Final Research Paper: The Falklands War

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Kyle Fein

Professor Gelpi

Political Science 4315

11 December 2016

Final Research Paper: The Falklands War

The Falklands War originated from the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands that were currently owned by the British. Argentina felt they had a right to these islands and, looking to stir nationalistic pride from its citizens, made a move to reclaim what they believed was theirs. The invasion began April 2 in 1982, when Argentinian forces first arrived to the islands and subsequently captured the territory in two days. The British, to Argentina’s surprise, responded by activating their own naval and amphibious forces and sending them to the Falklands. Although a main portion of this battle took place at sea, aerial forces were also involved. Within a month of landing on May 21, the British troops forced an Argentine surrender on June 14.

The operation to invade the Falkland Islands was originally approved by President Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of the military junta ruling Argentina at the time. The invasion was meant to distract civilians from several issues within Argentina, such as a suffering economy, disappearances of civilians who opposed the junta and more. The military junta was counting on the invasion to bolster national pride by advancing the nation’s claim on the Falklands. Argentinian forces landed on April 2 and were met by a small battalion of Royal Marines who were overtaken by April 4, allowing Argentina to capture Port Stanley.

Prime Minister of Britain at the time, Margaret Thatcher, requested that a naval force be gathered to retaliate against Argentina and retake the islands. By April 3, the House of Commons permitted Thatcher to continue with her plan, as she quickly met with her War Cabinet. The military forces that the British sent consisted of multiple groups, including two aircraft carriers, the HMS Hermes and Invincible. These carriers were intended to provide air cover for the naval fleet the British were sending. Large convoys of tankers and cargo ships also came because the fight would be over 8,000 miles from British soil, pushing the total amount of ships brought to 127 in the task force. The British’s counter strike against the Argentinians was viewed by many as one of extreme difficulty. One example of the trouble the British were facing was that the British air cover was significantly weaker than that of Argentina, only mustering 42 aircrafts, while the Argentinians had over 120. However, the decision to proceed with the counter strike was still made.

As the British force traveled south towards the Ascension Island of the Falklands, Boeing 707s from the Argentine Air Force followed. No military action was exchanged, however, as there will still diplomatic exchanges being made between the two countries and the British had not formally committed to using force yet. Once committed to using force, the first objective of the British was to recapture South Georgia. Led by Major Guy Sheridan, British forces managed to sink the Argentinian submarine the ARA Santa Fe and liberate the island. Shortly after this, full-scale operations against the Argentinians began. The first began with an attack on the airfield at Port Stanley, along with radar facilities nearby. Although the raid took a lot of precious resources from the British, it did prevent Argentina from stationing jets at the Port and instead made them fly from the mainland, creating a major disadvantage for them and a greater urgency in air warfare.

Although the battle in the air was beginning to increase, there were also several developments at sea. On May 2, the HMS Conqueror sunk the ARA General Belgrano by firing three torpedoes at it, causing close to half of all the deaths Argentina would suffer during the conflict. This caused the entire Argentinian fleet, minus the ARA San Luis, to remain in the port while the rest of the war continued. This provided a crucial advantage for the British by ending the direct threat to their naval forces. However, two days after the sinking of the Belgrano, the Argentine air fighters destroyed the British ship the HMS Sheffield. The ship was engulfed in flame and abandoned, killing only 20 crew members, before sinking after several days.

Land battles began soon after, the first major skirmish beginning May 21, when the British Amphibious Task Group under Michael Clapp began landing around the San Carlos Water on a coast of the Falklands. This battleground had been deemed “Bomb Alley” because of the repeated air attacks by Argentina in this area. 4,000 men were involved in the landing and eventually established a headquarters of sorts to establish offensive operations from.

The next step for the British was to capture Darwin and Goose Green from Argentina. From May 27 through the 28, around 500 British troops took on over 1,000 Argentines, forcing them to surrender. There were a total of 17 British casualties and 47 Argentines. The capturing of these two areas allowed the British to break out from the San Carlos beachhead they had been occupying. Argentinian and British troops met next at Mount Kent, leading to a British victory on May 31.

The beginning of June saw the arrival of an additional 5,000 British troops, and the new commander of the war changed to Major General Jeremy Moore, who now had his eyes set on Port Stanley. However, during the time the British were receiving reinforcement and regathering themselves for the large invasion, Argentinian air raids continues, killing 56 more British troops. Finally, Moore began the assault on Port Stanley the night of June 11 against a heavily defended stronghold by Argentina. After the first phase of attacks had been completed, with all the objectives captured, including Mount Longdon, one of the hardest areas to capture, it was time to move on to phase two. The assault was continued with British regiments being covered by the Blues and Royals, or British cavalry, eventually capturing Wireless Ridge, which killed 3 British and 25 Argentines, and Mount Tumbledown, which killed 10 British and 30 Argentines. Realizing the battle had been lost as the Argentinians were completely surrounded by the British, a ceasefire was called for and General Mario Menéndez surrendered, ending the short conflict.

