Surprised is not the first adjective that comes to mind when considering the career of Margaret Thatcher. The “Iron Lady”, as the former British Prime Minister was affectionately known, was noted for her stern demeanor and icy will. Classified documents concerning the 1982 invasion of the Falklands Islands by Argentina question those conceptions of the country’s only female head of government.
In the newly released testimony, recorded just months after the British recapture of the islands, Thatcher expresses her belief prior to the Argentine invasion that they were almost an impossibility because, she said, “it was such a stupid thing to do.” The Argentinians proved her wrong.
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The release of the documents, alongside tensions between the two countries in 2012, raises the question, how would Britain react today if Argentina planned a similar invasion? Would the current Prime Minister David Cameron invoke the military decisiveness of Mrs. Thatcher, or the appeasement of another of his predecessors?
The declaration of war between the two countries may seem like an impossibility right now, but it also seemed like an impossibility in 1982. The Argentinians were undoubtedly unthinking in believing they could get away with such a move and yet, Thatcher revealed, “there would be no certainty that…[The British Response]…would be able to retake the dependency.”
Vandals, having desecrated an Argentinian war cemetery in the Falklands, sparked an international incident between the two country’s last July. The Argentinian government made clear British culpability for the vandalism in a missive it sent to the British government in August. Wars have been fought over more trivial issues.
And there is, in fact, more to fight over. The Falklands Islands may have access to substantial reserves of Oil and Natural Gas. Britain has already begun exploratory drilling in the Ocean around the Island. That gives both nations something more important to fight for than national territory alone.
Argentina’s President, Christina Kirchner, has publicly condemned British operations in the South Atlantic Ocean. Those criticisms have gone almost completely ignored. Britain will push ahead if the opportunity to produce more “domestic oil” presents itself.
In a 2012 poll of citizens of both countries, Yougov.co.uk found that the populations of both Nations believe their claim on the islands to be right. Over half of British respondents believed that the military action to retake the Falklands Islands was justified. Most Argentinians are now opposed to military action on the issue.
One of the most important findings of the poll was that Argentinian adults believe the Falklands crisis was created by the country’s military dictatorship in order to create a detraction from the country’s military and economic failings. The current Argentinian leader is having similar accusations thrown at her.
Kirchner is unpopular because of a failing economy, with high inflation and unemployment. She has used effusive rhetoric on the Falklands to inflame nationalistic tendencies and anti British sentiment. If the Argentine economy continues to slow, and oil exploration puts a real economic reward on the other end of the field, who can tell what her plans may be.
An Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands would, no doubt, be “stupid”, but would it be any less so than in 1982?