Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Ronald Reagan. This volume addresses the administration’s response to the crisis and 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the South Atlantic island territories of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas,1 South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. It charts the development of the Anglo-Argentine sovereignty dispute which, from the U.S. perspective, was transformed by the Argentine landings on the Falklands/Malvinas and South Georgia in March–April 1982 from a persistent, though peripheral, boundary issue to a formidable diplomatic challenge, with geopolitical implications that threatened to transcend the narrow geography of the South Atlantic. This violent clash between a powerful, if problematic, regional partner and one of the United States’s closest allies, prompted a further clash within the U.S. foreign policymaking establishment as administration officials balanced the costs of the conflict for U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere against the risks of undermining the Western Alliance. The volume documents the intense diplomatic efforts, undertaken largely by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict before it escalated further and, when these proved unsuccessful, to manage the outcome of the war and limit its damage to U.S. political and economic interests.

The first part of the volume covers the slowly increasing involvement of the United States in the months leading up to the war. Following a brief series of documents that illustrate both the background of the Anglo-Argentine sovereignty dispute, as well as U.S. attitudes toward the issue on the eve of the Reagan years, Chapter 1 opens with the beginning of a fresh round of talks between Argentina and the United Kingdom regarding the future of the Falklands/Malvinas in February 1981. The inconclusive course of negotiations over the next 14 months forms the backdrop for the rapid emergence and escalation of tensions in the weeks prior to the war, marked by the mounting crisis over the Argentine presence in South Georgia, ominous signs of wider [Page X] Argentine military action, and the Reagan administration’s unsuccessful efforts to prevent hostilities.

The volume then turns to the April–June 1982 war itself. Chapter 2 covers the first month of the conflict, which centers around Haig’s “shuttle diplomacy” mission between London and Buenos Aires, in which the Secretary of State attempted to broker a negotiated settlement to the dispute, and culminates in the administration’s public “tilt” toward the British position on April 30 when a settlement proved elusive. Chapter 3 deals with the final 6 weeks of the war and documents not only the political and military support given by the United States to the British and the implementation of U.S. sanctions against Argentina which followed the April 30 announcement, but also the United States’s continued diplomatic efforts to limit the scope of the fighting and its political consequences. Lastly, Chapter 4 looks at the war’s aftermath and the U.S. perception of its impact, U.S. postwar relations with the belligerents, and the conflict’s damaging effect on U.S.-Latin American relations. This portion of the volume examines the significant influence exerted by the lingering Falklands/Malvinas sovereignty dispute, and the perceived need to accommodate British sensitivities in particular, upon the Reagan administration’s attempts to normalize political, economic, and military relations with Argentina between the end of the war and the re-establishment of civilian government in December 1983.

Readers interested in the way in which the Reagan administration’s approach to the Anglo-Argentine conflict in the South Atlantic fit into the broader continuum of its bilateral relationship with Argentina, particularly its prewar rapprochement with the ruling Junta, and its wider policy in South America should read Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XVI, South America; Latin America Region, alongside this compilation. For the administration’s policies in Central America and the Caribbean during the first term, researchers should consult Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XIV, Central America, 1981–1984; Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XVII, Part 1, Mexico; Western Caribbean, and Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XVII, Part 2, Eastern Caribbean. Similarly, those seeking the broader context of Anglo-American relations and U.S. strategic relations with the Western Alliance during Reagan’s first term should consult Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984 and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume V, European Security, 1977–1983, respectively.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIII

As a crisis volume, this compilation is tightly focused on the events surrounding the April–June 1982 Anglo-Argentine war in the South At [Page XI] lantic and the political, economic, diplomatic, and military responses of the U.S. Government to that conflict. For the administration of Ronald Reagan (and, indeed, for the administrations that preceded his), the longstanding sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom in the South Atlantic was, prior to the spring of 1982, a matter of peripheral interest, an issue toward which the United States had traditionally maintained a neutral stance. However, with the rapid increase of tensions between the two countries beginning in March 1982, followed by the landing of Argentine forces and the expulsion of British authorities from the Falklands/Malvinas, the South Atlantic took hold of the attention of U.S. policymakers at the highest level. The ways in which the Reagan foreign policymaking establishment attempted to meet this challenge, and was often divided by it, are at the heart of this volume. If allowed to escalate, administration officials reasoned, the South Atlantic conflict threatened U.S. relationships with the belligerents, relationships that the United States judged important to geopolitical interests not only in the Western Hemisphere but also in Europe. The conflict also carried explicit Cold War dimensions, providing an opportunity for the Soviet Union or Cuba to exploit the situation and broaden its influence.

