THE UNITED STATES AND THE MALVINAS/FALKLAND ISLANDS: LEGACY AND PROSPECTS
Edited by Michael A. Morris
Contributions by Ricardo Alagia and Camilo Rodriguez Berrutti
Michael A. Morris is Professor of Political Science at Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, and has been a Fulbright Exchange Professor in Great Britain, 1987-89. Professor Morris recently edited a book to which both Professors Alagia and Rodriguez Berrutti contributed, Great Power Relations in Argentina, Chile and Antarctica (Macmillan: London, England, 1989).
Ricardo Alagia is Professor of Public International Law at the Catholic University of La Plata, Argentina and at the National University of Mar del Plata. During 1983-87, he was a representative in the Argentine Congress (Camara de Diputados), when he was on the Foreign Relations, Penal Law and General Legislation Committees.
Camilo Rodriguez Berrutti is Professor of Public International Law at the Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Professor of International Law at the National University of La Plata. Dr. Rodriguez Berrutti is also a foreign affairs adviser to the Argentine Congress.
Michael A. Morris
The 1982 war between Argentina and Great Britain over control of the Falkland Islands (or “Islas Malvinas” in Spanish) was a watershed for hemispheric relations. Anglo-Argentine relations have remained severed since the war, and peaceful resolution of the dispute is not in sight. The United States sided with Great Britain during the conflict, but subsequently has tried, with mixed results, to reach an accommodation with Argentina without disrupting the so-called Anglo-American “special relationship.” Until the Malvinas/Falklands issue is resolved, Argentine relations with the United States will likely remain troubled and those with Great Britain will continue to be severely strained.
The 1982 conflict also dramatized the fragility of the Latin American order or regional system of international relations. Self-reliance through national military capability acquired renewed emphasis. The two leaders in regional arms production, Argentina and Brazil, stepped up their efforts to achieve military self-sufficiency after the war. Regional attempts to diversify sources of arms imports likewise were spurred by the conflict, in view of the arms embargo imposed on Argentina during the war by the major Western suppliers. The war thereby accelerated an ongoing tendency for the U.S. strategic presence in South America to decline.
The Malvinas war demonstrated that the traditional hemispheric hegemon, the United States, was no longer able nor willing to manage regional order. While U.S. hegemony traditionally helped reinforce South American order, the gradual decline in the U.S. military presence there over the past few decades has contributed to instability in the region.
The changing regional order has a positive dimension as well. Achievement of greater political independence and reasonably autonomous international relations has long been a goal of vulnerable local states laboring within a hegemonial order. More self-reliant local powers may be able to reinforce the region’s longstanding respect for international law and territorial integrity.
Change in South America has coincided with continuing deterioration of order in Central America. This has triggered an increase in the U.S. military presence amongst many small states in the Caribbean Basin, in contrast to the declining U.S. military presence in South America where larger states are forging a more autonomous order.
South America stands out in Third World terms because of its relatively high level of economic development and aggregate power, thereby making the forging of a mutually acceptable new regional order all the more important for the United States. The rise of democratic governments in South America offers another important reason for U.S. interest in helping encourage orderly change in the area. Governments of all the major states (i.e., Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela) are now democratic, while Chile remains the most conspicuous military government.
The rise of democratic governments in South America has helped offset the increase in military tension in the area, to which the 1982 Malvinas war contributed. The troubled relations between Argentina, the United Kingdom, and the United States have benefited as well from this regional return to democracy. Nonetheless, the mere coincidence of democratic governments in the three countries, while in itself a positive development, has not sufficed to resolve fundamental problems within Argentina or between Argentina and the great powers. For example, a continuing economic slump in Argentina, including a burdensome external debt, threatens to destabilize democratic government and permit a reassertion of the military establishment and interests both domestically and internationally. Were a second round of the Malvinas war to result from an irredentist Argentina with tense relations with the great powers, all agree that it would be far bloodier than the first round and that there would be no winners.
