Invasion by Argentina -background to Crisis Dispatch of British Task Force to South Atlantic British and European Community Sanctions against Argentina Haig Peace Initiative Military Developments in South Atlantic Repossession of South Georgia by British

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Keesing's Record of World Events (formerly Keesing's Contemporary Archives),
Volume 28, June, 1982 Argentina, British, Page 31525
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Invasion by Argentina -Background to Crisis - Dispatch of British Task Force to South Atlantic - British and European Community Sanctions against Argentina - Haig Peace Initiative - Military Developments in South Atlantic - Repossession of South Georgia by British ForcesDisarmament and rearmament

In a move which brought Britain and Argentina into open military conflict, Argentina on April 2, 1982, invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, overwhelming the small contingent of Royal Marines stationed there and installing an Argentinian military governor. The South Georgia islands, part of the Falkland dependencies, were also occupied on April 3 against British resistance.

The Argentinian military junta led by Gen. Léopoldo Fortunato Galtieri announced on April 2 the “recovery” of the Falklands (known to Argentina as Las Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands “for the nation”. No Argentinian presence was, however, established on the South Sandwich Islands.

As Argentina consolidated its military hold on the Falkland Islands in defiance of UN security Council Resolution 502 urging it to withdraw, Britain rapidly assembled a large task force, the main body of which had arrived in Falklands waters by late April. During the approximately three weeks taken by the British warships to complete the 8,000-mile journey to the South Atlantic, intensive diplomatic exchanges took place through the US Secretary of State, Mr Alexander Haig, in an effort to resolve the dispute by negotiation. However, the Argentinian junta maintained a rigid approach regarding the sovereignty of the islands, while Britain insisted on an Argentinian withdrawal of troops as the basic requirement for a peaceful resolution of the immediate crisis. After British forces on April 25 recaptured South Georgia, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, Dr Nicanor Costa Méndez, stated that Argentina was “technically at war” with Britain, and thereafter a series of major clashes involving considerable loss of life occurred between ships and aircraft of the opposing sides.

The course of the Falklands crisis up to the retaking of South Georgia is described below. Subsequent military and diplomatic developments will be dealt with in later articles. The governmental changes in Britain consequent upon the resignation on April 5 of Lord Carrington as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs are given in detail in 31539 A .

Since the establishment in 1833 of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, Argentina had consistently disputed Britain's title to these islands and their dependencies. Argentina claimed sovereignty over the islands as the successor to the Spanish colonial power and because of their proximity to its coastline and its occupation of the Falklands for several years in the early 19th century. The British claim was based largely on Britain's continuous occupation of the islands since 1833 and on the fact that the Falklanders themselves had expressed the wish to remain British. In claiming continued sovereignty over the islands Britain quoted UN General Assembly resolution 1515/XV (approved on Dec. 14, 1960—see pages 17992-93) on the right of colonial territories to independence and self-determination, stating that the wishes of the inhabitants of such territories must be respected.

The Falklands, comprising two main islands, East and West Falkland, lie some 300 miles (480 km) to the east of Argentina, almost opposite the mouth of the Magellan Strait. They have a land surface of 4,618 square miles (11,950 sq km) and a declining population which, at December 1980, numbered 1,813.

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, making up the Falkland dependencies, lie considerably further to the south. South Georgia, an island of 1,450 square miles (3,750 sq km), is situated 800 miles (1,285 km) east-south-east of the Falklands group and housed a British Antarctic Survey base. The South Sandwich Islands lie about 470 miles (750 km) south-east of South Georgia and were uninhabited until the occupation of Southern Thule island in December 1976 by about 50 Argentinian scientists, who were not removed[see 29062 A and also below].

The other former dependencies (the South Shetland and South Orkney Islands, Shag Rocks and Clerke Rocks) were separated in 1962 to constitute part of the British Antarctic Territory, established on March 3 of that year[see 18621 B].

Until the Argentinian invasion, the Falkland Islands and dependencies were administered by a Governor, a Legislative Council and an Executive Council, the Governor being also the High Commissioner for the British Antarctic Territory. A small detachment of British Royal Marines had been stationed in the islands since 1966, when a small group of right-wing Argentinian nationalists staged a symbolic invasion[see 21693 A].

Historical Background to Dispute

A brief outline is given below of the historical background to the present crisis.

