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Margaret Thatcher’s secret dealings with the Argentine military junta that invaded the Falklands

Thursday, January 30th 2020 - 08:44 UTC
Full article 41 comments

By Grace Livingstone (*) – Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is often lauded in the UK for standing up to the Argentine military junta during the Falklands War, but declassified British documents show that her government had far more cordial relations with this regime than her wartime rhetoric suggests. The following article was published by Daily Maverick, a South African online newspaper. Read full article

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  • Roger Lorton

    Grace Livingstone authored an article, published by the South African on-line newspaper Daily Maverick? THE Grace Livingstone with a book to sell? THE Daily ... who?

    Cambridge Centre of Latin American Studies? Is that not the same place that the mad Argie Guillermo Makin teaches?

    And what is this article trying to say? That Britain, one of the world's leading arms exporters, sold arms to Argentina?

    Is that actually news?

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 08:06 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • Islander1

    Well said Roger. NOTHING at all in the article that was not generally known before. UK simply did not believe Arg would invade and UK was focussed on European and Middle east affairs and we had been under some pressure from UK to come to a “deal” of some sort by both Cons. and the previous Labour Govt.- but it was all a bit FCO wishy-washy and vague with I recall one quote from an FCO official - lets try and keep the ball in the long grass.

    Pretty generally understood for years that had the Arg waited another 12-24 months we may well have fallen into their hands like a bit of rotten fruit - and no RN aircraft carriers to do anything anyway!
    Luckily for us- the Arg ran out of patience and got stupid!

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 09:15 am - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    Is that all you're interested in? It's just fine to sell weapons to regimes that use them to murder their own citizens? Something our government is sadly still doing.

    How ironic that following Thatcher's policies wrecked their economy and lead the junta to turn to warfare as a morale booster, and the UK government sold them weapons to use against us. Almost seems like karma.

    As for “in the UK, trade unions had become one of the major fossilisers of the economy”, sounds like they wanted tips from the dictatorship!

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 10:17 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • Roger Lorton

    Now there's the thing DT. The period covered by this author's research is 1973 to 1982. Thatcher - the first name in the headline - did not become PM until 1979. Most of Livingstone's research therefore covers the Labour years, but Callaghan's name does not sell books. The guidelines introduced by the Labour Government were promptly dismissed by their own Defence Secretary who ignored them. For public consumption and nothing more. Thatcher certainly sold to Argentina, but did not have time to deliver.

    This headline does not fit this story.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 10:43 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • DemonTree

    And again, you think the fact they didn't get chance to deliver all the weapons is the important point? The headline says 'Thatcher's secret dealings', not secret arms deliveries. Most of the article was about her government's dealings with the dictatorship. Apart from seeing human rights as an inconvenient obstacle to making money, if they hadn't been so cosy with the Junta, maybe the latter wouldn't have thought it was safe to invade. When Callahan was PM he sent a nuclear sub down there to scare them off.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 11:03 am - Link - Report abuse +3
  • Roger Lorton

    The important point is that Callaghan was also talking to the Argentine dictatorships. To isolate Thatcher is faintly ridiculous. There was no change in policy from the Labour Government to the Thatcher Government vis-a-vis Argentina.

    As for the sub, Callaghan kept that quiet.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 11:17 am - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    Callahan didn't have an ambassador in Argentina because they couldn't agree on sovereignty talks. It's not surprising the Junta thought the Thatcher government was more amenable. And the Thatcher government believed those nice polite officials who they had so much in common with would never be so crazy as to invade. That's what happens when you forget what sort of people you're really dealing with (the kind who torture people and throw them out of helicopters alive, and use the weapons you sell them against their own citizens).

    The people who needed to know were told about the sub, and they backed off... for a while.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 11:52 am - Link - Report abuse +2
  • Pytangua

    Sickening exposé of the ties between Thatcher and the military junta in Argentina - if necessary Thatcher and her ilk would have imposed the same draconian denial of human rights in my country. And the sad squirts above would have applauded her.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 12:01 pm - Link - Report abuse -1
  • Roger Lorton

    DT - Nobody was informed about the sub. Parliament only learned of it in 1982. Entirely secret.

