At 11.00 today on BBC Radio 4, [LISTEN AGAIN LINK] Peter Snow presented a programme analysing the role played by the USA during the Falklands conflict. The programme revealed that whilst President Reagan was ‘instinctively’ supportive of Britain, his officials were ideologically divided over whom to support. The thirty minute interview with former administration officials highlighted the roles of the three key players during the conflict.
Jeane Kirkpatrick was America’s Ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the invasion. She led the group of Reagan officials called ‘Latinistas’ who opposed supporting Britain during the conflict. She argued that it was in America’s national interest to support Argentina. This was because there were fears that the USSR was dominating Latin America and a failure on the part of the US to support the Argentineans would encourage Latin American countries to seek closer relations with the Soviets. The British did not take kindly to the fact she chose to attend a dinner at the Argentinean embassy in the US shortly after she heard of their invasion of the Falklands. She argued that if she chose to abstain she would have difficulty persuading the Argentineans that they were neutral in try to reach a settlement. The British Ambassador Nicholas Henderson was not impressed. He responded by asking if the Americans would be happy if he attended dinner at the Iranian embassy after they heard that they taken 52 Americans hostage.
Caspar Weinberger who was the Defence Secretary at the time was the leader of the group called the ‘Atlanticists’ who believed that America should support her closest NATO ally and it would send a clear message that America did not support brutal and aggressive dictators. His staunch support later earned him a British Knighthood. He provided the United Kingdom with all the equipment she required during the war. Ranging from submarine detectors to the latest missiles. All this was done very discreetly. His actions led to divisions amongst Reagan’s staff. Whilst Weinberger claimed that he has received authorisation from Ronald Reagan to provide covert support to the UK, others disagreed. Admiral Dennis Blair was asked by Snow if he was aware of the Reagan’s consent. He said ‘no’ and that there were too many secrets in the administration. Alexander Haig who was charged with mediating the dispute between Britain and Argentina also stated that he did not believe that Reagan authorised the covert supply of weapons. This, he said, was due to Reagan’s administration being a ‘loose ship’ with a ‘flawed system’ of conducting policy. When Snow asked Haig if he thought Reagan was responsible for the flawed system, he responded by stating that it was not Reagan’s fault but the fault of his staff.
Alexander Haig was the Secretary of State at the time of the crisis. He was charged with negotiating a peaceful settlement of the dispute between Britain and Argentina. He narrated his meeting with Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street on the first leg of his mediation tour. He said Thatcher took him on a tour of Downing Street and showed him photos of former prime ministers like Churchill. She told him that they were great because they never lost wars. She also told him that she did not want to be a Chamberlain and would not negotiate until the Argentineans withdrew from the Falklands. He said after his meeting with Thatcher he realised that war was imminent. He immediately reported this to General Galteiri of Argentina who responded by arguing that the British would not fight. The General believed that there were only two great powers: USA and USSR. He argued that other countries were on an equal footing and as such Argentina could defeat the British. Haig warned him that the British were battled hardened from their superior training, technology and experiences in regions like Northern Ireland. Haig also warned him that if war broke out, the US would support Britain.
The British Ambassador at the time of the conflict Nicholas Henderson expressed his disappointment that when Britain emerged victorious, the MOD forbade anyone from mentioning the role America played during the conflict. They wanted it to be seen as a British victory.