Let's say that the UK simply let Argentina have the Falklands that it seized in 1982

Suppose that the UK simply gave up in 1982 and said, “Whatever Argentina, you can keep the Falklands, it’s yours now.”
Would it have been political doom for the Thatcher administration? Did Thatcher go to war mainly because of the political consequences that would have ensued for *not *going to war? It seems that the UK certainly would have suffered little geographical, economic or pragmatic consequences had the Falklands simply been allowed to be Argentina’s.
What would have been the regional implications for Argentina and South America?

Yes, and it would be a terrible black eye for GB on the global stage. Countries simply don’t do that to each other, especially countries that consider themselves players, so there must be consequences.

That Argentina was stupidly messing with a nuclear power doesn’t even enter into it.


What Argentina? :wink:

If Britain was too cowardly to hold the line against an obviously inferior adversary, their power and influence on the world stage would collapse. Other countries would soon begin pushing for British concessions and territory.

The UK was well on the way to transfering control to Argentina. It had no excomic or strategic value to the UK.

Those islands were annaxed as way-stations for wind and coal powered warships. Those technologies are no longer in use.

Conversely, Argentina attempted to annex the islands only because of political concerns. They had no economic or strategic value to Argentina.

Quite possibly, if Argentina had never invaded at at all the Thatcher administration would have been toast. According to the polls, just before the invasion she was the most unpopular British Prime Minister ever. Immediately after the general election of 1979, when Thatcher came to power, her party dipped below the opposition in popularity, and they remained below the opposition consistently for the next three years, often by a large margin. It wasn’t until the surge of support for the government that came with the Falklands invasion and subsequent campaign that the government once again pulled ahead in the polls and, without the invasion, there’s no guarantee that they ever would have.

To be fair to her, I think she did see it as an issue of principle, and she did also think that Britain’s status and credibility was at stake. I don’t think she did this purely for electoral advantage and, in fact, had the campaign gone badly the electoral consequences might have been severe.

As others have pointed out, there would have been a loss of confidence in the UK’s willingness to maintain the residue of its Empire. In purely pragmatic terms, this wouldn’t mean much; British possessions overseas are mostly an economica drain and, while some of them have strategic value for a country seeking to project military power worldwide, it’s been a while since Britain sought to do that to any very great extent. But, yes, there would be a loss of prestige.

No, I think the Thatcher administration could have done it. They handed over Hong Kong to China and got away with no serious domestic outcry over that. If they had decided to hand over the Falklands quietly, the fallout would have been minimal.

Hong Kong was negotiated, planned and peaceful. The second the idiots in the junta attacked, it was never a question. They were going to lose eventually, no matter what they did. the invasion also guaranteed that Argentina would* never *get the Falklands, under any circumstances.

Also, while HK Island and Kowloon were British territory, she had leased the New Territories and the lease was ending in 1998. It was a pragmatic move to make. HK couldnt have survived on its own.

Let’s face facts. By 1982, the United Kingdom had a few decades experience in dealing with the loss of overseas territories. And several of those losses had been carried out by force. The British government and the British public have learned to accept territorial losses and move on. The Falklands wouldn’t have been significantly different except that Thatcher chose to make it so and invest great symbolic importance of keep the islands.

I believe the OP is asking about the situation after Argentina had invaded the islands. Once that happened, the islands couldn’t have been handed over “quietly.”

It’s quite possible some sort of diplomatic solution could have been found before that to allow Argentina sovereignty over the islands, but once Argentina used force that was no longer possible.

The point is Hong Kong wouldn’t have been surviving on its own. It would have been surviving with British support - if Britain had chosen to make the effort. I certainly agree it would have been a serious effort. But fighting to take back the Falklands was a serious effort also. And the gains of holding the Falklands were much less than the gains of holding Hong Kong.

Which were taken by force by a weaker outside country, rather than gained independence through an indigenous anti-colonial rebellion?

No, they weren’t. It was an idea floated but they were most certainly not “well on the way” to giving it up.

To allow Argentina to seize the Falklands and not battle them to them to take them back would have sent a clear message that any backwater country that wanted to claim any of its other territorial possessions around the world could just take them by force.

The Falklands also had a population of English speakers with roots back in UK so it makes what Argentina did even more offensive.

Similar thinking to the 1991 Gulf War----one third world country just moving in an occupying another was no longer acceptable on the world stage, hence Iraq was kicked out of Kuwait by an international coalition.

The Falkland Islands have enormous potential strategic value to the UK since the surrounding ocean is known to have signs of massive oil fields. Exploration is currently taking place but commercialising the area is hindered by the difficulties of drilling for oil in the deep sea, in an area without an existing support structure, the threat of continued hostilities from Argentina plus the current low price of oil.

Argentina would not only benefit from the (potential) oil by seizing the Falklands but it has been suggested they would also declare all the ocean between Argentina and the Falklands as territorial waters.

