Lord Franks implores us to read his report as a whole. Having done so, I can see why. It is only by doing so that we can understand the complexity of the basic issues relating to foreseeing and preventing the invasion: but also because the 339 paragraphs bring home to the reader the underlying dilemma that has faced successive British governments since the '60s, and that indeed confronts us all now even more starkly than ever.
The problem is basically this: (1) without a negotiated settlement with Argentina, the economic development of the Falkland Islands will remain stultified, and Britain will be saddled with a continuing military threat that can only be met by a considerable diversion of military resources; (2) no negotiation can succeed unless the Argentinians get some satisfaction on sovereignty: and while British governments of both parties have accepted the possibility of a sovereignty negotiation involving, for instance, lease-back, this has not been acceptable to the islanders or to opinion on either side of the House of Commons.
It may well be asked why in that case British governments, whether Labor or Tory, did not set about trying to persuade opinion. The answer is that, given the intensity of feeling, it would have been an extremely difficult exercise, which might have impaired our negotiating position with Argentina. But, then, any course of action would have been difficult--if it had not been so, the problem would have been solved years ago. And when in the end the talks collapsed, as they were bound to do if sovereignty was not included, the true reason for the breakdown was lost in the ugly rush to find a scapegoat.
Nor is it surprising that the finger of blame was pointed at the Foreign Office, whose business it is to deal with foreigners and promote British interests by peaceful means if possible, and whose staff is dispersed about the world without any capacity for collective self-defense.
The Franks report does not deal with the failure of governments to tackle this fundamental problem. But it does make a judgment arising out of it that I find dubious. It records that in mid-1981 the government concluded that "the only feasible option was lease-back preceded by an education campaign both in the Falkland Islands and at home." It states that Lord Carrington, convinced that there was no prospect of selling lease-back at that stage either in the islands or at home, decided on Sept. 7 not to pursue this course of action, but to discuss the whole matter with the Argentinian foreign minister in New York later in the month, and to suggest to him that it would help if the Argentinians were able to make constructive proposals.
The report draws the conclusion that the effect of this decision was "to pass the initiative to the Argentinian government." Now, I do not think international affairs can be conducted on the basis only of formal proposals: there has to be informal feeling of the ground. But, more important, the British government never had, nor wanted, the initiative. It has always been the Argentinians who have pressed for change, and we who have wanted to stick to the status quo.
I have one other personal comment on the report, which is the great plausibility of Franks' judgment that insufficient allowance was made for the possibility of Argentina's military government acting unpredictably. The truth is that it is extremely difficult to predict unpredictability, and that if you survey the world looking for things people might do if they behaved irrationally, the international community will become a nervous wreck.
Nevertheless, I share the report's verdict. It has always seemed to me that as a country we tend to think that other people act as we do and are guided by a cold calculation of their own best interests, and as a result we have often been led to misjudgments, as over Czechoslovakia in 1967, Khomeini in 1979 and Afghanistan in 1980. Let me, in passing, express a doubt whether this natural tendency will necessarily be redressed by new machinery.
Focusing as it does on the responsibility of the British government, the Franks report does not, of course, analyze the role of the U.S. government--whether it was better forewarned than we were, and whether the invasion might have been prevented had Washington acted differently. There are, to be sure, some interesting references on the subject. The report states that when on March 31 I outlined to Alexander Haig, who was then secretary of state, the intelligence reports on Argentina's intentions to invade, he had been unaware of their significance.
This account hardly does justice to our extraordinary meeting. Having discussed the episode with him this last week, I know that he will not mind if I record here that his reaction to my information was electric. The high-ranking officials who were with him remained skeptical about the threat. They had just had an assurance from the Argentinian foreign minister that the Argentinians were not contemplating confrontation with us; in fact, they had had this assurance confirmed. I pointed out that the movements of the Argentinian fleet should surely be seen as a refutation of these assurances. Haig himself was in no doubt. He immediately saw the danger and sprang into action.
To my question to him a few days ago-- whether upon reflection he thought the Argentinians could have been headed off from invading if the Americans had exerted influence earlier to deter them--Haig replied negatively. He said that from the talks he had had with Argentine President Galtieri, he realized that the junta had been bent for some time on the invasion, confident that the British would not react with force--a conviction based on their view as military dictators that, in Haig's words, "no democracy could or would respond in that way."
From the talks he had had with the junta in Buenos Aires during the shuttle, Haig had deduced, so he tells me, that they had decided upon attack some time in advance and that the scrap merchants were disguised service personnel deliberately sent to South Georgia as agents provocateurs. This does not tally with the view that the decision to invade was a last-minute one and that the incident of the scrap merchant was seized on to escalate the situation rather than the first stage of a scenario leading to invasion of the Falklands.
Haig thinks the Argentinians may have received false signals from Washington about their attitude in the event of invasion, though certainly not from him. He thinks the confusion of signals may have become more pronounced after the invasion than before. He is convinced, I should add, that without his efforts at negotiations in the shuttle between Washington, London and Buenos Aires and without the disclosure that was revealed by this of the intransigence of the Argentinians compared with the reasonableness of the British, the British would not have secured the U.S. support that they did. He knows, as indeed do I, how invaluable was America's contri bution in practical terms.
As I have said, the re port leaves one with the
unpleasant reminder that
the problem remains
more intractable than
ever. Hitherto the Argen tinians have been pre pared to talk about other
things, e.g., communica tions, as well as sovereignty. Up to now,
we have been ready to discuss sover eignty, even though under a strict pro viso about the wishes of the inhabit ants. But now the Argentinians will
certainly discuss nothing but sovereign ty, whereas that is not a subject that we can talk about in the present circumstances.
For the moment, therefore, I am sure that no diplomatic move is feasible. Nor can we ease up at all on the military requirements for the defense of the islands. It is the Argentinians who have brought about a fortress in the Falklands by making the place a battlefield.
I do not think, however, that we should underestimate the international difficulties that lie ahead for us. The Europeans will be providing the Argentinians with plenty of the most modern arms, including Exocets. Washington will be fortifying relations with Buenos Aires. We will be under pressure from our community partners and from the United States to negotiate.
At the nonaligned summit due to be held in New Delhi in the spring and at the next United Nations General Assembly, we must expect awkward resolutions calling for renewed negotiations. It will no doubt be pointed out that the British government has gone about the world for years urging everyone to settle differences by negotiations, and we can expect to be asked to follow our own advice. It is, of course, much too early to try to foresee what form the negotiations might take or what it might be about.
Although I have no official role now whatever, I am sure, in some way at some stage, the problem will have to be internationalized. Other countries will have to be brought in, not least to remove the prospect of an indefinite security problem: and perhaps something will be sought along the lines of the Antarctic treaty of 1961. But, as I suggest, the floating of any idea now is unrealistic and could even make it less promising later.