Since its installation in late 1983, the elected government in Argentina has reflected typical democratic virtues in domestic and foreign policies. The elected Alfonsin government in Argentina has attempted to lessen the influence of the military in national politics and prosecute some of those responsible for past human rights abuses, while making substantial cuts in military expenditure. A longstanding dispute with Chile over the Beagle Channel was resolved through negotiations, and a commitment has been given to resolve the Malvinas dispute as well through peaceful means. At the same time, this democratic government has placed top foreign policy priority on peaceful recovery of the Malvinas Islands. Democratically-elected President Alfonsin of Argentina has called the Malvinas question “the most serious problem” the nation faces. The incoming Menem administration is also vigorously committed to regaining control peacefully over the Malvinas Islands.
Continuing emphasis by successive democratic governments in Argentina on peaceful recovery of the Malvinas undermines the aggressive image of Argentine behavior that gained currency in Great Britain and the United States during and after the 1982 war. The 1982 invasion of the Malvinas by an Argentine military government was allegedly a desperate move by an oppressive dictatorship designed to gain domestic support by promoting a foreign policy crisis. This was no doubt true in part, but it does not follow that longstanding Argentine claims to the islands merely constitute rationalizations for a power grab.
Argentine claims to the Malvinas rest mainly on law and history and have been pursued peacefully, with the single 1982 exception, for over a hundred and fifty years. This impressive record of protracted, peaceful pursuit of a cogently argued claim resting on law and history has been downplayed by adversaries in several ways. The competing Anglo-Argentine claims allegedly are relative in nature in having some strengths and weaknesses on both sides, and in any event they are not particularly relevant to the key power relationships governing the dispute (Peter Beck. The Falkland Islands as an International Problem. London. Routledge. 1988, pp. 50-81). The Argentine claim not only suffers from relativity and irrelevance but also, it is claimed, from domestic instability. While Argentina currently has a democratic government committed to peaceful recovery of the Malvinas, Argentine democracy is allegedly so fragile that a return to military government and concomitant aggression remains likely.
Such arguments have a certain persuasiveness, but they do not squarely refute the merits of the Argentine case. At a minimum, the Argentine case needs to be better understood and taken more seriously.
The papers that follow by two leading Argentine scholar-practitioners lucidly present Argentine views and in so doing refute the common aggressive image of Argentine behavior. The arguments presented do not cloak a policy based on force, but rather are solidly grounded in law, equity and history. Both authors are Argentine professors of international law and both are deeply committed to democratic government: Alagia having been a representative in the Chamber of Deputies and a member of its Foreign Affairs Committee and Rodriguez Berrutti being a permanent foreign policy adviser to the Argentine Congress.
Both Argentine authors have made two speaking tours in the United States including Clemson University each time. On each occasion, Dr. Horace Fleming, Director of the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs, has encouraged propagation of alternative political views on major issues, as he has now again kindly done through this Working Paper.
Camilo Rodriguez Berrutti
A review of history and restatement of historical verities reaffirms the strength of Argentine rights to possession of the Malvinas (or Falkland) Islands. Mrs. Thatcher insists that there is no doubt about British sovereignty over the islands, but this assertion rests on weak historical grounds and is contradicted by doubts expressed in a variety of British documents and reports which can hardly be faulted for being pro-Argentine.
The official British line emphasizes prescription or legal title acquired via occupation over a long period of time. Prescription can provide the basis for legal title when specified conditions are met, but in the case of the Malvinas such conditions are not met. Conditions vitiating legal title through prescription include the violent origin of the British presence in the islands, incessant Argentine objections to this presence and a longstanding Spanish and Argentine presence on the islands predating that of Great Britain.
The historical record is clear regarding a number of key events affecting title. Five landmarks are singled out here for attention.
(1) Argentina succeeded Spain as the sovereign of the Malvinas Islands by the universal principle of succession of states. Argentina thereby gained sovereignty over the Malvinas as a consequence of achievement of national independence in much the same way as the thirteen British colonies in North America transferred rights over those regions formerly dominated by the metropolis, London, to the United States. The dispute over title between Argentina and Britain has tended to obscure the reality of longstanding Spanish sovereignty over the islands, which was subsequently handed over to Argentina. Spanish title over the Malvinas was not disputed in the early period, which subsequent British justifications have tended to blur.
