Political Blunders Behind The Falklands War From 'Tempest in a Teapot' by Reginald & Elliot, 1983

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Political Blunders Behind The Falklands War

From 'Tempest in a Teapot' by Reginald & Elliot, 1983

The American academics Reginald & Elliot in their excellent 1983 study of the Falklands War entitled 'Tempest in a Teapot' pose the questions, "Why did two apparently civilised nations go to war over a group of 2,000 worthless islands in the South Atlantic? Could the fighting have been prevented?" They suggest, "The answers lie in the shortsightedness of the governments involved", the real causes of the war being more to do with "governmental blunders" than with historic claims.

"While Britain agreed to negotiate with the Argentines over the Falklands question in 1965, it did so halfheartedly, without any sense of urgency or purpose. Indeed, one is struck while studying the recent history of the Falklands by Britain's seeming inability to decide just what it wanted to do with the islands. At times the British government appeared ready to cede the Falklands to Argentina, in whole or in part, irrespective of the inhabitants' wishes; on other occasions, Britain said it would respect the desires of the natives without actually taking steps to defend them should the worst come to pass.

Of course, the Falkland Islands occupied only a small part of Britain's attention during a period filled with perilous crises. Still, the basic policy followed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the decades of negotiations seemed to be a fervent desire that the issue would just get up and walk away. The professionals of the British Foreign Service consistently underestimated the persistence of their Argentine counterparts, consistently misjudged the long-term effects of delay on the Argentine populace and government, and consistently downplayed threats of action by the Argentine military if negotiations remained stalemated.

From the Argentine point of view, seventeen years of negotiations, with little more to show than a minor trade and travel agreement, were more than sufficient to address the key issues, particularly the sovereignty question. There were signs from the very beginning of the negotiations that Argentina was willing to compromise on some middle ground, if the end results would allow them to at least show the Argentine flag in the islands. One cannot condone the Argentine military solution, but the invasion is at least understandable, given the fact that virtually nothing had been achieved for thousands of hours of work on both sides.

Whether from lack of attention, or more probably from lack of consideration, Britain never seemed to take Argentina seriously, or to understand its peculiar viewpoint on matters related to national honour. It is, of course, easy to make judgements retrospectively; yet one fact stands out quite clearly: Britain made a series of minor diplomatic oversights that blended together into one horrendous blunder, including: its inability to educate its public, either in the Falklands or in Britain itself, on the dangers and options involved; its lack of decision, either to stand by the Falklands and provide a sufficient military presence to defend them, or to abandon the islands, all at once or over a period of time, by forcing the issue and transplanting those islanders unwilling to live under an Argentine administration; its failure to predict the consequences of its actions, such as withdrawing the armed icebreaker Endurance during a period of mounting tensions; its faulty diplomatic and military intelligence, which provided the government with only two days' advance notice of the Argentine invasion; and, finally, a certain condescension in its dealings with the Argentine government, which contributed mightily to the failings mentioned above.

Alone, these might have been minor bumps on the road to good relations between two sovereign countries. Cumulatively, they helped bring on a war neither government really wanted. In the end, Britain had helped manoeuvre itself into a position in which Margaret Thatcher had no option, in her opinion, but to strike back.

….. Galtieri miscalculated at every turn, judging that the United States would remain neutral; that Britain would do nothing but protest to the United Nations; that in the unlikely event of military action, Britain would receive no help from other nations, and did not have in any case the military capability to retake the Falklands; that Argentina could defend its beachhead on the Falklands with ill-trained conscripts; that Brigadier General Menendez, having deployed his soldiers so poorly that even Galtieri noticed their misplacement on his visit to the Falklands, was still the man to lead the Argentines to victory; that after the Argentine surrender, Galtieri could still continue fighting a shooting war, while remaining leader of his country.

….. With both sides failing to take the other seriously, a confrontation was almost inevitable sooner or later. The crisis was precipitated by a conjunction of unfavourable events following the February 1982 negotiating session between Britain and Argentina. Although Britain somehow believed that relations were back to normal following these discussions, Argentina clearly came away from the talks with a feeling of déjà vu, and a sense that nothing would ever come from the negotiations. At that point Galtieri, undoubtedly pressured by Anaya and the General's own subordinates, decided to increase the stakes and put pressure on the British.

The first sign of this new policy was the release in Buenos Aires of the text of the proposed agreement. Simultaneously, Galtieri ordered preparation of a military option, in the event discussions reached an impasse within the next few months. Galtieri was not only impelled by his own sense of destiny and by the higher ranking officers in the Argentine military, but by a declining economy that threatened an end to the junta system itself. He gambled - and he lost.

As the month of March progressed, both sides began to lose control of the situation, essentially just reacting to events and to each other's responses to those events. The riots of March 30th and 31st forced Galtieri's hand. To save himself more than his country, he ordered the invasion to proceed, thereby raising the stakes one step higher.