    Callaghan's Government did seek to restore diplomatic relations in 1976 but abandoned the idea following a leaked paper and an outcry from the Labour party itself. However, contacts between the FCO and the Argentine government did not cease despite there being no Ambassadors. Negotiations resumed in August 1976 on board a ship moored at Buenos Aires - Fragata Sarmiento. They continued throughout the period that followed with the Cabinet approving the talks on December 8, 1976. Rowlands arrived in BA in February, 1977. The Callaghan Government was viewed far more favourably than Thatcher ever was.

    https://falklandstimeline.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/1972-to-1982.pdf

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 12:58 pm - Link - Report abuse +2
  • DemonTree

    Parliament wasn't who needed to know. The Argentine government were informed about the ships and it worked. If Thatcher had done the same a lot of lives could have been spared. But she and her government thought they could work with the Junta. What they cared about was money, and they thought the violence used by the dictatorship was someone else's problem - until suddenly it wasn't.

    And you still applaud her.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 01:47 pm - Link - Report abuse +2
  • Roger Lorton

    Your evidence that the Argentine government were informed?

    I do not believe that they ever knew.

    Thatcher's policy was no different to Callaghans and yes, I applaud her reaction to the invasion.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 01:59 pm - Link - Report abuse +1
  • DemonTree

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/argentina/1491136/Secret-Falklands-task-force-revealed.html

    “The secret deployment coincided with talks in New York between Britain and Argentina that reduced tension. Once the talks had started, the Argentines were allowed to learn of the existence of the naval force and soon afterwards the 50 Argentines on South Thule left and the status quo was restored.”

    Do you applaud Thatcher's actions before the invasion? Selling arms to a mass-murdering dictatorship, inviting them for cosy visits? Treating human rights as an annoying impediment to trade? Or the previous government's for that matter, they also sold them weapons.

    But the fact an invasion took place under one and not the other tends to indicate that Thatcher's policy was different to Callaghan's. Preventing a war with a show of force is better than winning one.

    Jan 30th, 2020 - 03:17 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Enrique Massot

    Thatcher, Massera, Videla, Galtieri.

    Birds of a feather...

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 03:51 am - Link - Report abuse -1
  • Roger Lorton

    DT. Little confused. Thought I had answered you once, but now I cannot see it. It was early.

    I need to place a question mark by your Telegraph source. He is certainly in error with regard to Thule. The Argentines there had to be forcibly ejected in 1982.

    As for the submarine force, later research (Aaron Donaghy 'The British Government and the Falkland Islands, 1974-79' 2014) suggests that the Argentines were not informed.

    “No evidence has emerged that Argentina was made aware of the British defence plans… Owen, a close friend of Callaghan has always maintained that Operation Journeyman remained covert.”

    In fairness, Dr. Owen's recollections in 1982 were questioned as to their reliability. I have put the Telegraph reference into the Timeline for balance.

    As for Thatcher. She took up the same policies as her predecessors who very much sold to the Argentine Juntas in the full knowledge of what they were doing. I applaud neither for their sales.

    When Callaghan sent that submarine he knew that there was an Argentine force on Southern Thule and feared another action by Argentina at the Falklands. Thatcher had no such premonition. Not even the CIA with all their embedded contacts in Argentina saw the 1982 invasion coming.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 04:56 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • DemonTree

    I'm very surprised it wasn't in your timeline already. The same story is on Wikipedia, it's on the BBC website, and the Guardian. They all give the source as the National Archives in Kew. That's what you need to check and see if the reporting was accurate, if you want your timeline to be any more reliable than a Wikipedia article. Some of it is even digitised.

    As for selling arms to dictators, our government still does it today. Why exactly are we allies with Saudi Arabia who are the biggest promoters of Islamic extremism around the world?

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 07:15 am - Link - Report abuse -2
  • Roger Lorton

    It was mentioned in the Timeline, with a reference to Donaghy's research. That is why I said that I did not believe that Argentina had been informed. I am still inclined to Donaghy's viewpoint as he went through the archives for his phd. Do you have a link to a digital record that confirms that the Argentine's were told? Ex-Foreign Secretary Dr. Owen was adamant that they were not.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 09:13 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • Think

    Mr.Roger Lorton..., me dear Engrish copper...

    Don't “believe” sooo much..., try instead to research some “Non Engrish Sources”... for a change... ;-)

    My frail memory seems to recall that them Argies were clearly told about that little bloody Engrish Armada around Christmas 1977..., during a meeting in Nueva York...

    Capisce...?

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 10:26 am - Link - Report abuse -3
  • DemonTree

    From a quick investigation I don't think those records have been digitised. You're the historian with lots of free time, wouldn't be too hard to go take a look next time you're in London.

    But what was the point of sending a sub if they didn't tell the Argentines? It's only a deterrent if they know it's there. Makes we wonder whether/how easily the Argie navy would be able to detect the ships for themselves, and conversely how quickly the small fleet would be able to detect and react to an invasion force.