Falkland Islands. The then uninhabited Falkland islands were discovered in 1592 by Captain Davis of the Desire and were given their name (after the Treasurer of the Navy, Viscount Falkland) by Capt. Strong of the Welfare, who made the first recorded landing there in 1690. French sailors named the islands “Les Malouines” (after their home town of St Malo), from which the Argentinian name Malvinas is derived. French settlers landed in 1764 but relinquished their rights to Spain in 1766; a British settlement established in 1765–66 was recognized by Spain in 1771-only, however, after a Spanish move to expel the British had brought the two countries to the brink of war. The British settlement was withdrawn in 1774 on grounds of economy, and Spain withdrew its own garrison in 1811, so that at the time of Argentine independence in 1816 (as the United Provinces of the River Plate) the islands were uninhabited. However, the British left a plaque declaring that the Falklands were the “sole right and property” of King George III.

The islands meanwhile became a base for the British and US sealing and whaling industries, and temporary settlements sprang up there. In 1820 the Buenos Aires Government sent a ship to the islands to proclaim its sovereignty as successor to the former colonial power, and Luis Vernet was declared Governor of the Falklands in 1829 by the United Provinces; however, in 1831, after complaints from sealers about interference with their trading, an American warship expelled some Argentinians. The remaining Argentinians were expelled by a British warship in 1832, and British sovereignty was established early the following year.

South Georgia and Other Islands. The first recorded landing on South Georgia was made by Captain James Cook in 1775 (although it had been sighted at least twice during the previous 100 years), and the South Sandwich Islands were discovered during the same voyage. Argentina first made formal claim to South Georgia in 1927 and to the South Sandwich Islands in 1948.

In December 1947, after an Argentinian naval expedition had landed on the South Shetlands and South Orkneys and had established bases in British Antarctica, the British Government proposed the submission of its claim to sovereignty over the dependencies (which also involved Chile) to the International Court of Justice (ICJ); this was rejected by both Argentina and Chile, which expressed the conviction of their “indisputable rights” to the “South American Antarctic”[see 9133 A].

In 1955 Britain unilaterally submitted the dispute over the dependencies to the ICJ, pointing out that British claims to the territories had been formally confirmed and defined in Letters Patent issued in 1908 and 1917[see 14276 A]. However, the ICJ in 1956 decided not to hear Britain's application in view of Argentina's and Chile's refusal to submit to the Court's jurisdiction[see 14804 F].

The UK-Argentinian dispute, on which negotiations had been taking place since 1966 at UN instigation, escalated suddenly following a routine round of talks in New York on Feb. 26–27, 1982, between delegations led by Mr Richard Luce (then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Sr Enrique Ros (the Argentinian Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Relations). The British delegation included Mr John Cheek and Mr Timothy Blake, both members of the eight-member Falkland Islands Legislative Council (which had been newly elected in September-October 1981), while the Argentinian ambassador in London, Sr Carlos Ortiz de Rozas, was part of the Argentinian delegation. (For the resumption of full diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina in late 1979, and the reopening of talks in April 1980, —see 30319 A].)

During a visit to the Falklands in December 1980, Mr Nicholas Ridley (Mr Luce's predecessor) presented the Legislative Council with several major options for the future, including (i)a 25-year freeze on the dispute, (ii) a leaseback arrangement whereby titular sovereignty would be surrendered to Argentina and the islands leased back to Britain, and (iii) joint UK-Argentinian administration. The Legislative Council in January 1981 expressed the preference for freezing the dispute for an unspecified period, but this was rejected by Argentina, which then (during subsequent routine talks in February 1981) offered to make the Falkland Islands its “most pampered region” and to respect the Falklanders’ democratic traditions if sovereignty was relinquished.

Mr Cheek said later in regard to the 1982 talks that the Argentinian delegation, under apparent pressure from hardline elements in the armed forces, had pressed for monthly (as opposed to annual) meetings with the question of sovereignty being placed on a pre-arranged agenda. However, a joint communiqué issued after these talks stated only: “The meeting took place in a cordial and positive spirit. The two sides reaffirmed their resolve to find a solution to the sovereignty dispute and considered in detail an Argentine proposal for procedures to make better progress in this sense.”

According to an Argentinian agency report on Feb. 26, the Argentinian delegation entered the talks with guidelines based on a six-point declaration issued by the Argentinian Government on July 27, 1981, stating that any realistic negotiation on the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands must presuppose Argentinian sovereignty over the islands as an essential point for reaching a solution.

Only two days after the talks ended, the Argentinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Buenos Mres on March 1 warning that, unless a speedy negotiated settlement was reached, it would “put an end” to negotiations and “seek other means” to resolve the dispute.