During the Falklands War, Argentina lost 649 men, with over 1,000 more injured and over 10,000 being captured. The United Kingdom suffered far less, only having 258 killed (including three Falkland Island civilians) and 777 wounded. Both sides lost aircrafts and ships in the war, as well. In Argentina, the defeat meant the removal of President Galtieri about three days after the end of the war. The military junta that had been ruling Argentina fell, paving the way for a revival of democracy. In the United Kingdom, nationalism was boosted as was intended by the war and the British reestablished themselves as a world power. Margaret Thatcher virtually ensured her victory for reelection as Prime Minister in the 1983 election with the defeat of Argentina, as well.

Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina picked back up around 1990, with some small discrepancies remaining. Although Argentina still believes they are entitled to the islands, the British have been clear that it is non-negotiable. Around 1,000 British troops remain in the Falklands patrolling the area, but the islanders themselves are self-sufficient, with their economy mostly supported by fishing licenses and farming.

Throughout the war, the United States and, President at the time, Ronald Reagan maintained a stance of neutrality over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, but strongly opposed any military violence. However, recent releases from the Reagan library revealed the United States slight favoring of the Argentinians.

The Falklands War is an effective tool to look at several different war theories, including Diversionary War and Systematic Uncertainty. The Falklands War is also an example of one of many international conflicts that resulted from a territorial dispute. Argentina and the United Kingdom felt they had a legitimate claim to the islands that went back centuries. For both countries, there were not only tangible reasons for laying claim to the Falkland Islands, but also intangible ones. The British saw owning the islands as a sign of authority and identity that would help them reestablish themselves on an international level. Argentina had these same reasons as the United Kingdom, but also saw the Falkland Islands as a homeland and a place of historical significance to their country. Territorial sovereignty is one of the most important factors to any nation, and this case was no different than the rest. Ever since the British claimed the islands in 1833, the Argentinians have disputed this, whether it be peacefully or with an eventual aggressive invasion. What is somewhat shocking to discover, however, is the British plan from 1965 through 1979 that sought to have the British withdraw from their South Atlantic territories. This was due to the failing economy at the time that could not sustain the overseas commitments the British had. The seeming disregard towards the Falklands Islands is strange when compared to the aggressive move made by Margaret Thatcher when she discovered that Argentina had invaded the Falklands in an attempt to claim what they saw as theirs. Margaret Thatcher saw the United Kingdom’s identity, as well as her own, put on the line and acted quickly and definitely, getting permission to form a War Council and sending her own forces down. The intangible factor of a nation’s identity is clearly imperative to its survival. Neither side left any room for negotiation, not even identifying each other’s claims to the islands at any time. By withdrawing their assertions over the islands, Thatcher and Galtieri would have lost legitimacy as leaders, something they could not afford at the time. This led to a conflict that was short, yet necessary by both leaders, as their countries were in poor condition and needed a boost of nationalism from something. Both Margaret Thatcher and Leopoldo Galtieri went to war to distract their civilians from the problems they were facing domestically, and give them something to gather around and support as one. Systematic uncertainty and diversionary war were both explicitly obvious in the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands, as well as the British retaliation.

Diversionary war is typically a war fought in order to divert attention away from a state’s domestic issues. This was very much the case with both the Argentinian government and British government, attempting to distract the public from unrest within the state. The Argentinian government, run by a military Junta, was seeing a decrease in their popularity, and potentially launched the invasion because of this. Margaret Thatcher’s first term as prime minister would have been bleak if not for the Falklands War due to a lacking economy in particular, and the leader looked at the war as an opportunity to potentially win herself re-election. The Falklands War is almost synonymous with diversionary war because it is a key example of the tactic, although not the first, primarily because both sides of the conflict were diverting attention from national discontent by participating in this territorial dispute.

Argentina’s economy was quickly declining in the wake of the 1976 Argentine coup d'état of former President Isabel Perón that left a military Junta in power over the country. The devaluation of the peso lead to strikes by civilians in Argentina, the first the Junta had seen. The Junta also lost its cohesiveness following the victory of the Dirty War. The Dirty War was a time period in Argentina with state terrorism lasting from 1974 to 1983. The right-wing Argentine Anticommunist Alliance killed those associated with the left-wing or socialism in general. Without a common goal or legitimate purpose, the Junta began to weaken. With an internal governmental collapse seeming imminent, the government began to prioritize the Malvinas. Not only would this refocus the Junta on a common goal and unify them once again, but it would also boost nationalism in such a bleak economy. The British made the perfect scapegoat for the Argentinians, as they held a piece of territory Argentina felt they rightfully owned. The Junta wanted to prove its legitimacy as a government, and experienced support from various political parties, religious groups and businesses.

The Argentinians were not the only side in this war who used it as a diversion from the poor leadership at the time. The former Prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, used the Falklands War to raise her approval rating by an estimated 21 points. This secured her re-election in 1983, which otherwise may have not happened if she had not come out of the war with a victory.