    Also PDF isn't the most helpful format. Would be much better if you could link to individual entries and subsections rather than a 10 year period of history.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 10:30 am - Link - Report abuse -1
  • Roger Lorton

    Think - You recall? I'd like to see some evidence, and I am not aware of any in the archives at Kew. Perhaps they were told, perhaps not. I have now joined the Donaghy research with the Telegraph news item, but it'll have to await the next update.

    DT. I spend, on average, 4 days a year in London's archives. As for the point of sending a sub without letting them know, I have a quote from John Nott.

    “The more I consider the 1977 deployment, the more I realise what an irresponsible and useless act it was.”

    PDF is not perfect, but it is searchable. Also easily uploaded. I am considering epub, but currently the degree of reformatting required is a little daunting.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 10:51 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • Think

    Juppp...
    I do “Recall”...
    Beats “Believing”...
    Don't you Think..., copper...?

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 11:08 am - Link - Report abuse -2
  • DemonTree

    If you've got Donaghy's book you could look up the references to find out where the info should be. Did the Junta leave any records? If they mentioned it at the time then they must have known.

    “John Nott was the Minister of Defence at the time of the Falklands. He actually played a large role in persuading the Argentines of the lack of priority held by Britain towards the islands. In his short time at the MoD he had instituted savage cuts on the military in general and the Royal Navy in particular. They were being asked to reduce the size of their surface fleet from 59 ships to 50. Even more worrying for the islanders was the fact that HMS Endurance was earmarked to be scrapped when it returned from its annual tour of the South Atlantic in 1982 and that it categorically would not be replaced. As the prime military commitment to the Falkland Islands, this was a devastating blow to the islanders and seemed to illustrate a lack of commitment to their defence. It was clarified that the Royal Marine detachment would continue to be deployed there but that was nowhere near as high profile as HMS Endurance. Besides, without a ship to move them around, the Royal Marines' strategic abilities to deal with issues on South Georgia or even to West Falkland would have been severely compromised.”

    Sounds like he may be a *little* biased....

    As for Think, is it more likely he was close enough to the military dictatorship in 77 to learn secret information? Or that he read it in the papers later like everyone else?

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 11:14 am - Link - Report abuse -1
  • Roger Lorton

    Think. It does, but evidence it aint.

    DT - I do not have a copy of Donaghy's book now. I do believe that I 'rented' it for a limited period through Google Books. An option that I have not seen for a while which is a pity. The cost of books is way too high. However, there is another way. I know it works, because I just tried it. The view is limited, but better than nothing. Take Nott's quote, copy it and paste it into Google.

    As for Think. He has never revealed his name or the circumstances of his involvement in the 70's despite occasionally implying that he was involved.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 11:30 am - Link - Report abuse +1
  • DemonTree

    This extract from Hansard may interest you:

    Mr. Callaghan
    ***In paragraph 66 the Franks report goes on to say: “We have found no evidence that the Argentine Government ever came to know of its”— the fleet's— “existence … The Argentine threat receded, and it was agreed after the talks that the naval force could be withdrawn”. Both those statements are accurate. I offered no evidence to the Franks committee on the matter. I discussed it with the Franks committee, and I decided, and it of course agreed, that I should not offer evidence on it. However, both statements are accurate and I am not ready to go further today than what I said at that time. The major issue at that time—I know that some hon. Members are trying to push this as though it was the only thing that mattered—is the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil—that we were there. We were in a position—this is also in the Cabinet minutes—to buttress our negotiations were they to break down. We were not able to repel the full assault but we were there and able to do so. That was the point about 1977 and I hope that the House will understand that I cannot go any further at this time.

    Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
    The right hon. Gentleman is being very tantalising. Did the Argentine authorities know or not?

    Mr. Callaghan
    I am not going any further into that matter.***

    RE Think, anyone can imply anything. If his political views in the 70s were same as now then he'd have been busy keeping his head down, not working for Videla.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 12:14 pm - Link - Report abuse +1
  • Roger Lorton

    Coincidence, I was awaiting the opportunity to refer you to a Hansard page.

    ”Mr. Nott If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue with what I was saying. The other option would have been the deployment of a small force insufficient to resist the Argentine Navy, as was done in 1977. May I comment first on this particular proposal, because there seems to be a difference of view between the then Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary about the events in 1977. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said that this force in 1977 became known and that a diplomatic solution followed, whereas the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said yesterday on the radio that it was done in total secrecy—[Interruption]—but he added that it gave him confidence in his negotiations, whatever that might mean. [Interruption.]”

    https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1982/apr/03/falkland-islands

    Right hand, left hand?