Once the Argentine forces were committed, neither side could back down, since doing so would mean the end of whichever government broke ranks first. Furthermore, one of the two governments was almost certain to fall in any event, depending on the war's outcome. By this time, any real possibility of a negotiated settlement had long since passed. Barring the unlikely event of a battlefield stalemate, the war would continue until one or the other side emerged victorious, thereby vindicating the judgement of the political leader in question, and dooming the fate of the loser."

Source: R. Reginald & J.M. Elliot, 'Tempest in a Teapot : The Falkland Islands War', (1983), The Borgo Press, San Bernardino, California, USA

Why Britain Won The Falklands War

From 'Tempest in a Teapot' by Reginald & Elliot, 1983

This was the question posed by American academics Reginald & Elliot in the conclusion to their excellent 1983 study on the Falklands War, 'Tempest in a Teapot'.

"Why did Britain win? The British victory was composed of equal measures of professionalism and luck, both essential factors in the prosecution of a war. On paper, Argentina appeared to have a decided edge, in men, materiel, planes, position, and supply lines. The Argentine advantage, however, was eroded away by the British forces as the war developed, the experience of the British military being a decisive factor.

Britain also used the press much more efficiently than Argentina, giving the impression of evenhandedness, truthfulness, even humbleness in advancing its claims, when in reality the military manipulated the few reporters assigned to the fleet by feeding them exaggerated but believable reports about the large numbers of British troops, ships, and planes being sent to the South Atlantic. While the Argentine press releases were discredited almost from the first day of the campaign, Britain's official government press office was regarded by most westerners as the only news source that was even partially veracious. In other words, Britain won the psychological war, and by doing so, gave an enormous boost to its military position. As the war progressed, even Argentina began believing British claims. This was, of course, precisely what Britain intended.

The sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano not only removed from the seas Argentina's most powerful warship, but also effectively marked the end of the naval war in the Falklands; thereafter, Argentina kept its ships within sighting distance of the mainland.

Argentina seemed to have a large advantage in air power at the beginning of the conflict, but never was able to use its large numbers of fighter-bombers to establish control of the air space over the Falklands. Instead, twenty British Sea Harriers flying round the clock effectively knocked the Argentine Air Force out of the sky in the first two weeks of the shooting war. The slower Harriers showed an uncanny ability to outmanoeuvre the faster but clumsier Skyhawks and Mirages, shooting down the Argentine planes in an astonishing ratio of about fifteen British kills for every one for Argentina.

The Argentine Air Force demonstrated immense bravery and tenacity in attacking the British fleet, which was bottled up in Falkland Sound with no room to manoeuver. But its best efforts were thwarted by a high number of dud bombs, including six that actually hit British ships, by the myriad of antiaircraft missiles thrown at the attacking Argentine jets, and by the short amount of combat time (2-10 minutes) that each Argentine plane actually had over the target areas. Essentially, each Argentine aircraft had to line up over the combat zone, quickly dump its bombs and missiles, perhaps turn around once for a strafing run, and then head back to home base, or run the risk of running out of fuel. This left the Argentine craft at an enormous disadvantage in pursuing the Sea Harriers, in picking better targets, in avoiding missiles. In the end, Argentina lost perhaps one-half to two-thirds of its serviceable combat planes, depending on which claims one chooses to believe; more importantly, the Argentines lost a large percentage of its trained fighter pilots, a resource that will be far more difficult to replace than the aircraft themselves.

On land Argentina fared little better. Brigadier General Menendez, who had spoken out against the original Argentine invasion, was simply the wrong man to be defending the Argentine beachhead. He consistently showed himself incapable of making the simplest military judgements. His strategy, his placement of troops, his supply lines, his responses to British actions, all demonstrated woeful military incompetence. Paradoxically, President Galtieri recognised Menendez's deficiencies on his only visit to the islands, but refused to replace him, on the grounds his removal might demoralise the Argentine populace and soldiery.

The British forces were allowed to land at San Carlos Bay virtually unopposed. Argentine troops at Goose Green were reinforced by Menendez, but provided with no further support when they most needed it. Once Goose Green fell, Menendez seemed to pursue a persistent policy of retreat, falling back from entrenched positions at the least sign of pressure from the advancing British. As a result, he soon found himself besieged at Puerto Argentino / Port Stanley, encircled by land and cut off by sea, with no air support whatsoever. At the end, his soldiers broke and ran before the final British attack.

Contributing to the Argentine defeat on land was the dichotomy between the Argentine enlisted men and their elitist officers, many of whom never moved from their relatively plus surroundings in Port Stanley, while the men in the trenches were struggling to find something hot to eat and something warm to wear. A number of the intermediate officers abandoned their units under British military pressure, leaving them in charge of their sergeants or corporals. The vast gap between the privileged officer class and the poorly trained conscripts that comprised much of the Argentine army resulted in a demoralisation of the forces in the field, and a tendency for them to crumble before the relentless British onslaughts.

