Emotional actor: foreign policy decision-making

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Coy, Patrick G.  and  Woehrle, Lynne M.; (Eds.) 2000


Nora Femenia, Ph. D.



            The conflict that erupted in the spring of 1982 between Argentina and Great Britain, quickly escalating into war, stunned the world. Even today, emotions are triggered on either side when the British name, Falkland Islands or the Argentine name, Islas Malvinas is used to refer to the disputed Islands, lying 300 miles east of the Strait of Magellan at the southern end of South America and 8000 miles away from the United Kingdom. In a surprise attempt to take possession of the Falkland Islands, Argentina humiliated a former European superpower and precipitated one of the most unpredictable wars of the century.

What drove these countries to move forcefully on their long-disputed, one hundred and fifty years old claim? What moved Argentina to recover the Malvinas and Britain to repel the invasion using force? I propose here that in the Falklands/Malvinas crisis, unacknowledged emotional factors were the central motivations behind the decisions made by both Britain and Argentina. Furthermore, I will show that such emotion-loaded factors—specifically, national self-images—are an often ignored but essential tenet of every nation's foreign policy-making.

Argentina had other opportunities to initiate forceful recovery of the islands during the 150 years of sovereignty claims against Britain, which began in 1833, i.e. during World War II when Britain was at its weakest. At that time, Argentina had developed concrete plans to retake the Malvinas, however, the perceived enemy against whom to secure the islands was the U. S., not Britain. Maintaining the image of Britain consistent as a valued ally, Argentina waited nearly 40 years to act on those plans. Strategic plans to recover the Malvinas were part and parcel of the training of military officers for a long time, but confined to the theoretical domain. Research suggests that the main variable in 1982 to justify a change in the stalemate was partially motivated by unsatisfactory British and Argentine national self-images and their inevitable and compelling needs for international recognition.1 The same emotion-driven self-images that precluded a military takeover in the 1940s -because then highly satisfactory- prompted a takeover in the ‘80s because of deep frustration produced by unsolved emotional needs. Shrinking British power in post-imperial times prompted a national identity crisis, directed to heal diminished national images.

When the crisis ended, by Argentina’s surrender on June 14, 1982, both countries were left with the symbolic treasure over which they fought; Britain was left with a renewed sense of British world greatness and Argentina appropriated the role of victimized, heroic David resisting the prepotence of the superpowers. The confrontation tragically confirmed for each national player the basic elements of their emotional scripts, reassuring them both that war is a legitimate means to get to know who they are, and what they stand for.2

Underlying affective factors in foreign policy-decision making

  Social groups and nations demand that their unique existence be acknowledged. They adopt varieties of symbols, which represent their uniqueness and draw attention to their existence. Denial of recognition produces a kind of narcissistic hurt that appears to stimulate wrathful reactions. Political terrorism movements have roots in this dynamic.3 Perhaps, in a Hobbesian world, there is some gratification in gaining international recognition as a respected threat that disappears when being perceived as weak or having no recognition at all. In such a world, non-recognition really means to be perceived as powerless.

The concept of normative/affective behavior demonstrated by actors whose choices are dominated by values and emotions is an ideal type, a baseline concept. Once it is introduced, there is room to discuss the conditions under which supposedly rational behavior shows such characteristics. In this paper, one of the main affective factors considered is the need for recognition. Burton4 calls the need for recognition the right of any group to present a positive image in the eyes of other groups in the international arena. Non-recognition of individuals and groups is the source of their endless and relentless anger, sometimes expressed as armed aggression committed precisely against others who are valued as recognition-providers, but who fail to provide it.

The need for recognition is difficult to define as an interest. However, this intangible human need of both individuals and groups is so valuable that the mere granting of acknowledgement can often bring disproportionate dividends in a negotiation process. The same dynamic response is elicited whether at the individual or social level. Recognition at the nation-state level is much more difficult to achieve, insofar as sovereignty problems are experienced by the national citizenry as factors threatening the integrity of the group self. This explains one of the newly emerged states’ needs to obtain immediate recognition from peer states so as to be internationally accepted as its equal member.

In this field, normative/affective (N/A) factors are often associated with or conditioned by symbols and self-images.5 Perceptions of symbols and self-images are constructed within a national group at the same time as outside perceptions develop. National elites as international actors are often preoccupied with constructing their own actions in the most positive light in the eyes of the whole world. Self-images constructed by elites in each country through the support of national myths are promoted among its own citizens and other nations.6 Those that are chosen and enforced are final products of an active process of reality construction that addresses both elite’s and public’s need to maintain self-esteem. Through this process, nations develop myths and dramatic scripts selected precisely for their ability to enhance and promote the valued national image.7

In this essay, I suggest that national self-images and underlying national self-esteem needs are important elements that determine and influence foreign policy decision-making considerations. In some cases, a perceived threat to a national self-image can be as serious as a territorial threat, if not more so. I would also argue that self-esteem needs at a nation's highest level are unacknowledged because of self-presentation needs to appear rational in the decision-making process. To save face, leaders repress awareness of these needs, while simultaneously promoting aggressive behavior to repair a weak image or to replace it with a more assertive or powerful one. The flip side of rational foreign policy decision making consists of a level of semi-conscious anxiety which strives to maintain and restore a positive self-image vis-a-vis domestic public opinion, along with the need to force recognition by other international actors through whatever means possible.

