replace the Argentine population.
- That the Argentine population was expelled by an “act of force” in 1833.
- That the islands are located on the continental shelf facing Argentina, which would give them a claim, as stated in the 1958 UN Convention on the Continental Shelf.
- That Great Britain was looking to extend its territories in Americas as shown with the British invasions of the Río de la Plata years earlier.
The Argentine claim is included in the transitional provisions of the Constitution of Argentina as amended in 1994:
The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and non-prescribing sovereignty over the Malvinas, Georgias del Sur and Sandwich del Sur Islands and over the corresponding maritime and insular zones, as they are an integral part of the National territory. The recovery of these territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respecting the way of life for its inhabitants and according to the principles of international law, constitute a permanent and unwavering goal of the Argentine people.
Claims by the United Kingdom
The current United Kingdom position remains the same and regards the right of the islanders to self-determination as “paramount”.
- That the British were the first to claim the islands in 1690 and have never renounced that claim.
- That the islands have been continuously and peacefully occupied by the UK since 1833, with the exception of “2 months of illegal occupation” by Argentina.
- That Argentina’s attempts to colonise the islands in 1820–33 were “sporadic and ineffectual”.
- That the islands had no indigenous or settled population before British settlement.
- That in an Argentine-inspired poll in 1994, 87% of the island’s population rejected any form of discussion of sovereignty under any circumstances.
- That the principle of uti possidetis juris “is not accepted as a general principle of international law”.
- That UN General Assembly resolutions calling for negotiations “are flawed because they make no reference to the Islanders’ right to choose their own future.”
- The European Union Treaty of Lisbon ratifies that the Falkland Islands belong to Britain.
Falkland Islands Constitution
The Falkland Islands Constitution, which came into force on 1 January 2009, claims a right to self-determination, stating that:
All peoples have the right to self-determination and by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development and may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit and international law; The realisation of the right of self-determination must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.
The position of third countries or international organizations on the sovereignty of the islands is variegated. Some countries maintain neutrality on the issue, others consider it a bilateral one and others call on both countries to resolve the dispute through peaceful means by beginning dialogue over the sovereignty claim.
The European Union classes the islands as a special overseas territory, subject to EU law in some areas, and eligible for some European funding initiatives. The inclusion of the islands in an appendix to the proposed European Constitution provoked a hostile Argentine response.
France has been a strong UK supporter as well the Commonwealth of Nations that recognises the islands as a British territory.
Peru, Brazil, Chile and Mexico officially support the Argentine claim over the Falklands/Malvinas, as well South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and have voiced their support at international organisations. The Union of South American Nations, the Andean Community, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, and Mercosur have all supported the Argentine claim since their creation. The People’s Republic of China officially supports the Argentine claim.
The United Nations have called on both countries to begin dialogue over the sovereignty claim. The Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly has repeatedly endorsed Argentine proposals calling the United Kingdom to restart the negotiations. The Ibero-American Summit has called for negotiations.
In 1823 the President of the United States, James Monroe, in his address to the United States Congress put forward a statement that was to become known as the Monroe Doctrine. In his statement he forewarned the imperial European powers against interfering in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American states or potential United States territories. However, in 1833 United States Secretary of State Edward Livingston declined to invoke the Monroe Doctrine when the United Kingdom resumed its presence in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. The United States has maintained a policy of official neutrality on the islands’ sovereignty since the 1940s. Despite this, the US provided material aid and intelligence to the British during the Falklands War.
During the 1982 war, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries maintained an official neutrality, despite Argentine diplomatic attempts to acquire support at the United Nations Security Council. Although the UK suspected possible Soviet interference by providing Argentina with satellite intelligence or arms, Argentina claimed after the war that no support was received. Subsequent revelations indicate that, despite the denials, Argentina did receive Soviet satellite intelligence.
South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands sovereignty dispute
The sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is disputed between the United Kingdom and Argentina. The United Kingdom claimed South Georgia in 1775, annexed the islands in 1908, and has exercised de facto control with the exception of a brief period during the Falklands War in 1982 when the islands were partially controlled by Argentina. The dispute started in 1927 when Argentina claimed sovereignty over South Georgia, and subsequently was expanded with Argentina claiming the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. The islands have no indigenous population, and currently no permanent population.