The early history of the Malvinas Islands is neither opaque nor irrelevant, as apologists for Britain are wont to imply. Recourse may be had to a neutral, prestigious source, Julius Goebel, an outstanding U.S. jurist who authored The Struggle for the Falkland Islands in 1927 (Yale University Press). A crucial 1771 Anglo-Spanish agreement—included in the book—illustrates early British recognition of Spanish title to the islands. The agreement was a consequence of British irritation provoked by the expulsion of their forces from an enclave they had been temporarily occupying on the Malvinas Islands, Port Egmont, by the Spaniards of Buenos Aires on June 10,1770. Britain did not try to use the agreement as a vehicle for asserting a right to settle the islands, which were already under the control of Spain. British concern at the time was instead limited to obtaining redress for official honor because of the expulsion of their forces from this enclave on the islands, whose occupation had been restricted in time, scope and intention. Britain accepted a Spanish reservation of “previous and superior rights” to the Malvinas Islands, so that no precedent was established for questioning Spain’s sovereignty over the entire Malvinas archipelago displayed during the 18th and early 19th centuries by twenty-two Spanish governors of the islands.
The United Kingdom has subsequently tried to reinterpret the 1771 agreement as a precedent for British aspirations to sovereignty over the islands. Spain, in order to comply with Britain’s wish to redress His Majesty’s offended honor, did allow for the reinstatement of Britain in the islands in the same conditions of June 10,1770, that is, solely in the enclave of Port Egmont and without derogation from Spanish sovereignty. Three years later, in 1774, Britain withdrew entirely from the islands, since the British aim at the time was not to claim sovereignty. A lead plaque was left by the British forces on evacuating Port Egmont, which subsequent British publicists have tried to project as a symbol of continuing British sovereignty over the Malvinas. The fragility of this claim is self-evident and all the more so since Britain’s next appearance on the islands would only be decades afterwards (1833) and via an invasion and expulsion of the Argentine settlement. Moreover, Britain acknowledged Spanish ownership of South America and its environs, including the Malvinas Islands, in the Nootka Sound or San Lorenzo Convention (1790), with similar provisions in 1783 and 1786 agreements.
The erroneous view, that the United Kingdom had defended sovereign rights over the Malvinas during the 1770/1771 negotiations, unfortunately has been accepted uncritically in U.S. policy circles since the last century. Mistaken impressions such as these contributed to an unquestioning tendency in U.S. policy to assume that Britain was the rightful sovereign over the Malvinas Islands.
On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, when mediating the Malvinas dispute in 1982, reminded Britain that it had admitted that it should restore the islands to Argentina and that it was willing to do so. Evidence of this British intention prior to the 1982 war included the so-called 1968 Anglo-Argentine “joint formula,” which provided for restoration of the Malvinas to the Argentine Republic in a period of no less than four and no more than ten years. While this agreement was not ratified it does represent what each party has the right to expect from the other, constituting an “estoppel” of juridical value preventing any action against the recognition thus admitted of Argentine sovereignty.
(2) A second critical event was the aggressive response by the United States in 1831 to prior enforcement by Argentina of fishing regulations in the Malvinas area. In 1831 the American warship Lexington, in command of Captain Silas Duncan and accompanying a fleet of American trawlers operating all over the South Atlantic, rushed to help three U.S. trawlers which had been seized by the legitimate political and military governor of the Malvinas Islands appointed by the government of Buenos Aires, Don Luis Vernet. The Argentine authorities had exercised legal rights in apprehending U.S. fishing vessels for having violated the rules in force. The United States nonetheless reacted in an unusually harsh manner, even in the view of the rudimentary legal development of that time. U.S. military action involved murders and destruction of farms, houses and belongings of the Argentine personnel stationed in the Malvinas Islands.
As soon as the Buenos Aires authorities were informed of the event, they protested before the government of the United States through the Argentine Charge d’Affaires, Mr. Juan Agustin Masas. This Argentine protest only evoked—in 1841—an evasive answer from Daniel Webster, the American Secretary of State.
(3) In 1833, a British expedition forcibly seized the islands and expelled the entire Argentine settlement. The Kershaw Report by the 1983 Ad Hoc Committee of the British House of Commons concluded “that the burden of proof clearly supports that the Argentine titles with respect to the islands…were, in times of the British occupation of 1833, more substantial than what the official sources from the British Government assert or have ever asserted.” A whole variety of arguments have been used by London to obfuscate this key fact of forcible British seizure and displacement of a peaceful Argentine settlement on the Malvinas. Prior title of both Spain and Argentina has been questioned, the forceful nature of the British invasion has been denied and legal precedent has been invoked to give Britain, as the sovereign of the Malvinas, the right to establish its own presence at the expense of others.