The main focus of this paper is to show how normative/affective factors—embodied in national self-images—shaped the Argentine decision to invade/recover the Falkland/Malvinas and the British response. In this armed confrontation, elite decision-making and groupthink on both sides were shaped and motivated not by alleged rational calculations, but by hidden affective factors. I will follow a general proposition that “the majority of choices people make, including economic ones, are entirely or largely based on normative-affective considerations not merely with regard to selection of goals but also of means. The limited zones in which logical, empirical (L/E), considerations are paramount, are themselves defined by N/A factors that legitimate and otherwise motivate such decision-making. 8

In this way, I hope to highlight the importance of normative/affective factors in foreign policy decision-making. Each issue will be addressed from opposing perspectives--both the British and the Argentine processes of self-image construction, along the 74 days of the Falklands/Malvinas war. Each country had a set of self-images assembled in a script that had developed over time in a patterned sequence of events, each in timely response to the other's propositions in the hostile interaction process. By exploring the respective self-images of Britain and Argentina and demonstrating how the perceived images affected the decisions of the elites, I will make a clear linkage between emotional motivations and foreign policy decision-making.

The Inadequacy of Realism

  While the realist model of foreign policy decision-making is the most widely accepted and applied of the existing foreign policy paradigms, it is an incomplete model for understanding and predicting national decisions in the international arena. By assuming that nations make their foreign policy decisions in a logical, unemotional process guided solely by national interest considerations, the realist model fails to take into account a number of other important factors affecting such decisions. Some of the most significant factors which realist paradigm fails to account for are normative/affective or emotional factors.

It is increasingly accepted among scholars the shortcomings of social theory, i.e. rational choice theory, to explain the constitution of identity. In the realist tradition, either states share the logic of self-help or they are at the mercy of others, but the complex aspects of redefining national identity and its affective components are not included. When the state is the central focus as the sole rational agent capable of action, which then defines security in self-interested terms, other considerations are necessarily left out. Thus realism undervalues sociological and psychological understandings of international interaction as they relate to security considerations. It is no surprise that the collapse of the Cold War as a theoretical milieu now allows different perspectives as changing conceptions of "self and interest" to come to the fore.9 For example, Kleiboer10 is opening the field of international relations by including theories describing relational and socio-psychological behavior as factors determining outcomes. Considering identity and interest-formation allows students of international relations to address the problem of how historical group-subjects' motives are generated. These considerations point to a basic question of my research: if viewed from the normative/affective framework, how was the motivation for the military invasion of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands produced in Argentina in 1982? A reciprocal search is important in a study of the forceful British recovery.

The Falklands/Malvinas War makes a good case study because rarely are conflicts as remotely situated, as limited in time frame, and as easily isolated from the media as this war was. The unique, "research-friendly" characteristics of the Falkland/Malvinas war makes it appealing in many ways for different research communities, as is apparent in the wealth of research done not only in and by both sides of the conflict but also by the international community.

Argentina: Growing Isolation in the International Scenario

Argentina's military and economic superiority in South America was established at the beginning of the 20th century, because of a prosperous relationship with the powerful British Empire begun in the previous century. But Argentina's fortune rose and fell with Britain’s, and by 1939, the world was on the verge of dramatic change. Despite these evident impending changes, Argentina's ruling elites maintained the same relationship they had for over a century through World War II. Di Tella & Watt11 argue that from 1920 on, Argentina's allegiance to Britain was counterproductive.

World War II thrust Argentina and the entire world into a sea of change. Argentina was forced to confront the existing socioeconomic conditions of 1945: national depression and humiliation due to misguided decision-making during World War II; working-class alienation due to changes from agrarian to industrial modes of production; and the growing lack of prestige and influence of traditional elites.

With the passing of British imperial might, the fundamental problem for Argentine elites was that the power of their long-standing "protector" country appeared to be fading away. But having modeled their identity upon those of their British counterparts, national elites could not bring themselves to relinquish such a cherished identification with their former allies in due time. Failure to do so would leave domestic leadership in dire need of new models on which to build self images vis a vis domestic and international publics. By failure to resolve the impossible choice, a long period of frustration and isolation ensued.

