The Polish situation

Thank you so much, PatrickLondon.

Thank you, filmstrar-en.
You’re right. Alliance plays an important role when crises arise, but alliance also has a hierarchy.
At the time, the bilateral question for the US boils down, in both policy terms and public perceptions, to pro-UK or pro-Argentina; the larger strategic question boils down to Pan-America vs. NATO. Finally, the US chose NATO, though the declassified documents show the US, or the State Department to be specific, was planning to help Argentine to retrieve the Falklands. “Our proposals, in fact, are a camouflaged transfer of sovereignty, and the Argentine foreign minister knows this, but the junta will not accept it.” Haig said at the NSC meeting on April 30,1982 (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1981–1988, Volume XIII, Conflict in the South Atlantic, 1981–1984 - Office of the Historian)

Thank you for your informative explanation and sharing.

The invasion forced the internal debate within the political leadership of both protagonists to unite in an unambiguous position regarding sovereignty. Before the invasion, there was some latitude for discussing possible compromises to the sovereignty question. Afterwards, there was not. This suited Galtieri and it also suited Thatcher. Both were looking for an issue that would unite their fractious countries behind their leadership.

The US did not have to make such an immediate decision. Certainly the long build up to the conflict, due to the challenges of assembling an armada and it journey to the South Atlantic, provided a lot of time and opportunities for discussion within the US of all the potential compromises and their implications. It was not in the interests of the US for these two allies to go to war over the Falklands question.

There was much discussion in the UK during those weeks as the task force slowly made its way to get to into position, about how this conlict could be avoided. That would have involved going over all the possible diplomatic solutions to the sovereignty question. There could have been a compromise over uninhabited South Georgia. Or some long therm lease arrangement that ceded sovereignty over a much longer period to Argentina, but preserved the situation for the current generation of islanders. Many of these scenarios would have been discussed informed by speculative policy studies and reports produced in the course of foreign relations. Though I would guess that there may have been rather sparse given the low profile the Falklands question had in the UK and US until the invasion suddenly took place.

I remember well the leader of the opposition in the UK, Michael Foot and prominent figures on the Left in the UK like Tony Benn, arguing for a negotiated settlement and the involvement of the UN to avoid this war. But their arguments had little traction. Once Argentina had invaded, the die was set. They could not go back without a serious political crisis that would break the power of the junta. In the UK it was more a question of whether this huge military undertaking could actually be done with the resources available. I still find it remarkable that it was able to achieve its objective. It was, at times, a very close thing. It was a huge gamble by Thatcher that could have easily ended in disaster. For the Argentine junta, it was thought to be a low risk. The islands were defended by only a handful of soldiers that could be easily overcome. Presumably the benefit would be to consolidate the leadership of the junta around Galiteri.

It would be interesting to know how much the US knew about what was going on in the Argentine leadership. The UK certainly had hardly any diplomatic or intelligence resources in that region. I guess the US would have had more but the focus of both the US and UK was the Cold War and countering the Soviet Union. That dominant pre-occupation would later explain the intelligence failure of the first Gulf War and the Iraq invasion of Kuwait.

These events seem to come out of nowhere and upset international relations dramatically. Documents and papers that predate a crisis can be surprising in their speculations. But once a major security event happens, the debate stops, policies crystalize and attention transfers to the resources needed for ‘diplomacy by other means’.

I do sometimes wonder what could have been achieved between the diplomats of Argentina and the UK if they had been permitted to negotiate a solution to the sovereignty question in a time of peace.

This small war had a dramatic effect on the politics of the UK where it cemented Thatchers position and in Argentina where it undermined the dominance of the military junta. Internationally, it seemed to go back to as it was. The US-UK relationship was at it strongest during the Thatcher-Reagan years.