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Citation: Hugh Wyndham, "The Falklands: Failure of a Mission," chap. in Building International Community, Kevin Clements and Robin Ward, eds. (St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1994) pp. 229-242.
Spain and Britain both claimed the Falkland Islands throughout the 1700s. However, by the early 1800s both nations had removed their settlements. In 1820 the recently independent Argentina claimed the islands. Britain and the U.S. both protested. In 1833 the British sent two frigates to the island to raise the British flag there. The British forces ousted the Argentine forces occupying the islands. The Falklands were declared a British colony in 1840. Argentina protested, but to no avail. In subsequent years both sides worked to support their legal claims to the islands.
In 1960 UN Resolution 1514(XV) called for general de-colonization and self- determination of peoples. This was followed in 1965 by a resolution specifically instructing Britain and Argentina to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Falklands dispute. Negotiations were pursued but no settlement was achieved.
Negotiations were resumed and continued without resolution through the early 1980s. Faced with fruitless negotiations, Argentina began to consider military options. In April of 1982 Argentina seized and occupied the Falkland Islands. Britain had also been considering military action. By the time Argentina had occupied the islands, British naval ships were on their way to respond and recover the territory.
UN Resolution 502 called for a negotiated settlement to the brewing war. The U.S. was strongly motivated to avoid war between its allies. U.S. President Reagan offered to send Secretary of State Haig to mediate a settlement to the conflict before British ships arrived at the islands, and both parties accepted. Unfortunately, Haig made no headway.
Wyndham identifies a number of factors which contributed to the failure of Haig's attempted mediation. First, domestic pressures and Cold War interests left the British Government relatively little room to compromise. Argentine aggression sparked a burst of nationalism within Britain, and raised echoes of Britain's successful 1930s ouster of Argentina. Argentina's poor record on human rights increased support for military intervention. In addition, Britain felt it could not afford to show weakness in front of the Soviet Union. The Falklands action was in part a defense of "another, higher objective--to defend the principle that the illegal use of force could not be rewarded."[p. 238]
Second, the domestic political situation in Argentina was complex. There was no central authority with whom Haig could negotiate, and who would have the final say as to whether a proposal was acceptable. The ruling Junta had to consult with the various branches of the military, and with the civilian politicians. While the general population opposed the Junta, they strongly supported occupying the islands.
Third, Haig's style as a mediator was problematic. Haig's speech could be difficult to follow, and his own lack of clarity was compounded by language differences. Wyndham points out that Haig, "did not give himself or the Junta time to digest or react to new ideas as they came out."[p. 239] The Argentines did not find his threats convincing. Haig's difficulties were compounded by sometimes conflicting comments made by other senior U.S. officials.
Fourth, some trust is necessary for negotiations to succeed. Neither the British nor the Argentines trusted each other. Unfortunately neither side trusted Haig either. Argentina came to see Haig as strongly biased toward Britain. Britain resented the stance of neutrality from their close ally.
Timing was a fifth factor. Haig attempted mediation at a point where both sides were very optimistic about their chances for military success. Since they expected the costs of military confrontation to be relatively low, neither side was particularly motivated to find an alternative to war.
Poor judgement was a sixth factor contributing to the failure of mediation. Argentina misread a number of situations. Britain's judgement is more difficult to question, given that they won. Finally, Haig's activist mediation technique contributed to his failure. By negotiating directly with the Argentine leaders, (rather than merely conveying the British proposals) the Argentines came to see Haig as an agent for Britain.
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