Origins of the claims
The Island of South Georgia is said to have been first sighted in 1675 by Anthony de la Roché, a London merchant, and was named Roche Island on a number of early maps. It was sighted by a commercial Spanish ship named León operating out of Saint-Malo on 28th June or 29th June 1756.
Captain James Cook circumnavigated the island in 1775 and made the first landing. He claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, and named it The Isle of Georgia in honour of King George III. British arrangements for the government of South Georgia were first established under the 1843 British Letters Patent.
The Compañía Argentina de Pesca (CAP), an Argentine-registered whaling company run by Norwegian Carl Anton Larsen, was the first company to set up operations on South Georgia in 1904. This company founded the settlement of Grytviken and its employees became the first permanent residents of the island. In 1905, the Argentine government authorised a weather station on the island.
In 1906, the CAP signed a lease with the Falkland Islands government, and following the 1908 annexation, the company started to use British whaling licences and leases for land at Grytviken and Jason Harbour. Also in 1908, the CAP started looking to the South Sandwich Islands for the expansion of their business. Larsen adopted British citizenship in 1910.
In 1908 the United Kingdom issued a further Letters Patent to establish constitutional arrangements for its possessions in the South Atlantic. The Letters Patent covered South Georgia, the South Orkneys, the South Shetlands, the South Sandwich Islands, and Graham Land. The claim was extended in 1917 to include a sector of Antarctica reaching to the South Pole. As it had been observed that a literal interpretation of this claim would include parts of the South American mainland. Although the Argentine and Chile government were given details of the 1908 letters patent (at their request), neither Argentina nor Chile objected to either claim.
In 1909 an administrative centre and residence were established at King Edward Point on South Georgia, near the whaling station of Grytviken. A permanent local British administration and resident Magistrate exercised effective possession, enforcement of British law, and regulation of all economic, scientific and other activities in the territory, which was then governed as the Falkland Islands Dependencies.
Argentina’s first explicit claim to South Georgia was made in 1927 and to the South Sandwich Islands in 1938.
The base at King Edward Point was expanded as a research facility in 1949/1950 by the British Antarctic Survey, which until 1962 was called the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey.
Following the Argentine claims, the UK repeatedly (in 1947, 1951, 1953 and 1954) offered to take the matter to the International Court of Justice in the Hague but this was turned down by Argentina. When Britain took the issue to the court unilaterally in 1955, Argentina declined to cooperate, citing a lack of jurisdiction. The British divided the Falkland Islands dependencies in 1962, in accordance with the newly-signed Antarctic Treaty. Those areas south of 60°S became the British Antarctic Territory, while the remainder, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, retained their previous status.
Argentina established a military base, Corbeta Uruguay, on Thule Island at the far south of the South Sandwich Islands in November 1976. When this base was discovered by the British that December, the British protested diplomatically, and sent a task force, Operation Journeyman, to protect the Falkland/Malvinas Islands from potential invasion. Corbeta Uruguay surrendered on 20 June 1982 and It was demolished that December.
In 1985 South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands ceased to be administered as a Falkland Islands Dependency and became a separate territory. The King Edward Point base, which had become a small military garrison after the Falklands war, returned to civilian use in 2001 and is now operated by the British Antarctic Survey.
Britain has administered South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands separately from the Falklands/Malvinas since the islands were made a British dependent territory in their own right in 1985. The status of the territory was altered by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, and the terminology now used is British Overseas Territory.
Argentina considers the islands to be part of the Islas del Atlántico Sur department of Tierra del Fuego Province. The claim to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is written into the 1994 Argentine constitution alongside the claim to the Falkland/Malvinas Islands.
Claims by Argentina
• Argentina has, since 1927, protested every British action that contradicted Argentine sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Claims by the United Kingdom
• The first landing on South Georgia was under Captain Cook in 1775
• The United Kingdom annexed South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in 1908.
• Whaling stations on the islands (including the CAP) operated under British licence.
• The islands have been administered continuously by Britain since 1908, with the exception
South Sandwich Islands
Captain James Cook discovered the southern eight islands of the Sandwich Islands Group in 1775, although the status of the southernmost three as separate islands was not established until 1820 by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. The northern three islands were discovered by Bellingshausen in 1819. The islands were named Sandwich Land by Cook. The name was chosen in honour of the 4th Earl of Sandwich, 1st Lord of the Admiralty. The word “South” was later added to distinguish them from the “Sandwich Islands”, now known as Hawaii.