Internal upheaval generated by conflicts between the old, landed oligarchy and the rising masses of immigrant's children combined with the national ideology championed by the Peronist movement produced a cycle of military coups d’état. Beginning in September 1930, these military takeovers led to alternating civilian and military governments until 1983, when the military junta, that planned and executed the military recovery/invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas fell. Three top-level military officers from the Army, (General Galtieri, designated President), the Navy, (Admiral Anaya) and the Air Force, (Brigadier Lami Dozo) composed the third Argentine junta, which continued to rule until elections were called in 1983. Reversal of development12 and endless political crises were followed by growing international concern and helped shape a conflictive international image. In the recent history of Argentina's international relations, a permanent tension between acceptance and rejection by the Western world shaped a national role that would alternate between the image of the traditional continental leader and an "international pariah" status.13 Between the 1950s and 70s, Argentina--like most other Latin American countries--was subjected to a U. S. policy of benign neglect. But this "benign neglect" was transformed into widespread, unanimous international criticism during the Carter years, when the first news about the junta's policy of "domestic control by means of state terror" became public. As more and more reports of atrocities against unarmed, defenseless civilians were made public, instituting the new figure of the "desaparecidos," the international community began reacting against the policy of domestic repression (denominated “dirty war”) and pressing the military regime for reforms. The Carter administration, beginning in 1977, instituted a new approach towards human rights violations, primarily motivated by Argentina's domestic terror. Maintained through the last part of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, this policy provoked a rancorous response from the Argentine military then in power. The Argentine military perceived this policy to be an unjust attack upon behavior previously approved of and even taught by the U. S. military. The following statement reflects a deep reaction towards a policy of rejection and isolation: “We are left alone, we that are the Western defense reserves are attacked by people who should be defending our cause; we are the combat front against communism that is left alone.14

Even after the Malvinas fiasco, the experience of being Britain's enemy compounded the military junta's sense of "being excluded from the family of Western countries, whose interests we were defending, where we feel that we belong." The elite's need for international recognition was evident; how those needs impinged upon foreign policy decision-making will be shown. However, first it is necessary to look at how both international and domestic recognition needs intertwine.


In recovering the islands, Argentina has carried out an action endorsed not only by the totality of its people, but also by the mandate of each succeeding generation ever since the day in which that part of its territory was snatched away from it...

Therefore, at the same time that the immutable Argentine disposition to negotiate honorable formulae for resolving the conflict has been made clear, it is necessary to state with the same firmness, the will of its authorities and its people to defend its sovereign rights and have them recognized. 15


Domestic recognition needs are a strong motivating factor. Immediately after mobilizing national identity by recovering/invading the Islands, it was impossible for the junta to withdraw the troops from the Islands without jeopardizing the bases of their support. On the one hand, the junta was under intense domestic pressure and, on the other hand, it was cornered by British intransigence. Public support was so overwhelming for the members of the same junta, previously rejected by a massive hate demonstration two days before, that it blocked the initial design to remove the troops in the two-day period after the landing and take them back home, leaving only a symbolic presence. Having Argentine soldiers there, in the sacred Malvinas soil, became the essence of being Argentine; the "ser nacional"--that elusive national essence--was there alive and glowing. Common citizens could recognize themselves as being actors in the historic recovery of the long lost Islands, and so recover an identity also long lost in the era of military dictatorship.

How could the military junta possibly retreat without committing treason against this emotional, warming wave of public support that they had inadvertently unleashed? Admiral Anaya warned his colleagues of this situation and urged them to come to a decision, that was, not surprisingly, to stay and wage an impossible war. Thus, the emotional domestic situation coupled with other pressures locked Argentina into an armed conflict with Britain from which there was no possibility for withdrawing without losing national and international face.

Emotional Underpinnings

Argentina, throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century, based its self-image on its profitable relationship with Britain, which was the most important commercial ally in the region. It drew strength from its assets in the fertile, extended pampas, natural resources and selective immigration that had also inspired faith in the concept of "Argentina Potencia"--Argentina's destiny to be the preponderant Latin American regional power.16 When, after World War II, this relationship began to change because Britain's decline affected both Argentina's own self-image and its international trade, it brought internal strife and growing international isolation throughout the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. This isolation--coupled with the desperate need of Argentina's military junta for relief from domestic rejection--bred the rage, defensiveness, and emotional desire for an improved national self image which ultimately led to its decision to invade the Malvinas Islands in 1982. An early self-affirming posture can be seen in Argentina's response to the British threat to send the Endurance to evict workers landed in the Georgias: “If we give way, in this case to a kind of British sudden impulse to eject our people by force, and in a British ship, then this is an affront to national honor.17

The Falkland/Malvinas Islands themselves were a long-standing source of tension between Britain and Argentina. First colonized by Argentina, and then taken by England in 1833, they would either be relegated to the background of the relationship, or put to the fore, as by the communications agreements of 1971. But international negotiations were protracted and leading nowhere in 1982, as described by Costa Mendez: “The invasion of the Malvinas, or the occupation of the Malvinas, was caused by a long-time British attitude and, in my judgment, prompted by mismanagement of the Georgias crisis by the British government. Really, it is a gross exaggeration of the Georgias crisis.18