The essential facts may be verified through recourse to official British sources. A document from the British Central Office of Information, “Aspects of the Commonwealth: The Falkland Islands” (R-DFS-4146/66), acknowledges that neither the discoverers nor the first settlers in the islands were British and that the archipelago was taken over forcefully by Britain in time of peace in 1833, when under the administration of the Buenos Aires government. Peace had been guaranteed by the 1825 Anglo-Argentine Treaty of Friendship, Trade and Navigation, which also recognized the Malvinas Islands as forming part of the Argentine Confederation territory.
(4) A fourth great historical fact is that legal grounds for the British presence in the Malvinas have not been strengthened during the long occupation from 1833 to the present. Long occupation alone does not suffice to invoke prescription for legal title. The International Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled that an illegal, unilateral act cannot confer juridical title to a state. To the contrary, time is militating against the legacy of ignorance surrounding the issue, which, as in the case of the United States, tended to give British justifications and historical interpretations the benefit of the doubt. Greater attention to the issue has led to U.S. questioning of the bases of the British presence. Argentina’s rights to the Malvinas have now been recognized by most nations in the world, by technical-juridical organizations (i.e., the Interamerican Juridical Committee) and by important international organizations (i.e., the United Nations and the Organization of American States).
Growing recognition of the validity of Argentine rights has become increasingly associated with the universal trend toward decolonization. The principle of respect of territorial integrity has been declared to prevail over any attempt by colonial powers to carry out colonial plebiscites (UN General Assembly Resolution 1514, paragraph 4 in 1960). For example, such an illegal inquiry was held among the population of Gibraltar by the British government and infringed resolutions by the UN General Assembly. Similarly, the population of the Malvinas Islands does not constitute a people, because it forms part of the social body of the empire and is subject to its constitutional provisions. The UN General Assembly has expressly forbidden political pronouncements in such circumstances, yet without impairing attention to the interests (but not the wishes or political opinions) of such a population. Such a critical distinction aims to avoid that cases of a population as in the Malvinas be used in the service of a long-term colonial policy to express, either by plebiscite or any other means, their wish that the islands continue being a British colony.
In view of near-universal acceptance of the Argentine case, the latest reed seized by the United Kingdom to try to build a convincing legal case is a feigned concern for self-determination of the inhabitants of the Malvinas (“kelpers”). British readiness in the past to devolve sovereignty over the islands to Argentina raises profound doubt about the sincerity of this justification. Legal argumentation seems to be masking political expediency. In any event, as strictly a legal matter, the context of decolonization qualifies the principle of self-determination.
It is well to emphasize that economic and strategic interests, in an imperial, colonial context, motivated the original British seizure of the Malvinas. The subsequent British presence on the islands has been no less colonial in character. The untenable basis of the British presence was implicitly acknowledged by London prior to 1982, as expressed through recurring attempts to devolve sovereignty to Argentina via negotiations. Since the 1982 war, British policy has focused on building up a formidable garrison at manageable cost (Fortress Falklands), while promoting economic self-sufficiency of the islands through such measures as the 1986 fisheries conservation zone. British refusal up to the present to negotiate with Argentina over the future of the islands is reinforced through prevention of Argentine immigration there and any Argentine participation in their economic life. A hermetical enclave of colonial character is therefore being perpetuated in the highfalutin name of self-determination, whose legitimacy has been rejected by the international community as expressed through the United Nations in the context of decolonization.
(5) Great power relations have been and remain decisive in determining the fate of the Falkland Islands. The great powers have repeatedly invoked international law as an expedient to justify their illegal and/or power-motivated actions, most prominently in the cases of the 1831 U.S. use of force and the 1833 UK invasion of the Malvinas. The lesser power, Argentina, has consistently relied on international law without being awarded control over the islands, whose future in the last analysis continues to rest in the hands of Britain and the United States.