The statement said that Argentina had negotiated with Britain for more than 15 years “with patience and good faith” under the terms of UN resolutions. It now wanted monthly meetings of “top level officials” with a pre-arranged agenda as “an effective step for the early resolution of the dispute”; however, should this not result, Argentina reserved the right to terminate the use of this mechanism and “to choose freely the procedure which best suits its interests”. (Argentinian officials said that the procedure might be recourse to the United Nations or a break in economic or diplomatic relations with Britain.)

Mr Luce expressed the concern of the British Government at the recent Argentinian statements when he said during question time in the House of Commons on March 3 that Britain had no doubts whatever about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands or about its duty to the Falklanders. Noting that the Argentinian statement had not been helpful to the resolution of the dispute and had caused “deep anxiety”, Mr Luce said that “there can be no contemplation of any transfer of sovereignty without consulting the wishes of the islanders, nor without the consent of this House”.

Less than three weeks after the Argentinian warning, a group of about 60 Argentinians, said to be scrap merchants, landed illegally at Leith harbour (South Georgia) on March 19 from the Argentinian naval transport vessel Bahia Buen Suceso and hoisted their national flag. The small British Antarctic Survey team based at Grytviken further along the coast observed their arrival, requested them to leave at once and to seek prior permission (from the authorities at Grytviken) if they wished to pursue their work of dismantling the old whaling station at Leith, and informed the Governor of the Falklands. The flag was subsequently taken down and most of the party sailed away on March 21, a dozen Argentinians remaining on the island.

The Argentinian Foreign Ministry made the following statement about the landing on March 22: “The naval transport vessel Bahia Buen Suceso customarily sails to ports in Patagonia, the Malvinas and other South Atlantic islands; In fulfilment of a commercial transport contract signed with a private businessman, the ship transported to the South Georgia islands material loaded by the contractor as well as personnel employed by him whom he required for the work he intended to carry out ashore. After the transport operation had been finished on March 21, the ship continued on its normal cruise towards other ports.”

According to an Argentinian Foreign Ministry statement of March 23 and The Sunday Times of April 4, an Argentinian entrepreneur, Sr Constantino Sergio Davidoff, had signed a contract with the Edinburgh-based firm Christian Salvesen Ltd (which owned four disused whaling stations in South Georgia) to dismantle the stations and remove the material from them by the end of March 1983. Sr Davidoff landed briefly on South Georgia in December 1981 from the Antarctic support ship Almirante Irizar, apparently without the knowledge of the British Government, to inspect the whaling installations before the team of scrap merchants made the March 19 landing.

Christian Salvesen Ltd confirmed on March 24 that it had a “straightforward commercial contract with an Argentinian scrap merchant”, that the Foreign Office knew about it and that the contract had been “scrutinized by the Falkland Islands Governor's department”. Christian Salvesen further stated that Sr Davidoff knew of the need to seek clearance before landing and expressed the firm opinion that his actions were not politically motivated. According to The Sunday Times, the matter was no longer in Sr Davidoff's hands when, on March 15, the Bahia Buen Suceso left Argentinian shores under the command of a naval captain.

[Mr.Carnley Onsilow, who succeeded Mr. Luce as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on April 6,stated in a written answer to Mr George Foulkes (Labour)on April 28 that “Christian Salvesen Ltd informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Falkland Islands Government in 1978 of its intention to sell its surplus equipment at South Georgia to Mr Davidoff”. The contract “was a straightforward commercial transaction” but both the firm and Mr Davidoff “were advised at the time that normal immigration procedures would have to be followed”.)

The following statement was made by Mr Luce to the House of Commons on March 23:

“We were informed on March 20 by the commander of the British Antarctic Survey base at Grytviken on South Georgia that a party of Argentinians had made a landing at Leith harbour nearby. The base commander informed the Argentine party that their presence was illegal as they had not obtained his prior authority for the landing.

“We immediately took the matter up with the Argentine authorities in Buenos Aires and the Argentine embassy in London and, following our approach, the ship and most of the personnel left on March 21. However, the base commander has reported that a small number of men and some equipment remain. We are therefore making arrangements to ensure their early departure.”

Following this statement, both Labour and Conservative MPs urged that the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance, which was in the area with a detachment of Marines on board, should be retained in the South Atlantic in view of the South Georgia landing and also that its withdrawal from service (projected for May 1982 under the Government's overall defence policy announced in June 1981—see 31016 A) should be reconsidered. It was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence on March 24 that the Endurance was in Falklands waters and was ready to give assistance if required.

