Background of the Falkland War Assessment


In April 2nd 1982, the then Argentinian government sent soldiers to take over the disputed Falklands Islands. The reason for this is that the South American country regarded the group of islands as part of its territory. However, the British, who already occupied the islands, also regarded the Falklands as their territory. Over the next one month, both countries made serious attempts to store the conflict from escalating. Alexander Haig, who was the then United States Secretary of State was right in the middle of the diplomatic negotiations to try and stop the conflicting from escalating. He and his team travelled frantically between the London and Buenos Aires to meet and negotiate with the leaders of the two countries, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom and President Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina. Nevertheless, the countless hours of negotiations and the frantic efforts of the Alexander Haig and his team failed to stop the conflict from escalating. The British responded to the deployment of Argentinian troops in the Falklands islands by sending its own troops. The resulting confrontation saw the death of over one thousand men (“Crisis in the South Atlantic,” N.D.). The purpose of this research paper is to investigate the American diplomatic relations with the British during the war and in the immediate post-war period.

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Background of the Falkland War

The Falkland Islands are located about 300 miles to the east of the coast of Argentina. They are geographically closer to the South American country than to Britain. Argentina had for a long time regarded the islands as part of their territory. However, in 1833, Britain, a far more superior power than Argentina, claimed the islands and occupied them. Despite Argentina’s diplomatic opposition to the occupation and administration of the islands by Britain, the European power refused to surrender them. However, in early 1982, the Argentinian government decided to forcibly take the islands. The government led by a military junta that thought that forcibly taking the islands would unite the country behind it as it was facing a significant decline in popularity because of human rights abuses and economic mismanagement. For this reason, the government sent over 1000 troops to the Falklands Islands for the recovery mission on the 2nd of April 1982 (“Crisis in the South Atlantic,” N.D.).

As the military government expected, many in Argentina reacted positively to the news of the recovery mission. Large ecstatic crowds turned up in the capital to show political support for the junta’s military mission. Nevertheless, the British saw the mission as an act of aggression. The then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, declared the Falklands a war zone and asked the British forces to prepare for a military response to recover the islands for the UK. Considering the power and stature of Britain, many European countries and other countries showed open support for the United Kingdom. The countries, especially the European ones, reacted by withdrawing support for the Argentinian military forces (“Crisis in the South Atlantic,” N.D.). On the other hand, most South American governments supported Argentina, with the only open opposition coming from Chile which had its own conflict with Argentina over another group of islands. Failure by the British, Argentinian, US, and international diplomatic efforts to stop the conflict from escalating resulted in a military response by the British. The British naval forces responded effectively and was able to recover the islands and get the Argentines to surrender on June 14th.

USA and UK relations during and after the Falkland Islands war

The US has always had a special relationship with the UK. This continued during the war as the United States responded to the Argentinian aggression by imposing economic sanctions and embargoes on Argentina. There was also plenty of private support. Nevertheless, the US did not want to show so much public support since it also wanted to maintain a strong relationship with the South American countries that were in support of Argentina. It also did not want to go against its longstanding Monroe doctrine that opposed the European colonization of any part of the Americas. For this reason, the Americans chose not to step in and send troops to help Britain retake the islands.

Even though, the Americans did not send in troops or continually publicly voice their support for the British, the Falklands War is thought to have re-energized the special relationship between the US and the UK. Before the breakout of the conflict, the US and the UK were already closer than before courtesy of the shared ideologies of the then leaders of the two countries. Both Ronald Reagan (US President) and Margaret Thatcher (British Prime Minister) were strongly liberal and believed in removing all sorts of barriers. For these reasons, they were both strongly opposed to the Soviet Union and to communism. Although the British still had plenty of clout in the global scene and the special relationship with the US was continuing to grow, the relationship was still dominated by the US even during the war (“Crisis in the South Atlantic,” N.D.; “Message from British Prime Minister” May 5, 1982).

The special relationship during the war

The conflict between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands broke out at a time when the United States was working hard to build the strong relationship it had with Latin America. There were many American diplomats argued that there was no need US to step into the situation more heavily in favor of the UK as such a move would affect American interests (Bartlett, 1992, 154). However, although the diplomats urged caution in the provision of support for Britain, there were those who wanted to give the UK full support. They included the Secretary of Defense and other members of the Reagan administration. These powerful UK allies allowed the British warships the use of the US Navy base in Ascension Island, hastened the purchase of missiles from American companies by the UK government, and gave the UK access to important intelligence (“Memorandum from Secretary of State” N.D.). All these forms of military assistance were provided by the then Secretary of Defense before the American government officially came out in support of Britain. Towards the end of April, a couple of weeks after Argentina sent troops to the Falklands, the American government officially took a stand that supported Britain by condemning the military junta in Argentina and saying that it would impose economic sanctions on the country. By their reaction, it is apparent that the Americans had weighed the situation and come to the conclusion that value of Britain as an ally was much higher than any potential damages to American interests in South America (“Message from British Prime Minister” May 5, 1982). America’s ultimate decision to support Britain is thought to have been influenced by UK’s allies in the US and intense diplomatic efforts by British diplomats.