United States policy toward the Malvinas was generally ill-informed and, to the extent any clear policy line was followed, tended to endorse fundamental propositions sustaining the British presence. While U.S. and U.K. policies toward the Malvinas long converged, in recent years they have increasingly diverged.
The roots of potential Anglo-American policy divergence are deep. Prior to the 1982 war, doubts about the perpetuation of the British presence in the Malvinas had been expressed vigorously in official and non-official circles both in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States, but without gaining policy preeminence in either country. Since the 1982 war, dissent in Britain from policy toward the Malvinas has largely been expressed through non-official channels and the Loyal Opposition inasmuch as the prestige of the Thatcher government remains committed to perpetuation of the British presence. As world public opinion has increasingly swung toward the Argentine side, U.S. public opinion and informed circles have become more receptive to Argentine arguments. While U.S. policymakers remain reluctant to confront Britain directly regarding differences over the Malvinas, since 1982 the United States has joined the overwhelming majority at the United Nations in annual resolutions calling for renewal of Anglo-Argentine negotiations including the issue of sovereignty.
The continuing evolution of U.S. policy toward the Malvinas will affect all concerned. Argentine confidence in its legal justifications sustain those who try to reverse the legacy of ignorance surrounding the issue, in the expectation that greater understanding will lead U.S. policy increasingly to question British interpretations and justifications.
by Ricardo Alagia
Until the Malvinas/Falklands war which took place between April 2 and June 14, 1982, analysis of the historical, diplomatic, legal, economic and strategic aspects of the Malvinas dispute was hardly detailed or specialized. Some serious analysis of the issue had occurred in the Argentine Republic, the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, the United States. After those events the world did awake to the importance of the issue and internationalists, strategists and others all contributed to analysis of implications of the Anglo-Argentine dispute over the Malvinas Islands.
In the Argentine Republic, Professor Emilio Cardenas has been systematizing the contributions that have been made since 1982 from different parts of the world and from varied perspectives to this issue. It is not our intention to go into detail regarding all these matters, but to highlight present and future problems from the standpoint, not thoroughly studied in our opinion, posed by U.S. involvement in the conflict and its aftermath.
For many years, the Malvinas issue occupied extremely low priority in order of importance of pending matters for the British Foreign Office. Now the issue has acquired considerable importance, not only for both Argentina and Britain but also for superpower relations as well as relations between and among both developed and developing countries. The Malvinas hitherto relegated to a geographical backwater with erratic diplomatic comings and goings — has become a zone of tension and conflict interwoven with self-serving interests as well as some conciliatory efforts between parties. In a word, the conflict and its possible resolution have become internationalized. Inter-American relations have been increasingly pulled into this apparently intractable conflict, straining the relations of the United States with Latin America and the Argentine Republic in particular.
It follows that any plausible solution of the Malvinas Islands’ dispute must accept the plurality of actors since the 1982 war. This must include the role of the two superpowers, bearing in mind, on the one hand, the leadership role held by the United States in the Western world, and on the other hand, the positive attitude of the Soviet Union regarding the Argentine claim to the islands. At the same time, the Soviet literature on the subject is so full of errors, distortions and mistakes that it is essential to correct the arguments, clarify views and clear up the historical record in order to promote something more than just support, that is, understanding of and sympathy with the legitimate rights sustained by the Argentine Republic.
Sympathetic views regarding Argentina and the Malvinas now exist within the European Community, so that the United Kingdom must feel weakness on that flank. Actors in the Third World, too, have increasingly supported Argentina in its dispute with Great Britain over the Malvinas. The relationship of the United States to the dispute is complex, changing and of central importance to all concerned, and hence deserves careful attention.
In April 1982, the then president of our country, Galtieri, and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Costa Mendez, felt both amazed and annoyed with the United States, due to the U.S. stance which began as a biased impartiality between the two contending parties and subsequently turned into a favorable attitude toward the United Kingdom. Both Argentine leaders either ignored the diplomatic history of the Malvinas Islands including its relationship to the United States, or, knowing it, were deceiving their people. Misunderstanding of the United States was obvious, but so too was deceit. This involved a plan to use the great Argentine popular cause of regaining sovereignty over the Malvinas to whitewash the abject failure of the military-directed “process of national reconstruction,” which began in 1976 with the overthrow of the constitutional though ineffectual civilian administration of Maria E. M. de Peron.