The former Labour Prime Minister, Mr James Callaghan, told Mr Luce in the House on March 23 that he had been warned that “as soon as the news of the withdrawal of HMS Endurance became known to the Argentinians this sort of escapade would be likely”, and that it would he “gross dereliction of duty” for the Government to persist in withdrawing Endurance.

The sequence of diplomatic events following the landing on South Georgia was later described by Mrs Margaret Thatcher (the Prime Minister) in a statement to the House of Commons on April 3[see also below].

Mrs Thatcher said that the British Government immediately informed the Argentinian Government (which claimed to have no prior knowledge of the landing and gave an assurance that there were no Argentinian military personnel in the party) that it could not accept the illegal presence of the Argentinians on South Georgia, and requested that either arrangements should be made for their departure or that they should obtain permission to stay. The Argentinian Government was informed that if these requirements were not complied with, HMS Endurance would, as a last resort, take the men off South Georgia without using force and return them to Argentina.

According to Mrs Thatcher, Britain made it clear that it sought to resolve the problem by diplomatic means, and to this end HMS Endurance was ordered to proceed to Grytviken rather than to approach the party at Leith. However, after another Argentinian naval vessel[the Bahia Paraiso] delivered provisions to the Argentinian party at Leith on March 25, the British ambassador in Buenos Aires [Mr Anthony Williamsl sought a response from Argentina to Britain's previous request that arrangements be made for the party's departure. This request was refused, and on March 28 Dr Costa Méndez sent a message to Lord Carrington declining to regularize the men's position on the island and restating Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands and their dependencies. Mrs Thatcher said that Lord Carrington thereupon requested Mr Haig to intervene and to urge Argentina to exercise restraint.

The dispatch of the Bahia Paraiso to the area to provide the Argentinian party with “all the diplomatic protection and security necessary” was announced by Dr Costa Méndez on March 26, and the vessel was subsequently said to have anchored off South Georgia. The British Ministry of Defence disclosed on March 28 that apart from the Bahia Paraiso two Argentinian missile carrying corvettes were in the Falklands area.

Unofficial reports said that two Argentinian destroyers and an aircraft carrier were heading southwards, and that the British nuclear-powered submarine Superb had left Gibraltar. Dr Costa Méndez warned in a note handed to Mr Williams on March 28 that the situation was “grave and serious

Meanwhile, in response to Argentinian reports on March 28 that the British Antarctic Survey ship John Biscoe was on its way to the Falklands after picking up about 40 Royal Marines in Uruguay, the Ministry of Defence said that the vessel was carrying out a regular exchange of personnel in the absence of the Endurance and had nothing to do with the South Georgia issue. However, the party of Marines was left in the Falklands to reinforce the detachment which was already there.

On March 30 Lord Carrington flew back from a European Council meeting in Brussels and made a statement in the House of Lords on the South Georgia situation. The situation which had arisen was, he said, “potentially dangerous”, but the Government had “no doubts about British sovereignty over this Falkland Islands dependency, as over the Falklands themselves”.

After summarizing the sequence of events since the Argentinian landing on South Georgia, Lord Carrington pointed out that the “unauthorized presence of Argentine citizens in British territory is not acceptable”, but that a further escalation of the dispute was in no one's interest. A diplomatic solution must be, and was being, pursued. Meanwhile, the question of security in the Falklands area was being reviewed, but he preferred to “say nothing in public about our precautionary measures”, although HMS Endurance would remain on station “as long as necessary”.

Lord Carrington's statement was repeated in the House of Commons the same day by Mr Luce, who said in answer to a question that “if it comes to the point it will be our duty to defend and support the islanders to the best of our ability”.

Mr Denis Healey, the foreign affairs spokesman of the opposition Labour Party, said that the Government's conduct in the affair appeared “foolish and spineless”. The dispute had revealed that the Government's defence priorities were “mistaken”, with the result that “the recent events have found the Government with their trousers down in the South Atlantic”: and it was “not surprising that the Argentine Government have been tempted by the target that they have provided”.[For questions put to Mr Luce on this occasion by Mr. Callaghan, see page 31530 below.]

Continuing diplomatic efforts to defuse the increasingly critical situation just before the Argentinian invasion took place involved the US ambassador to Argentina, Mr Harry Shlaudeman, although the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office stressed on April 1 that no specific requests had been made for US mediation. It later emerged that President Reagan had talked to President Galtieri on the telephone for an hour in the evening of April 1 in an attempt to dissuade him from the invasion.