Although the British were initially invaded by the Argentinians, international opinion remained divided. Some saw the British as a large, former colonial power that was attempting to regain power from the original power, Argentina. Argentina used this as a way to initiate support for themselves early into the war. However, others supported Britain on the notion that they had a more sure government as a democracy, rather than the military dictatorship of Argentina run by the Junta. Another significant factor that may not be considered is the opinion of the islanders themselves, who preferred being British. Although most countries remained neutral throughout the conflict, some took the side of the British, such as the United States, but remained diplomatically neutral not taking any real action throughout the war.

The Falklands War is an example of systematic uncertainty leading directly to the conflict with Britain. Argentina was suffering greatly under the reign of the military Junta, as the economy worsened and nationalism hit a low. The declining power of the Junta and the internal unrest in Argentina, along with the poor economy led to the decision to invade the Falkland Islands for the much needed popularity boost the military Junta was searching for. Britain as well had a down economy, and the Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister at the time, had a low approval rating for what many believed was a weaker term. Systematic Uncertainty on both ends led to a war that many thought would not happen originally, but came to fruition due to the risk-acceptant ways of the leaders of Argentina and Britain.

Argentina’s economy was extremely stagnant beginning in 1975, as inflation rose almost 300 percent per year from then until 1991. Through 1978 and 1979, inflation consistently outpaced depreciation, leading to an ultimate financial collapse. This began Argentina’s first decline of the manufacturing industry in its entire history which was only worsened by the dependence of state support by many private industries. By 1981, inflation had gone up to 600 percent and the nation’s GDP had fallen 11.4 percent.

Britain was no better, experiencing an economic recession in 1980 and 1981. Thatcher sought to shut down many inefficient factories and other industries during her plan to bring Britain out of its economic downturn, which effectively lowered the rate of inflation. However, Thatcher’s plan greatly increased unemployment in the United Kingdom, most notably in Northern Ireland, reaching almost 20 percent, and being around 15 percent in areas of Scotland and England.

Both Margaret Thatcher and the military Junta were known risk takers in their respective terms of leadership. Margaret Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady for her refusal to back down to her opponents and her undying courage and confidence in her decision making. Following an assassination attempt on her life in 1984 by the Irish Republican Army during a Conservative Convention, she was determined to continue the meeting the next day. Her risk-taking propensity was demonstrated clearly in the Falkland War, as her decision to retaliate against the Argentinian forces holding the islands involved Britain in a two month war with a country they had had diplomatic relations with since 1823. The military Junta governing Argentina was no stranger to risk either, as they staged a military coup in 1976 to overthrow Isabel Peron as President of Argentina. Leopoldo Galtieri reigned as a military general and president from the end of 1981 to the summer of 1982. In order to maintain his position, Galtieri and the military dictatorship eliminated any who opposed their regime, attributing to several disappearances of many authors and members of organizations fighting against the Junta.

Both the United Kingdom and Argentina met many of the factors that contributes to systematic uncertainty and eventually a failed deterrence of war. Both struggled economically during the time of the conflict, with leaders desperate to settle internal unrest and boost their own popularity. Argentina also at the time was not democratic, and was run by an erratic military dictatorship that was seeking to regain national support by reclaiming the Falkland Islands for themselves. The United Kingdom, although original appearing to lack interest in Argentina’s recent advances on the Falkland Islands, eventually reacted and defended their territory to bolster their own nationalism and reaffirm Margaret Thatcher as a strong leader of their nation.

The Falklands War supports the Diversionary War Theory as well as Systematic Uncertainty and its tendencies to lead to conflict. In order to avoid problems on the home front, both the leader of Argentina and the United Kingdom launched invasions internationally that, if successful, would both raise nationalism, and deter thought of the failing economy, inflation and more. The United Kingdom and Argentina were the only two major powers involved in the conflict, as all other powers, such as the United States remained relatively indifferent. Many of the issues provided by this war, including diversionary war to garner support for the military dictatorship of Argentina, Britain’s use of war to gain support for their government, territorial disputes showing a nation lacking identity and more create a complex conflict that can be studied in Political Science to determine how and why conflicts occur.

Works Cited

Drezner, Daniel W. "How Margaret Thatcher Affected International Relations Theory." Foreign Policy Comments. Foreign Policy, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Hickman, Kennedy. "A Guide to the Falklands War." Education. N.p., 02 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

"Key Facts: The Falklands War." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.\

Liffiton, Alexander. "The Falklands War: Differing Causes of Conflict." EInternational Relations. E-International Relations, 6 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

McCourt, David M. "Role-playing and Identity Affirmation in International Politics: Britain’s Reinvasion of the Falklands, 1982." British International Studies Association, 2 Sept. 2010. Web.

Oakes, Amy. "Diversionary War and Argentina's Invasion of the Falkland Islands." Security Studies 15.3 (2006): 431-63. 16 Aug. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

O'Sullivan, John. "How the U.S. Almost Betrayed Britain in the Falklands War." WSJ., 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
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