An erroneous expectation of unconditional U.S. support was also transmitted to President Galtieri by Aja Estil and Mallea Gil, respectively Ambassador and Military Attache at the Argentine Embassy in Washington. Galtieri was likewise misled by his own flirtation with the Pentagon, on the one hand, and by the need of the White House to count on effective allies such as Argentina in the Central American crisis, on the other.
When the events of April 2 took place, very few knew that the “Operative Rosario” contrived by Admiral Massera back in 1979 had already been decided in December 1981. Maybe it was this top secret procedure that clouded the vision of Argentine strategists about the world situation. Their distorted world view included excessive confidence in assuming no response on the part of Great Britain, and took no account of the European Common Market as a possible ally of the United Kingdom nor of Soviet cautiousness.
In 1982, Argentina realistically could not expect support from the United States nor even a neutral attitude from them in a conflict with Great Britain. The United States at first acted cautiously by trying to modify the attitudes of the military junta, then urging it, from their Western leadership position, to accept an ineffectual “mediation,” and finally lending support to Britain in its war effort.
Relevant factors for a balanced consideration of the United States include the following.
(1) Britain has remained a critical partner in NATO and hence has played a key role in U.S. global strategy. For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, strategic and tactical problems included the location of a new generation of medium-range missiles in movable or fixed sites in territory of European NATO allies. After exhaustive negotiations, it was determined that the United Kingdom would bear the burden of accepting the bulk of the new missiles on its territory as a “European terminal shield” or strong new system for defense on the western periphery of Europe. The United States still had to convince the continental Europeans that they had to be the “medium shield” or the “first shield” farther to the east, because of their geographic location in the case of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. The United Kingdom had the task of convincing its European NATO allies to accept this American policy in Europe.
In contrast, the United States regarded the reaction of Argentina to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as that of an unreliable ally. The United States imposed a grain embargo on the Soviet Union in response to the invasion to which Argentina refused to adhere. In fact, Argentine sales of grain to the Soviet Union grew rapidly and helped forge an Argentine-Soviet commercial entente. Argentina also suffered a constant loss of prestige at the time due to human rights violations in the war against internal subversion, which the Carter administration steadfastly and publicly criticized. Less emphasis on human rights and more on Central America by the Reagan administration did not suffice to overcome the legacy of mutual mistrust between Argentina and the United States.
At the same time, the United States is a member, along with Argentina and others, of a hemispheric defense pact (Rio Treaty), and the area covered includes the strategic South Atlantic. The juxtaposition of policies and interests involving NATO and the Rio Treaty can pose particularly complex dilemmas for the United States, which desires to reconcile differences between important allies including Argentina and Britain. While the United States clearly leaned toward NATO and Britain in the Malvinas conflict, the willingness of the alliance leader to make this stark choice nonetheless dismayed many Argentines.
Argentine strategic commitment to the West in general and the United States in particular has deep roots including within the armed forces, so that Soviet blandishments during the 1982 war for support were rejected. At the same time, the strategic relationship between Argentina and the United States was fundamentally weakened by the 1982 war and the failure to reach a satisfactory accommodation in its aftermath. Amidst continuing Argentine resentment, the so-called third position (whether between East and West or leaning toward the Third World) retains an attraction.
(2) Strategic cooperation between the United States and Great Britain was evident in other ways as well, such as the lease from the United Kingdom to the United States of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic and Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean. Great Britain shares many other interests with the United States, from cultural agreements to management of the Eurodollar market, which contribute to constant, easygoing interaction between those two countries, apart from the obvious fact that they also share a language, a culture, and political values.
(3) Up to the 1982 war, the United States’ position had been one of biased neutrality, if not of frontal opposition to Argentina, whenever the issue of the Malvinas Islands was discussed. There also had been a U.S. National Security Council recommendation prior to the 1982 war that the Malvinas Islands remain under British rule.
These three items pointing toward April 1982 highlight the close linkage between the United States and Britain rather than with the allegedly “unruly” and “discordant” Latin American neighbor. If a pragmatically justifiable reason had existed, this might have blurred the American position by possibly backing the Argentine dictatorship. Such a reason in fact did not exist and moreover U.S. public opinion weighed strongly against a military dictatorship carrying out an apparent invasion of islands controlled by a friendly democracy. This was completely disregarded by Argentine forecasts, precisely because of the unfortunate period we, Argentinians, experienced between 1976 and 1983, when internal public opinion was suppressed due to the dictatorial nature of the system.