Initially, the Reagan administration was neutral and volunteered to act as the mediator. The government sent the Secretary of State to negotiate with the two sides so as to de-escalate the situation. However, both sides were not willing to back down and thus, the issue remained unresolved. The biggest demand by the British before any form of negotiations was that the Argentine troops should vacate the Falklands immediately. There second most important demand was that the wishes of the islanders be taken into account. The British counted on the fact that most of the Islanders were British and that they would therefore prefer to side with the country in case of a referendum. The Argentines, on the other hand, had just one demand. They said they would leave the island if the negotiators and the British would agree that the sovereignty of the islands would be theirs in the end of the negotiations (“Message from British Prime Minister” May 5, 1982). Thus, it was difficult for the Secretary of State to continue with any negotiations as the American top diplomat failed to find ways to make both sides compromise. However, while the American diplomat failed to make any headway, the British diplomacy was working overtime to get the Reagan administration to support Britain officially.

One of Britain’s top diplomats at the time was Sir Anthony Parsons. Officially, Sir Parsons was the British Ambassador to the United Nations headquarters. Unofficially, he represented British diplomacy in so many other capacities. The first major success by Sir Parsons was to convince the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) to condemn and urge Argentina to withdraw its soldiers from the disputed islands as the negotiations of the future of the islands continued (“Message from British Prime Minister” November 4, 1982). Sir Parsons achieved this success barely 24 hours after news of the invasion reached the rest of the world. This was an important diplomatic success as it gave Britain the moral high ground and the backing by the international community. It also somewhat isolated the Argentinians. Another top British diplomat at the time was Sir Nicholas Henderson. He was UK’s ambassador to the United States. He played a role in swaying the opinion of the American public and American government by appearing on multiple American TV stations and shows to defend the British case. In Europe, the British diplomacy went on an overdrive and got many European nations to slap Argentina with economic sanctions. Prime Minister Thatcher, herself, also played an important role in swaying the opinion of the international community to be firmly in favor of Britain position. She did this by not rejecting any of the proposals for peaceful resolution being made by the negotiators. She did this not because she agreed to the proposals but because she expected the Argentinians to reject them first and look bad in the process. This paid off every time and she remained the seemingly reasonable leader of the two countries in conflict.

Upon securing the support of the international community, the British naval forces then set off to recapture the islands as the Argentines continued refusing to vacate them. Being the superior military power, Britain was able to quickly drive off the Argentinian seamen stationed at South Georgia Island. Although this island is located over 1,600 kilometers away from the Falklands, the recapture also triggered the US to officially declare total support the United Kingdom (“Message from British Prime Minister” November 4, 1982). The first military action was a clear signal that their diplomacy had failed to prevent the conflict. The US government then did the next best thing which was to then provide support for Britain so as to preserve the special relationship between the two countries by ensuring that their ally does not lose. From this, one can conclude that although the special relationship was important in British decision-making, it was not held in similarly high regard by the American decision makers. It was only when conflict was inevitable that total support was declared. In other words, the Americans did not hold the special relationship in the same high regard as the British.

The Reagan and Thatcher Administrations

The Thatcher administration regarded the US as a great friend of the UK and wanted to continue the special relationship the two countries have always had. The Thatcher administration also held the same principles of justice, liberty and democracy as the Reagan administration. In other words, the two countries were like two sides of the same coin in terms of what the administrations stood for. The Argentinian military regime, on the other hand, did not stand for the same principles. The regime was known for human rights abuses and obviously did not stand for democracy. This made it easy for the US to support the UK when the right time came (“Crisis in the South Atlantic,” N.D.). This is because the US would feel that it had the responsibility to help protect the people of Falklands from ending in the same undemocratic space as the Argentinians back then.

However, since the British had threatened military action the moment the islands were taken by the Argentinians, the Reagan administration at first appeared to support the Argentine side. However, when the UN Security Council was preparing to vote to support the British and to call on the Argentinian government to withdraw its military, Thatcher contacted Reagan and told him bluntly that an American sentiments against British military intervention would be regarded as support for the Argentines against the British. In other words, support for despotism over democracy (“Note from the President’s Assistant,” May 5, 1982). A vote by the US against the UK would not prevent British military action but would obviously have taken away some of the international support the British enjoyed at that time. Nevertheless, the interaction between Reagan and Thatcher on the matter is one of the reasons why the US ended up declaring full support for the UK (“Note from the President’s Assistant,” May 5, 1982).

