Falklands/Malvinas War

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Falklands/Malvinas War

The Falklands/Malvinas War, which broke out in 1982 after a long-standing dispute between Argentina and Great Britain, was the most serious outbreak of interstate conflict involving a Latin American nation since the Chaco War of the 1930s. The historic causes of the 1982 war go back to eighteenth-century disputes between Spain and Great Britain over settlement and possession of the islands. In 1833, shortly after Argentina gained independence from Spain, the British expelled the remaining Argentine settlers and began their period of continuous occupation of the islands. During his first administration (1946–1955) Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón focused on the Malvinas issue in an appeal to Argentine nationalism, linking it to the Argentine Antarctic claim and his plan to create a "greater Argentina." In 1965 a United Nations resolution called on both parties to resolve the issue peacefully, but meaningful negotiations were blocked by the islanders themselves, who strongly preferred to remain under British administration.

For many years the Argentine military had contingency plans for an invasion of the islands, and in early 1982 these plans were activated when a number of circumstances convinced the ruling military junta, headed by Army Commander General Leopoldo F. Galtieri, that the time was right. These circumstances included the fact that the junta was losing control over Argentina and was seeking some cause to unite the country under its leadership; the coming of the symbolic 150th anniversary of British possession; a diminishing British military and financial commitment to its South Atlantic possessions; geopolitical links to Argentina's Antarctic and Beagle Channel interests; and, finally, a jurisdictional incident involving the Argentine scrap metal dealer Constantino Davidoff on the island of South Georgia in March 1982.

Argentina "recovered" the islands on April 2, 1982, with an amphibious task force of 5,000 men that overwhelmed the small Royal Marine garrison after a short firefight. The British military and civilian authorities were expelled via Montevideo, and the approximately 2,000 islanders were placed under the authority of the Argentine military governor. International reaction reflected shock and surprise that possession of a few seemingly unimportant islands could have led to the invasion. The Argentine military government had hoped that the United States would support them, but President Ronald Reagan firmly backed the British and provided them with military supplies. Most of Latin America supported Argentina's position on the sovereignty issue, although not necessarily the use of force. The UN Security Council quickly passed a resolution favorable to Britain, which then promptly mounted a naval task force that set sail on April 5, 1982. In Argentina there was euphoria over the recovery of the islands, and for a while it seemed that the junta had achieved its objective of distracting most Argentines from the abuses and failures of their government.

The first military action after the invasion of the Falkland Islands took place on the island of South Georgia in late April as the ships of the British task force neared the operational area. On April 25 the British retook South Georgia, damaging and capturing an Argentine submarine in the process. For the next three weeks the war was fought in the air and sea around the Falkland Islands as the British prepared for their landing on the islands. In the principal air and naval actions, the Argentines lost a cruiser and numerous aircraft; the British lost two destroyers, two frigates, and a landing ship. After the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano, with a loss of over 300 lives, the Argentine ships stayed in port or close to shore, and most of the fighting was undertaken by the Argentine Air Force.

The ground war began with the British amphibious landing at San Carlos on May 21. The British crossed East Falkland and hit weak Argentine defensive positions around the capital of Port Stanley. Although some regular Argentine Army and Marine units fought effectively, the majority of the Argentine infantry were recruits with little training and poor leadership who resisted only briefly before falling back to Port Stanley and eventually surrendering on June 14, 1982.

The war cost the Argentines 746 killed, 1,336 wounded, and 11,400 imprisoned (the remaining force at the time of surrender). The British suffered 256 killed and 777 wounded. In addition, three Falkland Island civilians were killed in the final assault on Port Stanley. The political consequences of the war included the strengthening of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Tory Party and her subsequent reelection. In Argentina there was strong resentment of the military's misjudgment and deception; the junta was dismantled and Argentines inaugurated an elected civilian president, Raúl Alfonsín (1983–1989), in December 1983. Full diplomatic relations between Argentina and Great Britain remained broken for eight years. For the 2,000 Falkland islanders the war meant that their status as British subjects was secure, at least for the midterm, although their lives had been altered by both the war and the large and expensive garrison the British now felt obliged to keep on the islands. Postwar disputes over control of foreign fishing vessels and reports of possibly substantial oil fields in the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands have added resource issues to this longstanding dispute between Argentina and Great Britain. One final consequence of the war was that any hope for an amicable settlement of the Falklands/Malvinas sovereignty dispute was set back for many years to come. In 2007, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the conflict, Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner continued to press Argentina's claims to the islands.

See alsoAlfonsín, Raúl Ricardo; British-Latin American Relations; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); Galtieri, Leopoldo Fortunato; Kirchner, Néstor; Perón, Juan Domingo.


Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, The Battle for the Falklands (1983).

Oscar Raúl Cardoso et al., Malvinas: La Trama Secreta (1983).

Alberto R. Coll and Anthony C. Arend, eds., The Falklands War: Lessons for Strategy, Diplomacy, and International Law (1985).

Rubén O. Moro, The History of the South Atlantic Conflict (1989).

Lawrence Freedman and Virginia Gamba-Stonehouse, Signals of War: The Falklands Conflict of 1982 (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Boyce, David George. The Falklands War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Gúber, Rosana. Por qué Malvinas? De la causa nacional a la guerra absurda. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2001.

                                                  Jack Child