Contributing to this was Argentina's poor supply chain: while goods and war materiel piled-up in Port Stanley, the soldier in the field received less and less in food, clothes, and weaponry as the war progressed. He felt abandoned by his own people, and consequently did not fight as well as he could have fought, had he been properly maintained and directed. The fault for the military debacle must lie directly with the heads of the Argentine armed services.

Leaving aside political considerations, could Argentina have won the military struggle? There is no certain answer to this question, but most observers seem to feel that Argentina could at least have made a better showing in the Falklands than it did. Argentina's three surviving submarines were never a factor in the struggle: one was apparently unserviceable, but the remaining two could and should have been deployed near the British fleet. The long Argentine aircraft carrier could have been deployed near enough to the Falklands to increase Argentine air cover there tremendously. The sinking of a British aircraft carrier would have halved British air power, as well as demoralised the entire British expeditionary force - this should have been the first priority of the Argentine Navy. The Argentine Air Force probably did as well as possible with the mixture of old and new equipment available to it: if more Exocet missiles had been purchased, if newer aircraft had been obtained, perhaps the outcome might have been different. The Argentine Army made a very poor showing indeed: with better officers, better supply lines, with more aggressive tactics, Argentina could have at least fought the British to a standstill, and perhaps driven them off the beaches at Port San Carlos. But they did not, a fact over which military historians will be pondering for decades to come."

Source: R. Reginald & J.M. Elliot, 'Tempest in a Teapot : The Falkland Islands War', (1983), The Borgo Press, San Bernardino, California, USA

Falklands War official history verdict: 'result could have been different'

Harold Briley
June 2005

New revelations in the soon to be published British official History of the Falklands Campaign indicate that a few key acts by Argentine commanders could have produced a different outcome, possibly avoiding defeat. And, if General Galtieri's military junta instead of launching an impetuous invasion, Argentina may peacefully have attained its long-term ambition of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands because economic and social stagnation and population decline before 1982 could eventually have made the situation 'untenable'.

These are two of the many controversial arguments examined in this official history, written by one of Britain's foremost military academics, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, who is Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, invited by the Government to carry out the task. He has taken eight years to collate and assess masses of information, much of it hitherto secret intelligence.

The issue is comprehensively covered in two volumes. The first deals with the origins of the Anglo-Argentine dispute going back centuries and with the run-up to invasion. The second volume covers the conduct of the war and its aftermath until diplomatic relations were restored in 1990. The two volumes run to more than 130,000 words and cost £90, published by Frank Cass Limited. In advance of publication, Professor Freedman has given extensive clues to his conclusions in an article in the magazine History Today.

Professor Freedman had access to secret official files which focus fresh light on the help given to the United Kingdom by Chile and the United States and also on the tensions that developed in American-British relations in the immediate aftermath of the invasion as President Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of State, General Alexander Haig, acted at first as even-handed intermediaries in an attempt to achieve a diplomatic settlement.

At the same time the Pentagon and the United States military were making "extraordinary efforts" to supply equipment and materials, for example updated side-winder missiles which proved so effective on Harrier jump-jet aircraft.

The history may also explain the mystery of why a helicopter carrying elite SAS troops made an emergency landing on Chilean territory.

Professor Freedman emphasises that "success could by no means be taken for granted" as the military commanders knew at the time. In this, he echoes the assessment of the task force commander, Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, that it was a close-run outcome as ammunition was expended and his ships were mercilessly battered by Argentine air attack and severe Atlantic weather.

The professor points out that it was a war fought with a "small margin for error". The campaign and individual military engagements "could be turned by a moment of heroism or a loss of nerve, by an act of will or a critical error".

He suggests that the outcome could have been different if the Argentines had not made a series of military errors such as not keeping their navy at sea after the sinking of the Belgrano, or by attacking warships instead of the ships carrying troops and equipment, and by not patrolling "more aggressively" as the British advanced towards the capital. If they had acted differently, he says, "the result could have been different. And the loss of one of the two British aircraft carriers would have forced the British Government to reconsider."

With so many previous accounts of the war written by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, other Ministers, military commanders, diplomats and journalists, and with so many contradictions, he says an official history, given access to the best possible official documentary information, can explore the "lingering controversies" and also examine how Britain arrived at some decisions and not at others.

Professor Freedman recognises that access to so much official material might have resulted in a "sanitised account" confirming the "official line" and expressing only "safe and agreed opinions". He insists that the credibility of his history depends on its being his "own independent review".

While accounts of the military campaign remain confused, Professor Freedman has benefited from full diplomatic information available from two key ambassadors, Sir Nicholas Henderson in Washington, and Sir Anthony Parsons at the United Nations.

First published in the Penguin News on 17 June 2005, and reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor

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