Given this history, it is no surprise that the Argentines, frustrated as they were with their relationship with Britain, chose the Falkland/Malvinas Islands as a symbol of their fight for international recognition and legitimacy. The Malvinas Islands, held in the public consciousness by almost a century of indoctrination through the school system,19 meant more than merely a piece of territory. Argentines were seeking not only to right more than a century of perceived wrongs, but also to resolve now the deeper dispute of where Argentina stood vis a vis Britain and its position in the world system. The invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas, it was hoped, would spur a consideration of more substantive issues and, as a result, boost Argentina's international image to a more adequate level of importance. As Costa Mendez, the Foreign Relations Minister would say, “This occupation would make it possible for us to negotiate once and for all the underlying dispute. It would also induce the international community, the interested parties and even the U. S. to pay more attention to the reasons for the dispute, its character and the need for a rapid solution. The United Nations would not be able to procrastinate if faced with military action and would have to discuss it at the highest possible levels.20

But the emotional appeal of the Malvinas recovery had the unintended consequence of deeply mobilizing and inspiring the entire nation. As La Nacion,21 a popular newspaper put it, "An emotional wave washed the streets on April 2, with so much impetus, the same rolling over that of the forces on the beaches of Malvinas." At the same time, the elite's strategy in Argentina demanded that, in order to rally domestic support and engage the citizens on an emotional level, the invasion should be repeatedly portrayed as mandated by an anthropomorphic, mythological entity--the entire Argentine public as an unitary actor: “A profound sentiment of all sectors of society. …This step has been thought of in the name of all and every one of the Argentines.” This strategy was successful.

Argentine national elites appealed again and again to this mythological supraentity's pride and honor. They were followed enthusiastically by the public, which grasped the opportunity to see itself in a more positive way. No more the beaten, terrorized subjects of state terror, but a proud people, deserving a better future, as shown in these examples:

As the Governor of the Southern Argentine territories, I am sure to reflect the deep faith that Argentines have, with a heart full of joy and love for the Fatherland, at this time when it begins to heal the bleeding wound that during a century and half injured national dignity 22.


British pride needs respect as much as Argentine pride, and if it has been hurt by Argentine military occupation of the Islands on April 2nd, the Argentine pride was hurt by not only a century and half of occupation, but also by the British disdainful attitude concerning the (unattended) need to continue examining the political aspects of the dispute.23

An essential element of the emotional appeal of leaders to their citizens is the ability to draw a clear line between right and wrong, good and evil. Specifically, leaders must convince their people that theirs is a right and just cause. Argentina's leaders repeatedly reminded their citizens of the "justness" of their cause. Both Argentine elites and the media produced emotional appeals that portrayed the Falkland/Malvinas recovery as producing the healing of Argentina’s identity and self-image as a whole nation, severely diminished by so many years of state terror under military juntas, from 1976 on. They did so by comparing the recovered Islas Malvinas with lost family members who were finally found.24 It is inevitable to find in these powerful emotional undertones an allusion to the fruitless search for so many disappeared children that were never found by their relatives:


The day has arrived in which we can embrace that unknown missing Argentine, called Malvinas. We are very conscious about recovering these pieces of our motherland. We are very proud to be in the age of the rescue of our pieces, our islands that we feel as family and rejoice in the reunion of missing parts of our identity. 25 A son previously taken away from us has been reintegrated into the maternal fold; an act of justice has been accomplished.26


These metaphors demonstrate how the affective dynamics of “things lost and never to be recovered,” impregnated the imaginary contents of public discourse. Contrary to researchers’ theoretical assumptions, most of the psychological content of public Argentine discourse is not dedicated to build up enmity against the enemy, Britain, but to the process of working through and healing national emotional wounds. This would further the hypothesis of such constructions as being more revealing of the internal processes’ needs of the constructing entity than providing information about the described target enemy.

The "Touch and Go" Plan to Recover the Malvinas

From the beginning, according to Gamba-Stonehouse,27 Argentina's military elites had foreseen the following course of events: military action would capture the attention of both the United Kingdom and the US and would lead to resumption of negotiations under the terms of the 1966 United Nations accords. If necessary, the U. S. would be brought in as a mediator; and if that failed, the United Nations would be on Argentina's side, assuming that the Security Council would only take action after a breach of peace.

A short operation, that is, a show of military teeth followed by a turn to the negotiation table, was the plan. Busser28 confirms that the operation--short, bloodless, and a surprise, so as to minimize casualties--seemed within Argentina's capabilities. The "touch and go" plan was driven by rational calculations that also involved the psycho-political need to seek due recognition of the seriousness of Argentina's intentions from the United Kingdom, the U. S. and the United Nations. In addition, the urgent Argentine need to negotiate the Islands’ sovereignty projected an image of equal importance to both contending nations.

Actions and not words, would convince the international community of the importance of the Malvinas problem for the Argentine public; force was the only road open to achieve this objective. For Argentine elites, within the frame of their imagined "national parity" with Britain, a "touch and go" operation would succeed in moving the British stance to mandatory negotiation. This meant in the military junta's calculations, an implicit assumption about Argentina's great importance in world rankings.

