The Falkland Islands - a background

The Falkland Islands - a background




Polls done at the time in 1982 indicated that few people in Britain actually knew where the Falkland Islands were before the war broke out. The sheer distance between London and Port Stanley, the Falkland Island’s capital, can probably account for the Falkland Islands anonymity. Even Defence Secretary John Nott later recounted that he had to use the globe in his office at the Defence Ministry to remind him where the Falkland Islands were and was very concerned at the sheer distance involved with regards to a military campaign to reclaim them.

 

The Falkland Islands are made up of two large islands (West and East) and about 200 smaller islands. The capital, Port Stanley, is on East Falkland on the eastern coast. It has the claim to being the most southernmost capital in the world. The islands are about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina and are 8,000 miles from Britain.

 

When the Argentine invasion took place in April 1982, the population of the islands was about 1,800, with 1,300 being born on the islands. In 1982, the Falkland Island Company owned 43% of the land on the islands and it had a monopoly on all imports and exports. The primary export was wool and sheepskins. At the time in the early 1980’s there was talk of oil reserves being found off the coast of the Falklands.

 

British nationals first settled on the islands in the 1830’s and the islands were claimed by Britain in 1833. Argentina had always claimed them for itself. As Britain was the world’s dominant naval force in the Nineteenth Century, Argentina would not have been able to launch and sustain an invasion of the islands then. It is doubtful that any invasion was possible until much later in the Twentieth Century. By this time, the islanders simply thought of themselves as British citizens who just happened to live 8,000 miles away. In 1976, Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister, was warned that Argentina was sabre rattling with regards to the Falklands. In 1977, a naval force was covertly sent to the islands in a show of strength and made a suitable impression.

 

However, by 1982, the military junta in Buenos Aires thought that it could execute a successful invasion of the Falklands and General Leopoldo Galtieri sanctioned it. It is thought that the widely reported planned withdrawal of ‘HMS Endurance’ from the area stimulated the belief that Britain no longer had much interest in the Falklands






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