Britain’s Last Strands of Empire
Twenty-four years ago, on April 2, 1982, Britain went to war with Argentina over a small yet strategically crucial group of islands laying off the southeastern tip of South America: the Falkland Islands. At 4 a.m. on that day, the Argentineans swung Operation Rosario into action, positioning a naval task force around the islands. Ten hours later, an invasion force had taken Government House in the capital, Stanley. The Union Jack was struck, the Argentinean flag hoisted. Argentineans rejoiced in the streets upon hearing the news of the “liberation” of the islands which they called the Malvinas.
Fortunately for the tradition of freedom in the West, Britain at the time had at its helm the indomitable Margaret Thatcher as prime minister.
In her time, Mrs. Thatcher was a lady possessed of, in the words of General Haig, “a level of military knowledge that was both remarkable in scope, and [referring to himself] the match for a professional with years of European security background” (Margaret Thatcher—A Tribute in Words and Pictures).
By the end of the first day of the Falklands invasion, Mrs. Thatcher had convened two emergency sessions of her cabinet, subsequently securing agreement to immediately assemble a naval task force endorsed by an emergency session of the British House of Commons. Within hours of that decision, the first nine ships of the British force were steaming their way southward on the three-week voyage to the Falklands. By June 14, Argentina had surrendered.
About 1,000 were killed in the brief yet crucial battle of the Falklands. The British, not the least Mrs. Thatcher, exulted in their victory. Who could fail but to remember the grand lady standing tall in the turret of a speeding tank, scarf streaming behind her in a victory lap that had the cameras whirring? The image added to the sense that this British prime minister was not only indomitable, but invincible.
Mrs. Thatcher later wrote the following in her memoirs: “Nothing remains more vividly in my mind, looking back on my years in 10 Downing Street, than the 11 weeks in the spring of 1982 when Britain fought and won the Falklands War. Much was at stake: What we were fighting for 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic was not only the territory and the people of the Falklands, important though they were. We were defending our honor as a nation, and principles of fundamental importance to the whole world—above all, that aggressors should never succeed and that international law should prevail over the use of force” (The Downing Street Years, pages 173-185).
Well, perhaps the present labor (socialist) government in Britain, increasingly taking on the appearance of an institution rapidly losing touch with the governed, thinks the British public need a shot in the arm. Nothing like a bit of flag waving and a few brass bands to wake up those Brits! So on June 26, the government announced plans for a major shindig to celebrate the 25th anniversary of British victory in the Falklands.
The reaction from Buenos Aires was instantaneously belligerent. Warning Britain of a “drastic change” in its efforts to gain sovereignty over the Falklands, Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner immediately launched a parliamentary commission to press Argentina’s claims for possession of the islands. Times Online reported, “Diplomats have been instructed to make the Falklands a priority, helping to keep the claim prominent on international agendas” (June 27).
Britain responded by declaring that its position (similar to the situation with Gibraltar) is to respect the wishes of the Falklands population, who, as Governor Howard Pearce declared, were “united in their wish to remain British” (ibid.).
So what is it that is so important about this small group of islands that it has brought Argentina to blows with Britain in the past and now threatens to blow out into a major diplomatic confrontation?
We have to check the map to observe that the Falklands control the northern end of the sea gate that lies off the southern tip of South America known as Drake’s Passage, the southern end of this crucial gateway being the South Shetland Islands. This sea gate guards passage of marine vessels between the South Pacific and Southern Atlantic oceans and the Antarctic. It has high strategic value in terms of control of the flow of trade, controlled access to the rich resources of Antarctica, in addition to its obvious advantages in defense.
The Falklands were claimed on behalf of Britain by Captain Strong, who landed there in 1690, planting the British flag and naming the island group after Lord Falkland. Invaded by Argentina and Uruguay in 1820, the British retook the islands in 1833 to enforce British sovereignty.
Discovered in 1819 by British mariner William Smith, the South Shetlands are claimed by Britain, Chile and Argentina. Thus Britain, as has historically been its habit, plays an important part in balancing the power of control over this crucial southern sea gate. Should Argentina be granted sovereignty over the Falklands, the removal of Britain’s traditionally peaceful and orderly influence could create tension in this region with the prospect of future disruption to shipping. Of real concern would be the prospect of a foreign power, such as either China or the European Union, seeking control of this sea gate to the detriment of the U.S. and Australasia in particular.
Thus the game being played out currently between Argentina and Britain over the Falklands is not at all dissimilar to that being played out between Spain and Britain over the vital Mediterranean sea gate of Gibraltar. Here we have two remaining, crucially strategic sea gates, still possessed by the nation that once “ruled the waves,” Great Britain, the last vestiges of its former globe-girdling empire. Will the Brits give way? Will these last pieces of Britain’s vast but long gone empire be simply handed over to these two Hispanic nations, each quite sympathetic to the other’s cause?
Nestor Kirchner, German ethnic, son of a Nazi, populist president of volatile Argentina, has certainly shown himself to be unfriendly to the U.S. Now, he is laying down the gauntlet to Britain. Do not be surprised in the least if he joins cause with Spain to mount a successful effort to lobby the United Nations to force Britain’s hand to yield up its remaining sovereignty over these last strands of empire, the God-given sea gates of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
We are yet once again reminded of that great prophecy in Deuteronomy 28:52, directed primarily to the English-speaking peoples: “And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.”