    We will have to await Thinks evidence, methinks ;-)

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 01:03 pm - Link - Report abuse +1
  • Think

    When or where did I ever say or “imply” that me frail memory is “evidence”..., copper...?

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 01:43 pm - Link - Report abuse -2
  • DemonTree

    That discussion does not at all support your belief that no one could have predicted the invasion. They mention articles in the British newspapers and intercepted telegrams, among other things.

    Callaghan also said this:
    In fact, the Argentines left Southern Thule in March 1977, and we did not know that they had returned, because they did not return again, until February 1978. There was bad faith. They went back. However, no one could judge from that account that the representations had been successful and that the Argentines had withdrawn and then, in bad faith, gone back again. I am discussing the inaccuracies of the Franks report.

    In case you're interested, I dug out the post where I first heard of Operation Journeyman, from someone who was on it:

    https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=5377769&postcount=34

    I'm not particularly convinced by the conspiracy theory, it's more likely incompetence than malice, but it's an interesting account. Do you know anything about the two previous occasions when ships were sent?

    Don't hold your breath waiting for anything from Think...

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 01:55 pm - Link - Report abuse -1
  • Roger Lorton

    Did I say that no one could have predicted the invasion? I said that no one did because they did not recognise the signs. Information was being supplied by both Capt Barker and the military attache in BA but it didn't get through to the higher tiers of Government. The Franks Enquiry exonerated the Government. Inaccuracies? Accusations of a whitewash, of course, but I'll accept that conclusion. Not certain what inaccuracies you are referring to.

    March, 1977 (?). Still there in the October.

    October 26th, Britain’s charge d’affairs in Buenos Aires is summoned to the Foreign Ministry to be told that Argentina is intending to complete its installation on Thule Island.
    “Unless we are prepared to deploy sufficient power physically to dislodge the Argentines from Southern Thule, we must surely tolerate them as squatters...” [Carless to Owen October 27, 1977 in FO 7/3375]

    I do not believe that they left at all.

    I'll have to take a look at your link and get back to you. Only 0530 and I'm still half-asleep. Need coffee.

    Jan 31st, 2020 - 10:26 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    “The Franks Enquiry exonerated the Government.”

    Just like the Chilcot Inquiry exonerated Blair?

    Callaghan claimed the Franks Report got that bit wrong. The link is here and you can search for the section I quoted:

    https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/1983-01-26/debates/ca410aae-bc18-44c6-8dbc-8876deb8a810/FalklandIslands(FranksReport)

    But I'm more interested in why he was so cagey about whether the Argentines were told or not. What was he trying to hide?

    Feb 01st, 2020 - 12:49 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    At last. I lost 4 hours of my life trying to figure that out. Only two realistic options. Either Callaghan lied or, possibly, he had informed someone that he shouldn't.

    There are 3 actors. PM Callaghan, Dr. Owen the Foreign Secretary and Rowlands the lead negotiator. A deployment of 2 frigates (Nov 24) and a sub (Nov 26) took place ahead of two days of negotiations on December 13 & 14, 1977. Nothing came out of those negotiations. The squadron were withdrawn on December 20.

    On April 3, 1982, Callaghan revealed the deployment to the Commons. He used his deployment to criticise the Tory Government for not taking preemptive action; claiming that Argentina had backed down when he was PM and a diplomatic gain had been achieved.

    Unfortunately for Callaghan, he was not supported by Owen or Rowlands, who both during 1982 suggested that the Argentines had not been informed in 1977.

    Come the Franks Committee enquiry Callaghan speaks to Franks, but declines to give any evidence to support his earlier statements. For the Report, Franks chose his words carefully and said there was no evidence that the Argentines had known of the deployment. In January, 1983 when the Report was debated, Callaghan initially prevaricated and then, in the face of a direct question, declined to answer.

    To my mind, either he was trying to hide the fact that in 1982 he had mislead Parliament or he knew something that Owen and Rowlands did not. It is just possible that he had passed the info on to another player that we do not know about. An indiscretion that allowed word to get to Buenos Aires. It's a reach and I do not believe that Argentina would have quietly taken that threat. Not their way.

    Besides, the Argentines on Thule never left. They had been there from Sept, 1976. I can see nothing to suggest that they withdrew in March, 1977, which was 8 months before the deployment. They were still there in the October for certain and were spotted again in February, 1978.