There is a view the continuing hostile stance by Argentina is a total case of shooting themselves in the foot as regards revenue. The aggressive stance is a factor that blocks investment into developing oil fields. If instead of demanding sovereignty over the Falklands, after 99% of the (small) population voted to remain British, the Argentine sought trade agreements then Argentina would be in a good position to benefit from very lucrative revenue streams.


As noted by UDS, Thatcher was not a popular PM during her first term. She didn’t appear effective - she had inherited a pig’s arse of an economy, and was making slow progress in dealing with it (she also had a factional cabinet that was putting the brakes on her more fanciful Hayekian fantasies). So no question the Falklands conflict was a massive political fillip for her and her party.

Countering that, the opposition at the time were in pieces (literally, in the case of the SDP split) - the 1983 election is generally seen as the nadir of the post-war labour party. So whilst this came after, and was influenced by, the Falklands, the point is that there was no effective opposition to Thatcher at that time. So even if she had got the response to the Falklands completely wrong (e.g. let’s do nothing and let a tin-pot dictatorship take our lands by force of arms), then it’s not obvious what the consequences would have been for her domestically.
I doubt Michael Foot was rattling the sabre on the issue, at least not with any heartfelt intent, so it’s not like the opposition would have had her in the crosshairs over it.

The world would have been deprived of one of the most inspiring acts of heroism in recorded history. I refer, of course, to Bill O’Reilly braving a hail of bullets to rescue his photographer in the thick of the Falklands fighting. Wait, that might be the same photographer who later showed him pictures of El Salvador, so that’s two of the most inspiring acts of heroism in recorded history.

Foot was strongly supportive of retaking the islands, pissing off the left of his party no end.

Thatcher would have been advised of the risks of retaking the Falklands.

It would cost billions, the risks of failure were significant and there would be a loss of life - for what gain? The Falklands has and still have little economic value.

On paper, it makes no economic sense. However politically, its significance was huge.

The Falklands people were not from South America, there was not indigenous population, they are British and wished to remain so.

Responding militarily to having part of your territory invaded by the army of military dictatorship famous for its dirty war against it own people. That has echoes of the situation before WW2, when the Conservatives seriously misjudged the Nazis and tried diplomacy, with disasterous consequences. You don’t negotiate with characters like Galtieri.

The position of the UK in the world as a country ready and able to project power was important, Thatcher was anxious to confirm that status and cement to relationship with US. This was a key element of UK foreign policy. This was during the Cold War and weaknesses in the West would have been closely observed by the Soviets. There could have been all kinds of consequences.

Furthermore, Thatchers political position in the UK was precarious. The country was very divided at the time and riven with industrial disputes. Its economy was is a parlourous state as government after government tried and often failed to make the ‘post war consensus’ between the government and organised labour unions work.

The left, led by Michael Foot of Labour Party were all for negotiation through the UN to achieve a diplomatic solution. Indeed the US tried to facilitate this. However the Argentine leadership was intransigent. The case for diplomacy was explored and failed. Politically in the UK, this created a very big problem for the left. There were plenty of socialists who supported a robust response by aggression against UK sovereign territory by what looked very like a bunch of South American fascists.

If the Argentines has been prepared to compromise, withdraw the troops. Demilitarise the area and agree to some decision by an international commission, it may have been different. But the reason for the invasion was a result of internal tensions with Argentina. Small wars are a useful distraction from more pressing economic failures of government. Get the people dancing around the flag. The Argentines clearly did not think the UK had the resources or the political will to confront them. That was a big mistake.

If the UK had turned its back on the Falklands, it would certainly have been the end of Thatchers career. The UK would have suffered a big loss of credibility on the international stage. Who knows, Argentina may have decided to press further historic claims against its neighbours.

Maybe it would caused other similar events elsewhere around the world. Argentina would have certainly had more years of military dictatorship and a far longer ‘dirty war’ of disappearances and persecution. Its economy would have worsened.

The UK would not have had Thatcherism and there would have been many more years of industrial strife and economic decline.

The sad thing is, the whole thing could have been settled peacefully. Argentina could have got the Falklands through diplomacy. Once they went to war, that option was pretty much lost.

The UK was going through a difficult period and military budgets and the government was looking to cut even the modest military budget for the defence the Falklands and South Georgia. There could have been some kind of deal and Argentina could have got possession of the Falklands, for all the good that that would have done them. Whether any Argentines would have found it particularly attractive to move to these cold, wind swept islands and look after sheep, is another matter.

The Falklands war cost the UK several billion pounds and several hundred lives were lost. But it could afford it. It confirmed that the UK was militarily strong enough and willing to wage war right across the other side of the world. It cemented Thatcher as very credible leader at time when there were few other candidates. She was clearly a politician with nerves of steel. She went on become a remarkably successful politician who led the UK for eleven years. What became of Leopoldo Galtieri, the man behind the war? He lived for years in ignominy as a military leader whose only success was the persecution of his own people.


It was a small war, over a few poor islands. But it had a huge political impact.

Do they, though? They have oil.