American Foreign Policy

From the very start of the conflict, the US wanted the UK to get a peaceful resolution. Although this was a clear and major objective of the American diplomacy in the latter half of the 20th century, the conflict and its resolution was a tough foreign policy dilemma. It was a dilemma because on one hand, the US wanted to maintain its special relationship with the UK which had been a strong ally for a very long time, while on the other hand, the US also did not want to make enemies of the Argentinians to prevent the country from becoming the next target for Soviet-sponsored communism (“Telegram from the Embassy,” April 27, 1982). This is why the country’s diplomacy first sought to take a neutral position. The Reagan administration then decided to send the Secretary of State to negotiate with both governments. However, time was quickly running out. This is because of the reason that both the UK and the Argentinian governments were upping their war of words, and the British were increasingly building up their naval presence in the South Atlantic by moving more and more naval assets there.

At home, Thatcher had the support of the majority of Britons. This emboldened her and made her stick to her position that no negotiations should start unless the forces on the islands withdraw. The Argentine military regime also had great support at home and saw no reason to de-escalate the situation because they viewed the fight for the islands as a subject of national honor. The Argentines also refused to act because they were not sure of America’s neutrality (“Crisis in the South Atlantic,” N.D.). Thus, the negotiators found it very difficult to come up with a proposal that would be agreed to by both parties. But this did not stop them from making the proposals, which were all rejected by both sides. The final peace proposal was rejected by the Argentine regime when the UK recovered South Georgia in a fashion that showed that they were ready for full military hostilities. This rejection was made clear on April the 29th. The next day, in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the Secretary of State told the council that the negotiations had broken down and that his government had declared total support for the British position. He also called for the suspension of economic and military aid to Argentina. Less than a week later, the American Secretary of Defense met with his British counterpart and together they worked on the modalities of the military, diplomatic and political support for the UK in the Falklands War.

Despite the official declaration of total support and subsequent high-level meetings to actualize the support, the American diplomacy still had the job of making sure that the declaration of support did not cause a severe damage on the US-Argentina and US-Latin America ties. This is because of the reason that most Latin American governments regarded the US declaration of total support for the UK as a betrayal of the tenets of hemispheric unity laid out in the 1947 Rio Treaty of reciprocal assistance. To save face and to ensure that the situation did not escalate any further. At this point fighting was already raging as the British naval forces sought to retake all the Falklands islands from the Argentinians. The American diplomacy was, however, able to resolve the situation through sending its top diplomats to meet with high-ranking leaders on both sides. One of the most influential diplomats in the resolution of the conflict was General Vernon Walters who was an Ambassador-at-Large. He was sent to secretly meet with the Argentinian regime. President Reagan himself called the British Prime Minister to convince her to stop the war and not to go for total victory. The high-level negotiations brought the war to an end. In the field, the war ended with British victory as the British navy managed to reclaim the islands for the UK.


The US and the UK have always had a special relationship. The relationship has seen the two countries cooperate extensively on political, defense, trade, security, and on many other fronts. However, there have been multiple cases where the British and the American interests have differed leading to the straining the special relationship. One such instance was the Falklands war. The war started when the Argentinian junta sent its military to take the Falklands islands so as to regain political support back home. The resulting conflict saw the US diplomacy trying to maintain both its special relationship with the UK and its acquaintance with Argentina so as to prevent the possible spread of communism to the country. However, while the US tried to maintain a neutral stance, the UK diplomacy was able to score important diplomatic victories that got the international community on its side. In the end, upon securing international support the UK went on the offensive and retook the South Georgia islands military. This forced the US to declare support for the UK. It at the same time forced the American diplomacy to go on an overdrive and to prevent any further hostilities. The war ended within ten weeks. The short war shows the influence the special diplomatic relationship has on both countries.




“Crisis in the South Atlantic: The Reagan Administration and the Anglo-Argentine War of 1982” in MILESTONES: 1981–1988. (N.D.). Office of the Historian

“Memorandum From Secretary of State Haig to President Reagan” in FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1981–1988, VOLUME XIII, CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC, 1981–1984 (N.D). Office of the Historian

“Message From British Prime Minister Thatcher to President Reagan” in FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1981–1988, VOLUME XIII, CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC, 1981–1984, (May 5, 1982). Office of the Historian

“Message From British Prime Minister Thatcher to President Reagan” in FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1981–1988, VOLUME XIII, CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC, 1981–1984, (November 4, 1982). Office of the Historian

“Note From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan” in FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1981–1988, VOLUME XIII, CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC, 1981–1984, (May 5, 1982). Office of the Historian

“Telegram From the Embassy in Argentina to the Department of State” in FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1981–1988, VOLUME XIII, CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC, 1981–1984, (April 27, 1982). Office of the Historian.









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