According to the perceptions of the British elite, the impudent demands of the imagined "lesser party" were perceived as an affront. The invasion of United Kingdom territory fueled an international perception both of British deterrence failure and its overall military weakness compounding an unmistakable affront. The intended Argentine message --"We are equals; let's take each other seriously and acknowledge our needs for honorable negotiations"—had to be utterly ignored.

The British response was also conditioned by the strategic fact that recognition of Argentina's needs would do nothing to provide a badly needed boost in British self-image. Moreover, it was almost impossible—after the Suez 1956 crisis—to tolerate another "touch and go" humiliation from a Third World nation without answering it with a show of resolve.

Miscalculation by the junta included support for national self-images that disproportionately enlarged Argentina's strategic importance in world affairs. A vital part of Argentina's risk analysis, such as a more realistic self-appraisal, was missing in the decision to intervene in 1982. This delusion of self-importance, which compensated for so many years of international isolation and "pariah" status, permeated almost all elite's decision-making after April 2, and this delusion injured Argentina's chances at accomplishing even the most modest goals of its invasion/recovery.

A Feeling of Rage, a Failure of Deterrence

 Underneath the motivation of Argentina's military elites in 1982 was rage at its humiliating treatment by the United Kingdom and its wholesale rejection by the international community because of persistent human rights violations. Domestically, the junta never accepted foreign perceptions, always considering itself a victim of an alleged "systematic international campaign against Argentina's prestige." Wedge29 asserts that the phenomenon of narcissistic rage is precipitated by various forms of humiliation based on a sense of unfairness or injustice. While defeat in a fair competition is accepted by the prideful self (for example, Argentine Air Force’s behavior in the combat fields of the Malvinas), it is only when one is forced to accept unequal rules and finds oneself helpless or unable to gain acceptance, when narcissistic rage ensues.

In the Falklands/Malvinas dispute, these unequal rules would be evidenced by Britain's past tendency to make strategic decisions about using military deterrence instead of meaningful negotiations. In the long history of the dispute between the two countries over the Islands, this treatment had happened before. When Britain responded aggressively with threats and military actions to Argentina's invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas, it dealt a blow to Argentina. Argentina was doubly humiliated because it considered itself an equal partner to Britain, with a long partnership that merited a more egalitarian treatment than the subordinate position implied by threats of force. Admiral Busser30 viewed the British decision to send military reinforcements--instead of pursuing negotiations--as a signal of British low interest and disdain for Argentina's rightful claims.

Due to this set of circumstances, Britain was naturally singled out to be the enemy at this time. In the recent past, Chile could have been Argentina's enemy because it also confronted Argentina with territorial disputes. Confrontations like these were taken as challenges to a glorious and important national image as continental leader. As described in a military speech pronounced to justify the first military junta’s takeover in 1976, the promised Argentina of the immediate future was one of unmitigated splendor. Those images were overwhelmingly consistent with issues concerning Argentina's due status in the Western world, always focusing on a national drive to recover a proper place in the world order in accordance with its historical and strategic importance, and the consequent recovery of greatness, honor, and prestige. Argentina's relentless search for international recognition and status involved correcting disastrous image problems, by means such as coups d’etat or international confrontations. These image problems are described as fueling a "crisis waiting to happen,"

The progressive disintegration of Argentine optimism caused a real national neurosis, observable in certain social phenomena, such as compulsive attention to the 1978 World Soccer championship. There, the triumph against the best teams of other countries gave back the public the lost certitude that they could be the best of the world. Such glory… gave an ersatz consolation for national soul wounds, lacking other significant triumphs in areas of international competition. 31

It is clear in the Falklands/Malvinas case that traditional deterrence can produce contradictory results. Lebow32 clearly points out "the apparent failure of states practicing deterrence to identify and address, at the same time, what may be the most important causes of foreign policy aggression.” One of these causes is the degree to which would-be challengers are inner-directed and inwardly focused on their own political interests. Lebow suggests that "their own political interests" are often grounded in self-image preservation and enhancement. Using defensive avoidance, elites try to reconcile incompatible domestic imperatives (the redefinition of the military junta from a perceived genocidal machine into a valued national leadership) and geopolitical-foreign relations objectives. The faltering legitimacy of the junta in Argentina increased its desperate need to do something to shore up its public support. The threat of domestic rejection overrode all deterrence considerations, precisely because at the same time there was an urgent need to redress the perceived lack of British recognition of Argentina as its worthy, equal partner. Fear of Britain's military might was not enough to deter brinkmanship decision-making when considerations about lack of international prestige, loss of face and narcissist hurt provoked the rage of the military junta members.