The United Kingdom formally annexed the South Sandwich Islands through the 1908 Letters Patent, grouping them with other British-held territory in Antarctica as the Falkland Islands Dependencies.
Argentina claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938, and challenged British sovereignty in the Islands on several occasions. From 25th January 1955, through mid-1956, Argentina maintained the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the southeastern coast of Thule Island. Argentina maintained a naval base, Corbeta Uruguay, from 1976 to 1982, in the southern east coast of the same island. Although the British discovered the presence of the Argentine base in 1978, protested and tried to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, no effort was made to remove them by force until after the Falklands War. The base was removed on 20 June 1982.
Based on the above we now try to give an answer to the initial question: Las Malvinas son Argentinas? In these 30 years from the war lots has changed politically, internationally and economically around Argentina and UK. Argentina, as well many of the Latin American countries, is growing and developing faster than European counterparts, they have restored civilian rule showing a more independent stance against the United States tentative to interfere in their affairs. This combination of more independence on politics and economic growth resulted in these countries now able to face with more strength the arrogance that sometimes the so called “developed” countries have towards the Third Wold. Argentina is not ruled anymore by a military junta, and its civilian government made it clear that are not going to pursue a military campaign to assert their sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas. At the same time, they are not renouncing to claim them as part of their territorial integrity. In the past, rightly, one of the main concerns was the eventual transfer of the islanders to a ruthless and criminal government such was the military junta in Argentina. At that time this was one of the main argument to legitimise UK stance in not allowing a shift of sovereignty, although the same government had strong ties with the other not less terrible regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
Since the return of civilian rule in Argentina, this concern is now gone, and even the one related to economic areas are now fading away seen the recession that is ravaging EU and developed countries. UK on its part seems blocked in a different era, and the refusal to negotiation appear illogical as well counterproductive. UK is not a superpower anymore and not from now, but since the end of WWII, still living above its real possibility as for the other developed countries. Especially the last few years have seen a re-emergence of nationalistic and paternalistic approach towards the world that resemble more of the last days of the colonialism in the 50-60’s. At the time, the intransigence of the colonial powers led to the humiliating retreat in Suez Canal, and the French humiliation in Vietnam. UK and France, both allied towards the Falkland/Malvinas issues, are also the main advocate of regime changes in Middle East and talk about negotiations whilst refusing to open a pacific one in the South Atlantic.
Even the choice to sent the HMS Dauntless show the ridiculous stance, for a country that is not able to sustain a military operation in Afghanistan and for which budget cuts are affecting the defence. Even the accusations Argentina from PM Cameron of colonialism is a further sign of the arrogance, ignorance, and illogical position of the UK government on the issue.
What should the UK do then? UK is a country, as well other in EU, at the sunset of their glorious past, living above their real potential and, without knowing or pretending to ignore it, they have to rely on the emerging economies in the rest of the world. Britain needs Latin America more than they realise, and the block of economic ties as well severing relation with the Mercosur will have more impact in London than in Buenos Aires. As the UK government is dealing with a same level counterpart, both can find a suitable solution that preserving both interest could led to the end of this useless issue. Paradoxically the solution is on the proposal of the leaseback, as solution already adopted in Hong Kong. Argentina should take sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas, UK to preserve its interest by implementing a special area within the Argentine State. Islanders can have same rights as in their country of origin and freely choose if to be Argentinean or British, and if eligible even held double passports. Of course, the main concern for the UK is economy, end the exploitation of resources, that can be resolved by joint venture and bilateral negotiation to start cooperation in the exploration of the area. Argentina can be an ideal base for that seen its natural position whilst UK can offer the technology support.
Obviously, we have seen that Islanders cannot be left outside, and rightly, they will have to express their voice but with in mind a series of question and take off the blindfold: how this situation is benefiting them on the long term? Is this status quo really the best solution for an island so militarised that there is no enemy to fight with? Will their economy and standards of living better if this pressure and an open relation with Argentina will start?
The senseless war of the 30 years ago, that destroyed the brutal junta in Argentina and for which was responsible, is relegated to the past. UK and Argentina should now start to look at the future, where both will need each other, and where the island will bear the name Malvinas/Falkland Islands with Argentine flag flying, with people still able to retain their British customs and enjoy a better standard of live. The above or any negotiated solution will be far welcomed than the current Falkland Fortress awaiting to be assaulted by the sea salt and water eroding the last post of colonialism.