    Hit my word limi

    Feb 01st, 2020 - 01:19 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    Sorry, I've been busy, and I know Hansard isn't the best for searching. What you say about the two options makes sense, but why do you think Argentina wouldn't have taken it quietly? Presumably the point was not to send a force capable of stopping them, but to show them Britain would take action and they could not simply walk in bloodlessly but would have a real fight. With the hope it would prevent them taking more decisive action, ie invading the Falklands.

    When did the Junta start planning Operation Soberanía? Could be they left the Falklands alone at that point because they had turned their attention towards Chile, or maybe they turned their attention to Chile because they didn't want to start a war with Britain?

    At any rate, you do believe Callaghan lied to the House about the base on Thule?

    Feb 01st, 2020 - 03:20 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    Morning. The Argies were not much inclined to take anything quietly. Far more likely to make a fuss and complain to the UN. Not that one sub and 2 frigates could have stopped Argentina walking into the Falklands in 1977. They were into gestures then (as now), and the islands are far too large to protect with a small force. Naval vessels are not much use once troops are ashore.

    I do believe that the Labour Government consistently lied to both Houses of Parliament over Thule. In May, 1978, Lord Goronwy-Roberts told the Lords that his government had not concealed the presence of Argentines on Thule despite having done exactly that for nigh on 18 months. He even claimed that it had been in the newspapers in late 1976. Callaghan's 1982 suggestion that the 1977 deployment had resulted in Argentina leaving Thule was untrue.

    Feb 01st, 2020 - 10:03 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    What would they say to the UN, that Britain had two frigates in international waters? Nothing wrong with that. I'm not even sure what the need for secrecy was unless they were afraid it might precipitate the Junta to invade before the ships could get there.

    What do archives in Argentina say about the base on South Thule and the negotiations with Britain?

    Feb 02nd, 2020 - 09:05 am - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    Another thought crossed my mind. Callaghan may have been protecting a colleague. The Defence Secretary was Fred Mulley. He had to be aware of the deployment. Also, Mulley was the one who ignored the Cabinet guidelines on arms sales to Argentina and, presumably, had regular contact with Argentina's military. Another player. Elevated to the Lords in 1983.

    What would they say? Much as they do now, they'd rant and rave and shout that they had been threatened.

    Argentina's archives? No idea. Mostly closed for the years leading up to the 1982 war.

    Feb 02nd, 2020 - 12:10 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    “they'd rant and rave and shout that they had been threatened.”

    Militarising the South Atlantic? It was already militarised back then, what with Argentina's fleet preparing to invade Chile over those 3 islands.

    Are there records of ships being sent down on two previous occasions, like that ex-navy guy said?

    Argentina have declassified some stuff: https://en.mercopress.com/2019/08/29/thule-island-occupation-argentine-navy-tested-uk-s-resolve-as-part-of-its-long-term-plan-to-take-the-falklands

    You must have looked at their archives? Otherwise you're only getting half the story.

    Feb 02nd, 2020 - 12:47 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    Yes, they'd rant and rave and no, the South Atlantic was not militarised in 1977.

    Ships on previous occasions? He's a little vague. Many Royal Navy vessels went to the South Atlantic prior to the signing of the Antarctic Treaty. Not so much in the 1960s, but the islands received regular visits. The implication was, I think, that the 1977 deployment was not the first as a precaution with regard to an Argentine incursion. I am not aware of any in the early 1970s that could be classified in that way.

    Argentina has declassified very little. I have not visited the archives in Argentina, but I know a man who has spent a great deal of time there and has provided me with as much as he could find. Argentina only releases that which it believes favours its cause.

    Feb 02nd, 2020 - 01:19 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    I tried to find something about the interview with Owen that he mentioned,  but it was a bit of a long shot.

    Don't you want to visit Argentina yourself? Even just to see what it's really like as well as look for info?

    Feb 04th, 2020 - 03:21 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    I would certainly like to get to the Falklands, Argentina holds little attraction. Perhaps. Time will tell. I have an old, and quite large, house to fix up first.

    Feb 04th, 2020 - 10:27 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Think

    What a surprise..., copper...

    Feb 05th, 2020 - 07:18 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    The house, you mean? No, I suppose not.

    Feb 05th, 2020 - 10:23 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • DemonTree

    In Thailand or the UK?

    Feb 05th, 2020 - 10:25 pm - Link - Report abuse 0
  • Roger Lorton

    In Thailand.

    Feb 05th, 2020 - 10:55 pm - Link - Report abuse 0

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