This rage originated with the frustration of the junta's need to be internationally acknowledged in their dual self-representation as valid and respected Western leaders, aptly exterminating the communist menace, and with the need to be accepted domestically as legitimate warriors in the fight against leftist guerrillas. Lebow,32 and also Levy,33 observe that the principal incentive for aggressive foreign policy appears to be a state's own perceived domestic vulnerabilities. Perceived vulnerabilities lead state policy-makers to challenge an adversary, even when the external opportunity to act, in the form of an opponent's vulnerable commitment, is absent. Lebow and Stein,34 as well as Burton35 are proposing new research directions for a "human needs" theory that would explain and predict cases when strategic vulnerabilities and domestic political needs can create compelling incentives to use force.

By initiating military operations in order to avoid more humiliation, the line from mere "saber-rattling" to concrete military actions was crossed. Referring to the decision to retake the Malvinas, and the preliminary events that led to that decision, Busser maintains:

It was not possible to accept taking back Davidoff's team of workers from Georgias without suffering a national humiliation. Whether using a British ship or an Argentine one would do it, it would be always under duress, by using force or the threat thereof. By sending war ships to the area on March 25, and with all certainty on March 29, the United Kingdom had already begun its aggression. When the ships arrived, workers would be evacuated from the place and our humiliation would be unavoidable. 36


Busser’s argument here confirms that the self-system of individuals provides a powerful linkage with the behavior of groups in social conflict. Non-rational human needs, in particular the need for recognition and "justice," provide a driving force in conflict behavior and need to be taken into account more than is commonly the case. Busser's claim to success illustrates how aggressive measures applied in order to recover a respected place within a valued relationship become validated: “We can see now that the British approach to the problem has changed, from utter disdain of Argentina's capacity of action or reaction, to the adoption of serious preventative measures. To the contrary, disdain and conceit were shown in the March 23rd ultimatum.”37

Confirming pieces of evidence are the self-enhancing results of an image obtained by a courageous challenge—even if a nation fails, then it fails gloriously. Later, Busser when describing his perception of a new place for Argentina in the world's appreciation, supports the contention that crisis generation was an appropriate strategy for Argentina to regain national pride: “Today, nobody can ignore that due to the British usurpation, a less powerful country confronted one of the most powerful military, economic and social superpowers.”


Nobody can deny that today Argentina has another place in these countries' consideration. Admiration so gained would endure and have transcendence impossible to suspect today. Prestige and an image of moral courage during the conflict gave to Argentina moral leadership; because of the Malvinas we now are regarded with admiration and respect, because we showed ourselves as a country committed to defend what is its own.38


The generic psychological result of internal and external mobilizations, stemming from a pride-enhancing script, is a renewal of the sense of identity and dignity among human populations that feel (and often are) not only excluded from the centers of power but from a legitimate "home" and recognized "roots" in the order of societies: “As we are in the southern part of the continent, we looked like a terminal country; we are not being that anymore but a nation included, by necessity, in the Western world...Malvinas is an episode of something much more important. It is Argentina's place in the world.39 “  

In challenging Britain, Argentines assumed that the United Kingdom could assure the defense of the Falkland Islanders through the negotiation of a number of guarantees for their lifestyle preservation, but that in the long run, Argentina's claim for sovereignty on the Islands would be internationally accepted. The illusion that Argentina and Britain were on the same footing and that Argentina's forceful attempts to be heard would be successful, was a natural conclusion for a people seeking affirmation of its self-image. Given that national identity mobilization is such a powerful force40 it is not surprising that the pressure from below (Argentine and other South American countries public expectations), influenced the decision-makers in Buenos Aires by frustrating the "touch and go" operation and restricting their ability to seek creative and flexible solutions with Britain. Even though they lost the challenge, the symbolic rewards of forcing Britain to recognize Argentina as a suitable military enemy were more satisfactory for humiliation and rage compensation than any formal agreement.

The management of narcissistic rage requires that offended groups be given every opportunity to assert in public their identity and to explain their complaint. They must not be yielded to, but they must be heard and acknowledged. This prescription runs flatly counter to the normal rational decision to restore international order by isolating and silencing such unrestrained actors. Thus, the realist politics that advocate ignoring, controlling and/or destroying dictators, is in this aspect counterproductive and futile. Such was clearly the case in the Falkland/Malvinas crisis, as the British, motivated by their own emotional needs, were unwilling and unable to acknowledge Argentina's emotional desires, and thus responded aggressively to Argentina's perceived affront to British sovereignty and pride. If emotional needs were included in the threat evaluation, perhaps other conflict resolution methods would have been attempted, without the need for a military confrontation. Conflict resolution succeeds only when war is regarded more as a waste of much needed resources instead of a necessary compensation for hurt pride at any price.

