On this day in 1982, Argentina invaded the British territory of the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland Islands, situated just off the coast of Argentina, had become a focal point of tension between Britain and Argentina with competing claims to sovereignty persisting since Britain first gained control of the Islands in 1833.
‘Operation Rosario’ began with the arrival of Argentine troops at Port Stanley, with Argentine generals appealing to the Falklands’ governor, Rex Hunt, to submit and surrender peacefully. Such a proposal was rejected, triggering the mobilisation of the regiments present on the Islands alongside local units. This move soon proved futile, with Island forces being outnumbered by at least 3000 troops, leaving little choice but surrender.
This initial invasion triggered the mobilisation of the British Navy to defend the colonial state of the Falklands, with Thatcher dispatching a naval task force 3 days later to engage with the Argentine Air force and Navy. The Falklands War lasted for ten weeks, with Argentina surrendering on the 14th June after the deaths of 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen. Whilst Argentina viewed the action as a reclamation of territory and thus perfectly justified, the British saw this as a threat to British sovereignty. The conflict had considerable effect on the relations between the countries; despite the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1989, Argentina’s claim to the islands was added to the country’s constitution in 1994, expressing the continued pertinence of debate surrounding sovereignty and territorial jurisdictions.
The transfer of power between military dictators General Jorge Rafael Videla and General Roberto Eduardo Viola oversaw a period of economic difficulty in Argentina, with civil unrest undermining the control of the military junta in power and emphasising the inefficiencies and failings of the existing system of government. Fluctuating leadership exacerbated concerns of the population and thus, upon the appointment of General Galtieri, it was felt that the reclamation of the islands would stimulate a patriotism which would serve as a diversion for the economic stagnation that had not been effectively addressed as well as the ongoing human rights abuses occurring under the junta rule. Tensions had thus risen under the surface, with warnings being issued by leading British Navy officials of imminent action and some evidence of early attempts at invasion. Despite this, Britain was largely taken by surprise, with very few troops stationed on the islands.
Similarities have been noted between Britain’s relationship with the Falkland Islands and their relationship with Gibraltar. Indeed both Gibraltar and the Falklands have expressed a considerable mandate to remain under British sovereignty; the Falkland Islands Status Referendum held in 1986 resulted in a 96% vote for the continued rule of Britain whilst the Gibraltar Sovereignty Referendum 2002 proposing shared sovereignty between Britain and Spain saw a landslide consolidation of British rule, with just over 1% of the electorate voting in favour of the proposed change. Furthermore, former Conservative leader Michael Howard has suggested the similarities extend further, with the existing Conservative leadership being willing to defend sovereignty in Gibraltar in much the same way as has been seen in the 1980s:
“Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar,”