Friday, May 19, 2006

# Posted 11:23 AM by Patrick Porter  

ATLANTIC DIALOGUE: Lawrence Freedman has a really interesting essay in the latest Foreign Affairs on the dynamics of the Anglo-American relationship during the Falklands War of 1982.

(I've only been able to find the official link which only gives part of the full article, if anyone can find the article in full online, I'd be grateful for the link.)

Anyway, the value of the essay is that it provides some historical perspective on what is often glibly dismissed as a natural/inevitable alliance. And it qualifies the popular image of a warlike USA being constrained by a more diplomatic Britain, reminding us that since world war two, it has often been America playing conciliator and moderator to British belligerence.

It may be that during the debate over Iraq in 2002-3, to borrow Robert Kagan's phrase, it seemed that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus. But it was not ever thus:
A look back over recent decades reveals that the United States is by no means always the most ready to resort to armed force. The recently published Human Security Report, a study of modern conflict financed in part by the Canadian government, contains a table ranking countries according to their participation in international wars since 1946. The United Kingdom tops the list with 21 instances, followed by France (19) and the United States (16).
As Freedman notes, some of these campaigns have been colonial struggles, others humanitarian interventions. But for the Brits,
the problem with Washington since World War II has been not so much its predilection for using military force as a first resort as its hesitation and uncertainty when going to war. Both Blair and his predecessor John Major, were frustrated by President Bill Clinton's reluctance to put U.S. troops in harm's way in Bosnia and then Kosovo. In 1956, it was the United States - standing up for the principles of international law and using its economic muscle to restrain foolish adventurism - that prevented the United Kingdom and France from seeing through the reoccupation of the Suez Canal.
This pattern in some respects continued in the Falklands campaign of 1982. The American government was cultivating (or at least trying not to alienate) the junta that ruled Argentina, viewing it as a cold war ally that could help its anticommunist operations in Central America. They also doubted that the British could prevail.

As it turns out, they underestimated Moscow's wariness of the Argentinian dictatorship, which was widely reviled by other leftist groups in Latin America, and overestimated the willingness of the Argentinian militarists to contemplate shifting sides in any event.

Crucially, there were no automatic reflexes or predetermined postures, and the military outcome was not taken for granted on either side. The US administration was triangulating between two compelling interests. The British government was careful to convey its dismay at the American stance while trying to limit the strain on the relationship.

Moscow was reluctant to pursue the mirage of an Argentinian rapprochement that could have strained its own standing with other Latin American revolutionaries.

So the war was much more than 'two bald men fighting over a comb', but a test of relationships between allies, and their ability to survive their own miscalculations.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Good post! I just thought I'd weigh in a bit on the US stance vis-a-vis the UK and the "Argies" in 1982, since it was a moderately important aspect of my dissertation research.

I think the term "triangulation" takes it a bit far, since there was no doubt ever that in an armed conflict between London and Buenos Aires -- with the latter clearly the aggressor -- the US must side with the British.

At the same time, there was no question that the US very much wanted to avoid an armed conflict, since it did see the rather brutal dictatorship Buenos Aires as one of the keystones of the anti-Communist arch in the Western Hemisphre (although the importance of its role in Central America is overestimated.)

Within the Reagan administration, there was a somewhat nasty conflict between SecState Al Haig and UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, the latter of whom had somewhat extreme sympathies for the Argentine dictatorship. Although it is hard to know exactly what transpired, Haig accused Kirkpatrick of undermining his efforts to prevent a conflict by hinting to the Argentines that the US wouldn't automatically support the UK in a war. I can't speak to the veracity of the accusation, since the bureaucratic wrangling was onlt tangential to my research.

What interested me more was the very surprising and little known relationship between the Falklands war and Reagan's dramatic turn away from dictatorships and toward democracy promotion. I argue that the irresponsible aggression of the Argentine dictatorship illustrated for Reagan that authoritarian states were not dependable allies. This altered Reagan's strategic calculus and made him more receptive to the idea that democracy promotion might be the best means of fighting Communism and enhancing US security, especially in the Western hemisphere.

For those who are curious, take a look at Reagan's famous speech to the British Parliament in June 1982, where he ties together anti-Communism, democracy promotion and the Falklands War. Mostly ignored at the time, it was one of the most important speeches of his presidency.

See here: http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1982/60882a.htm
You asked about the full article online - I highly recommend subscribing to Foreign Affairs.

This will give you access to full articles online, including past issues up to one year prior. You will also get a heads up about articles before they are printed so that you can be one of those "in the know" pundits who is ahead of the power curve. You also get occasional "Background on the News" emails that give you full access to articles from years past that have relevance to today's issues.

It is one of the few subscriptions that is actually worth the price.
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It may or may not have been widely known, but the US was aiding the British with intelligence information. about Argentinian operations. I don't remember what our public posturing was, but we were helping our friends. I believe that that the Soviets were doing something similar for Argentina.
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