THE UNITED KINGDOM: In Need of a Good War

  Britain's long history of success in battle, its long reign as the world's foremost empire, and its decline following World War II are well known and need not be chronicled here. Britain always had a glorious vision of itself as a world leader, a conqueror, an imperial power, but following World War II, domestic and international reality began to challenge that self-image. Even in the early 1980's, Britain was still coming to grips with the reality of its decline in prestige and influence in the world. In 1982, overstretched in military capabilities, foreign policy elites feared a replay of the Suez Crisis of 1956 during which Britain was forced to abandon its military response to Egypt's attack because it lacked US military support. Thereby Britain had to accept humiliation at the hands of a Third World nation. During the Falklands episode, seen as a replay of the Suez crisis, that fear was compounded by the rage and shame of having been surprised in their defense planning vis a vis their NATO partners. These feelings cast a long shadow, as Canetti41 explains, "No one ever forgets a sudden depreciation of himself, for it is too painful. Unless he can thrust it on to someone else, he carries it with him for the rest of his life. And the crowd as such never forget its depreciation."

The political and psychological consequences of the Suez crisis of 1956 changed, once and for all, the world's perceptions of Britain and demonstrated its declining world role and influence with the U. S. It also demonstrated the frightening proposition that poor countries sometimes do not even need to be nuclear powers to reveal a superpower's military weakness. To heal that historic wound, some definite kind of US support was needed which would provide explicit recognition, as Christie42 says: “After the terrible psychological shock of our defeat at Suez, the Falkland Islands recovery was an element of redemption. The Americans let us down; they betrayed us, at Suez. This time, they stood by us. This time, they did the right thing.”

During the Falklands/Malvinas crisis, Britain and Argentina engaged in an "event definition process," that is an integral part of reality construction. According to Edelman,43 reality is best understood as a phenomenon that is inter-subjective but certainly not verifiable in the positivist sense. Whatever seems real to a group of people is real in its political consequences regardless of how absurd, hallucinatory, or shocking it may look to others in different situations or at other times. Any definition of the situation by elites has this impact. Multiple realities are inherent in politics and they are built upon policy rationalizations that justify choosing particular interpretations of the political scene and ignoring others. Argentine takeover of the Falkland Islands prompted Prime Minister Thatcher’s early characterization:


The House meets this Saturday to respond to a situation of great gravity. We are here because, for the first time for many years, British sovereign territory has been invaded by a foreign power...The Falkland Islands and dependencies remain British territory. No aggression and no invasion can alter that simple fact. It is the Government's objective to see that the Islands are freed from occupation and are returned to British administration at the earliest possible moment.44


Dillon explains the reality construction process that took place in Britain in the following manner:


The task confronting British decision-makers at the beginning of the invasion crisis was the construction-under great pressure and changing circumstances-of a new and sustainable interpretation of the whole Falklands affair: an interpretation that would express the War Cabinet's appreciation of what was now at issue in the Falklands, mobilize the maximum amount of national and international support for the ultimatum it had issued, seek a diplomatic way out of the ultimatum if possible and govern its progressive implementation if Argentina refused to withdraw. 45


            As in all policy-making, the interpretation was created and edited as it was enacted. In the process, the language and thus the character of the Falklands issue was transformed into a great symbolic drama composed of a wide variety of interweaving national themes, all of which focused on the future of the Islands and the outcome of the conflict. The Government's political will thus became closely identified with the validation of the country's values and symbol system.46


A perceived disparity between a glorious and stable past and a tarnished and unstable present leads to the selection and characterization of certain events as a focus for a process of purposeful self-esteem recovery. Selection criteria for those events consist of their ability to provide emotional compensation for the deficits of the present situation, to domestic publics in dire need of self-esteem reinforcement. That this was long overdue, was Mrs. Thatcher’s opinion: “Too long submerged, too often denigrated, too easily forgotten, the springs of pride in Britain flow again47 “

British Emotions: Humiliation and Shame

Members of the British Parliament, known worldwide for their theatrics and impassioned delivery of remarks, made quite explicit to the world that the British emotional answer to the Falklands crisis humiliation meant an aggressive response:

Last Saturday's debate was a very sad occasion for all of us. It has not been made any the less sad since then by the departure of Lord Carrington from the Foreign Office. I am sure that today we are all bound together, as we were on Saturday, by feelings of sorrow, shame and anger. 48

Last Friday, as the House knows to its pain, Argentine military aggression took place on British sovereign territory in the Falkland Islands. This was, as we all feel, a humiliating experience, and a grave affront to the people of the Falkland Islands above all, and to the people of the United Kingdom. That action was totally and utterly unacceptable to all of us. 49


Of course we have suffered indignity and humiliation. Of course we are angry and shocked that the country should have been taken completely by surprise when we might have been warned and prepared. 50


If one accepts as valid the hypothesis that Britain's self-image necessarily includes some aspect of world leadership, the "recovery" of the Islands by Argentina was necessarily a challenge to that belief. By exposing a self-designated world power and the third naval power of the world as unable to deter a surprise attack by a neglected former "almost-colony" Argentina's recovery/invasion of the Islands struck at the core of Britain's self-image.51 It was an emotionally shocking situation to be globally perceived as unable to control an actor so insignificant that it never made Britain's "adequate contenders" list.