The UN security Council met on April 1 at the request of Britain and was told by Sir Anthony Parsons, the UK permanent representative at the United Nations, that a series of recent activities in the Falkland Islands area had given his Government reason to believe that an invasion by Argentina was imminent, and that repeated British efforts to engage Argentina in the search for a diplomatic solution had borne no results. He called on Argentina to refrain from the threat or the use of force and to exercise restraint. Sr Eduardo Roca, the Argentinian permanent representative, replied that Argentina had been subject to “continuous acts of aggression” by Britain for 150 years and that Argentina had frequently approached Britain in an effort to negotiate the issue. The principle of self-determination had not been applied to the islands, he said, and there was a colonial situation.

The President of the security Council called on both countries to continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict and urged them to exercise the utmost restraint and to refrain from the use or threat of force.

In an operation which began in the early hours of April 2, Argentinian troops took control of the Falkland Islands and after 3 ½ hours of fighting overwhelmed the 70 Royal Marines stationed there. The British Governor, Mr Rex Hunt, was deported to Uruguay and was replaced first by Maj.Gen. Osvaldo Jorge García (who became commander of the Falklands garrison) and subsequently, with effect from April 6, by Gen. Benjamin Menendez. On his return to Britain on April 5 Mr Hunt confirmed that there had been no British casualties but said that at least five Argentinians had been killed and 17 injured, while another 10 had “never resurfaced” after their armoured vehicle was destroyed by two rockets.

In a communiqué broadcast after the invasion, the Argentinian military junta announced that, in a successful joint operation, “the armed forces today recovered the Malvinas, the Georgias and the South Sandwich Islands for the nation” and that Argentinian sovereignty over the entire territory of these islands and over their sea and air space was thus “assured”[although no Argentinian presence was established on the sound sandwich Islands]. The communiqué called for a “collective effort” to “convert into reality the legitimate rights of the Argentinian people which had been patiently and prudently deferred for almost 150 years”. Another communiqué stated that “a long series of fruitless negotiations to obtain what Argentina has always considered to be its patrimony has ended”.

Immediately after the invasion the Argentinian Government established the “territory of the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands as a military governorship, thus separating the islands from the national territory of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic islands”; and (ii) promised to “guarantee the lives, assets and rights of all British citizens and English-speaking Argentinians living in the national territory or in the South Atlantic islands” and warned that it would “punish with the full weight of the law any action against them, be it a physical action or an offence to their citizenship, symbols or beliefs, in keeping with Argentinian laws”.

In Argentina itself, newspapers announcing the seizure of the Falkland Islands were emblazoned with blue and white stripes (the national colours) across the front page. A cheering crowd gathered outside Government House in the Plaza de Mayo on April 2 and the Government announced the release of more than 500 people (out of an estimated 2,000 who had been arrested in an anti-government demonstration on March 30). Politicians and the trade unions almost unanimously welcomed the “recovery” of the islands, and the main trade union body, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), postponed a decision on a proposed national strike.

In an address to the nation on April 2 President Galtieri said that the decision to recover the islands “was prompted by the need to put an end to the interminable succession of evasive and dilatory tactics used by Great Britain to perpetuate its dominion over the islands and their zone of influence"

President Galtieri went on: “That evasive attitude was considered by the national Government in the present circumstances as conclusive proof of Great Britain's lack of good will to begin serious negotiations without delay over the central question of the dispute and to recognize once and for all that their alleged rights stem from an act of seizure… . The dispatch of a naval force and the peremptory solution which Great Britain has tried to impose clearly demonstrate that it persists in addressing the question with arguments based on force and… through the simple refusal to recognize Argentinian rights. In view of that unacceptable intention the Argentinian Government could make no response other than the one it has just made by taking action.

“The Argentinian position can in no way be considered a form of aggression against the present inhabitants of the islands. Their rights and ways of life will be respected with the same generosity with which we respected those peoples we liberated during our independence movement. Yet we will not yield to the intimidatory deployment of the British forces… Our forces will act only to the extent strictly necessary. They will in no way disrupt the life of the islanders. On the contrary, they will protect those institutions and persons who agree to coexist with us, but they will not tolerate any excesses either in the islands or on the mainland…

“The important step which we have just taken was done without taking any political calculations into account. It was taken in the name of each and every Argentinian citizen without sectional or factional distinctions…. The entire country is already… preparing to defend what belongs to it, heedless of the sacrifices we may have to make…. I pray that those who are today our adversaries may understand their error in time and may reflect deeply before persisting in a stance which is rejected by all the free peoples of the world and by all those who had their territory mutilated and endured colonialism and exploitation…
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