If those national policymakers who made arbitrary decisions over the life, honor and fortune of Argentinians had known the historical record, they would not have come to a conclusion expecting a pro-Argentine U.S. attitude concerning the Malvinas conflict. U.S. participation in the Malvinas dispute has been conditioned by a legacy of Anglo-American collaboration. Differences in Anglo-American interests have of course existed, but were generally managed or sublimated at the expense of Argentina and other Latin American states.
While this three-cornered relationship (Britain, United States, Latin America) has tended to work against Latin American interests in general, its pernicious effects have been especially marked with regard to Argentina and the Malvinas Islands. Change in the three-cornered relationship explains these asymmetries. During the course of this century, the British presence in Latin America has declined while that of the United States was in ascendancy until recent decades when the U.S. presence began to experience a relative decline, especially in South America. With time, these changing conditions may lead to more satisfactory US-Latin American relations, especially as the United States cautiously adapts to a lower profile. Nonetheless, the traditionally abrasive nature of the three-cornered relationship for Latin America continues to shape the Malvinas’ diplomatic context, with both Britain and the United States in prominent positions at the expense of Argentina. A brief survey of some highlights of diplomatic history between Argentina and the great powers reveals how the Malvinas Islands have remained resistant to more general constructive tendencies for change.
In 1823, President Monroe, foreseeing a warlike crusade on the part of the European monarchic metropoles to regain lost colonies, most especially the Spanish colonies in America, delivered his famous message to the Congress of the United States. The resulting Monroe Doctrine has been simplified as advocating “America for the Americans,” evidencing a retrogressive U.S. political decision to qualify Spanish American independence, but there also was an orientation to assure, in the internal field, the validity of the Declaration of Philadelphia. Nonetheless, only the negative dimension of the Monroe Doctrine was evident in the case of the Malvinas. When in 1833 the British attack against Argentine territorial integrity took place, the United States government gave a very biased interpretation to the Monroe Doctrine. The U.S. interpretation of events adopted the British thesis regarding the Malvinas, which emphasized continuity of British rights before and after 1771. In this way, the Monroe Doctrine would remain in force in the future elsewhere in the hemisphere but in this case the insertion of a major colonial power in the midst of a newly independent Spanish American state was accepted.
In 1898, via provocative maneuverings, the United States prepared its public opinion for a war against Spain for the “liberation of Cuba.” This imperialist war reflected the first great strategic agreement between the United States and Great Britain. We are not referring merely to lobbying and diplomatic intrigues that the British carried out in Europe, but rather to their direct intervention in the conflict by preventing the Spanish fleet of Admiral Montejo from taking the shortcut to the Philippines through the Suez Canal. This forced him to take a longer route which, in turn, allowed the United States to calmly move its fleet from the Pacific Ocean and wait for Montejo in Cavite, where he was defeated. In this way, Spain’s fate was decided in the Spanish American war.
The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (1901) likewise reflects an Anglo-American understanding in the formulation of their imperialist policies. Great Britain became the “owner” of South America, while the United States would be the lord and master in Central America, as Roosevelt’s policy of the big stick would later show.
The whole history of Pan Americanism is the history of pressures on the part of the United States, of ineptitude of Latin American nations and of misleading accords, disguised as praiseworthy understandings, which hid the strategic interest of the United States in maintaining its rule in the whole of the American continent. The Argentine Republic remained distrustful of the United States in each and every one of these international political moves, in part to assert an autonomy stemming from its national interest but also as a function of the subordination of Argentine interests to those of Great Britain. For its part, Great Britain used the Argentine Republic as an economic enclave to distance the United States from the area.
Attempts previous to the First Pan American Conference of Washington in 1899 to unify political criteria among American nations failed. The 1826 Congress of Panama failed as did the Congresses of 1847, 1855 and 1861. Already at the First Pan American Conference of Washington, the Argentine delegates — M. Quintana and M. Saenz Pena — confronted their American counterparts.