In this way, Argentina's sheer ignorance of the British public's tolerance limits for Third World aggression provided enough justification for the military response.52. Britain's past experiences and its fears of future humiliations constitute important if largely repressed explanatory determinants of its international behavior. As Dillon53 explains:


British sovereign territory invaded by a Third World nation is an international humiliation impossible to deny, because it is perceived under the memory of another international humiliation: the Suez crisis and the Egyptian challenge of 1956. The meaning was clear: When the British Empire breathed its last at Suez in 1956, it was confirmed to world opinion that Britain had lost the imperial will.


Whatever the Argentines thought the impact of their "non-aggressive recovery" would be on the British mind set, they never suspected the depth of the humiliation, shame and outrage experienced by the British public towards its own historical background: “The third naval power in the world and the second in NATO have suffered a humiliating defeat…. We should recognize that we have suffered the inevitable consequences of the combination of unpreparedness and feeble counsels.54”


Steinberg55 defines shame as an unpleasant emotional experience implying an acute lowering of self-esteem. Furthermore, it is a specific form of anxiety evoked by the imminent danger of unexpected exposure, humiliation and rejection. Shame involves feelings ranging in intensity from bashfulness to embarrassment, as well as the experience of being slighted, put down, dishonored, disgraced, humiliated or mortified.

The experience of shame and unacknowledged alienation has been described as the emotional trigger for vengeful thinking.56 What is called "war fever" is no more than the aggressive reaction that attempts to redress what is perceived as a public embarrassment with unforeseen harmful consequences:


We feel sorrow for the people of the Falkland Islands, the framework of whose lives has been smashed; shame for ourselves that undertakings of assurances given, perhaps unwisely, by successive Governments to defend the Islands to the best of our abilities, in the event have meant so little; and anger at a piece of gross international misconduct. Sorrow, shame and anger may not be good counselors now. 57


As shame is the public signal of a threatened social bond, reaction by Members of Parliament concerned with their constituencies' support had to be immediate and swift:


My gut reaction is to use force. Our country has been humiliated. Every Honorable Member must have a gut reaction to use force, but we must also be sure that we shall not kill thousands of people in the use of that force. I am in favor of the firmest possible diplomatic action and sanctions against the Argentines. I am in favor of asking the United States and all our allies to unite against the Argentine. 58


Could Britain have been spared this international humiliation? If humiliation could not be avoided, then Britain was a lesser power than Argentina. Those that believed that the invasion could have been prevented by Britain's intelligence and defense services simultaneously asserted that humiliation ought to have been prevented. The failure of British deterrence, despite their intelligence capabilities, was exposed by the surprise invasion:


The real question is this. Was the available evidence of such a character that she should prudently have taken precautions at an earlier date? My answer to that question must be "Yes"... That is my first charge against the Government today…. Today our Fleet is sailing towards hostilities that could have been prevented… We are sending an aircraft carrier that has already been sold to meet cash limits from a port that is to be closed and with 500 sailors holding redundancy notices in their pockets. I find that humiliating, too. 59


Not only the House, but also the domestic press widely confirmed humiliation and shame perceptions and also harshly criticized Mrs. Thatcher's government deterrence failure:

The Government last night rounded off a day of spectacular military and diplomatic humiliation with the public admission by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, and the Defense Secretary, Mr. John Nott, that Argentina had indeed captured Port Stanley, while the British Navy lay too far away to prevent it...The irony of a government elected to strengthen Britain's defense posture of finding itself in this position, will not be lost on MPs and some were saying that the debacle in the Falkland Islands was the Government's most dramatic single humiliation. The British Lion is caught with his trousers down.60


Shame is derived from helplessness and loss of self-control together with foreign over-control. British lack of interest in the previous negotiations with Argentina--which occupied the 47th place in a ranking of its strategic interests, --was reflected in nonchalant attitudes. Postures like "talking with Argentina only for the sake of talking" or "buying time, having nothing to offer," were balanced only by ineffectual good intentions, as stated in the Franks Report61 as well as other sources; Charlton, 62 Dillon,63 and Freedman & Gamba-Stonehouse.64 Dooming the British strategy of "substituting procedure for substance" to failure Lebow 65 predicted that, sooner or later, Britain would run out of new negotiation proposals and Argentina would tire of the waiting game. By invading the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, Argentina denounced this weak strategy in the most dramatic way.

The emotional motivations underlying the British response to the Falklands crisis are clearly stated by British elites throughout the crisis.66 Humiliation stemming from a declining international image and an uncertain self-image were turned to rage by the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. The resort to aggression appeared to be a needed means to redress the pain that humiliation had brought upon Britain.67

The Argentine elite failed to perceive the depth of British emotional reaction, assuming, according to the rational actor model, that the British would reciprocate in a logical and diplomatic manner by negotiating a solution. By acting out its own emotional needs, Argentina's leadership failed to realize that British elites had emotional needs of their own.

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