It was in the Third Pan American Conference, that, while discussing the problem of the French prison in Cayenne, the United States adopted an opportunistic position accepting all the enclaves of extra-continental powers in America. A similar American criterion accepting the extra-continental enclaves in America prevailed at the meetings of Foreign Affairs Ministers held in 1940,1941 and 1942. The meetings of 1942 in Rio de Janeiro for the creation of the JID (Inter-American Defense Board) and that of 1947, which created the System of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty), reflected similar tendencies. At first our representative, and then our Foreign Affairs Minister, Atilio Bramuglia, threatened not to sign the treaty if the Malvinas archipelago, expressly excluded by the United States, was not incorporated in its geographical provisions.
Undoubtedly, the 9th International American Conference held in Bogota in 1948 is the one that best illustrates the American position regarding the Malvinas Islands. Relevant documentation can be found in the files and library of the Organization of American States (OAS), and can be consulted by all specialists and those interested in objective assessments. The thick volumes of discussions and resolutions of this historic international conference, in addition to officially establishing the OAS, contain important implications for the Malvinas debate. Resolutions 98, 99 and 100 relate to territories dependent on extra-continental powers and established the Administrative Committee of Dependent Territories, which was a true American antecedent of United Nations Resolution 1514, the magna carta of universal anticolonialism.
The American attitude on this occasion was cautious and prudent. The United States never supported the Argentine position regarding the Malvinas Islands, sometimes voting against and sometimes opting for abstention. The U.S. delegates reacted adversely to the Latin American attack against their country regarding the Puerto Rican situation, while soothing Latin American sensibilities with respect to the problem of British-controlled Belize. The connection the United States had with the memorandum that Great Britain passed around during the conference, which spurned Argentine rights and arguments about the Malvinas Islands, is not known.
In the sphere of the United Nations, a large majority of newly-independent countries promoted and approved Resolution 1514 on anticolonialism in 1960. The members of the international body decided to carry out the provisions of Resolution 1514 through a Decolonization Committee. Through Subcommittee III of this Committee, in 1965 the Argentine Republic gained approval of Resolution 2065, urging the parties to negotiate the issue in dispute, the Malvinas Islands, on the basis of the interests of their inhabitants, and not of their wishes, as Great Britain had demanded.
In all these events, it is very useful to consider U.S. behavior, especially the remarkable abstentions on documents which took a clear and firm position in favor, not only of Argentina, but of the feeling of the whole international community represented in the United Nations. From this perspective, U.S. support for Britain over the Malvinas issue is but part of a larger trend for ex-colonial powers to resist accepting the full implications of decolonization. Nonetheless, in this respect as in others, divergent currents may be observed in U.S. policy. In the Security Council during the 1982 South Atlantic crisis, a confrontation occurred between the U.S. representative at the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Alexander Haig. That split reflected contrasting U.S. priorities between the Atlanticist and Americanist positions of the Pentagon and the White House. Another encouraging sign is US support since 1982 for the UN annual resolutions calling for renewal of Anglo-Argentine negotiations including the issue of sovereignty.
The plurality of actors, the multiplicity of contrary interests and the geostrategic vitality of the zone in question have complicated the means necessary to solve the protracted Malvinas dispute. The dispute, until 1982 handled from a strictly diplomatic level between the two contending parties, has been recently displaced and escalated through multiple strategic and political considerations including continental security.
We think that the Argentine Republic will see its unredeemed territory reincorporated into the body politic when the United States adopts a position more inclined to giving serious attention to Argentine justifications. A positive indicator is the public hearings held on this issue by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate of the United States.
Argentine justifications for sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands relate to history, law and geography. While sound, the Argentine Republic also must prove that the recurring cycle of institutional instability has finally ended and that the Armed Forces are subordinated to civil power. A coherent foreign policy on these bases must entail greater definition of bilateral relations with the United States without adopting a servile attitude. Once and for all, Argentina must be a trustworthy Western ally. Policies, too, must be reformulated in collaboration with regional actors to make it feasible to defend the southwestern coast of the South Atlantic at an acceptable operative, tactical and strategic cost. When this occurs, the United States due to strategic considerations and necessities, will be the ones who will urge Great Britain to restore the Malvinas Islands to their legitimate owners.