In the documentary record, the development of U.S. policy throughout the crisis bears the heaviest, most visible influence of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. Following the April 7 decision of the National Security Planning Group to send Haig to London and Buenos Aires, he was given primary responsibility for achieving a negotiated settlement between the two sides. In the weeks that followed, Haig shuttled between the two capitals almost constantly, cabling regularly with the White House on the progress of negotiations. Memoranda of conversation of Haig’s meetings with British and Argentine officials, including those with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Argentine President General Leopoldo Galtieri, were kept by the Secretary’s party but do not appear to have been given wide distribution. These documents illustrate vividly the extent to which Haig sought to press the two sides to come to terms. Haig’s central role in shaping U.S. policy is also clearly displayed in the numerous action memoranda presented for his decision, documents which he frequently annotated extensively with his own observations. In addition, the reader will note the large number of documents printed from the Office of the Secretary of Defense files. From the beginning of the crisis, Secretary Weinberger was a prominent, forceful advocate for the British position. Following the U.S. Government’s April 30 announced “tilt” toward the United Kingdom, Weinberger assumed a central role in personally approving a wide range of British requests for military assistance, reflected in the series of decision memoranda printed in this volume.

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As compared with the Departments of State and Defense, the role of the National Security Council in the decisionmaking process during the South Atlantic crisis was less pronounced. In contrast with previous administrations, the NSC occupied a less central place in foreign policymaking at the start of the Reagan years, reflective, in part, of the administration’s early enthusiasm for a decentralized policymaking process. Moreover, assessment of the impact of the NSC on the development of U.S. policy during the South Atlantic conflict is hampered by the apparent idiosyncrasies of the institution’s recordkeeping at the time. William P. Clark, Reagan’s Assistant for National Security Affairs in the spring of 1982, was a close confidante of the President, but few of his personal interactions with Reagan during this period, such as Clark’s daily national security briefings, made their way into the documentary record. Similarly, NSC Staff members Dennis Blair, Roger Fontaine, and James Rentschler regularly forwarded numerous memoranda to Clark for the latter’s action throughout the South Atlantic war; few copies in NSC files, however, bear indication of decisions Clark may have rendered based upon these documents.

Documenting the role of Reagan himself is inhibited by similar constraints. While briefed by his Cabinet officials on their activities, few of Reagan’s own views on the situation appear in the documentary record. Unlike some of his predecessors, Reagan rarely wrote on the documents he was given. The President’s thoughts or actions regarding the issues presented were usually recorded (if they were recorded at all) in notes written later by someone on the White House staff. Indeed, Reagan’s “voice” in U.S. policymaking is displayed most directly in the records of meetings with advisers (where an official record was kept) and in his communications, including both written correspondence and telephone conversations, with Galtieri and Thatcher. Reagan maintained a regular written correspondence with Thatcher throughout the crisis; moreover, he personally intervened with both leaders at several junctures with the intent of convincing them to moderate their actions, beginning with his unsuccessful April 1, 1982, attempt (undertaken at British request) to convince Galtieri to halt Argentine offensive operations on the Falklands/Malvinas before they began. In most cases, these interactions were documented in official memoranda of conversation; in all cases, Reagan was provided with a detailed set of talking points by his advisers beforehand, guidance the President appears to have followed closely.


The editor wishes to thank officials at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, especially Mike Dugan, Sherrie Fletcher, Lisa Jones, and Cate Sewell. Thanks are also due to the Central Intelligence Agency for arranging access to the Reagan Library materials scanned for the Re [Page XIII] mote Archives Capture declassification project. The History Staff of the Center for the Study of Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency was accommodating in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Sandy Meagher was helpful in providing access to the Department of Defense materials. The editor also thanks the staff at the National Archives and Records Administration facility in College Park, Maryland, for their valuable assistance. Lastly, the editor wishes to extend special thanks to the families and executors of the Estates of former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and former Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger for granting Department of State historians access to the personal papers of Secretaries Haig and Weinberger deposited at the Library of Congress. Additional thanks are due to officials of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division for facilitating that access.

Alexander R. Wieland collected, selected, and edited the documentation for this volume under the supervision of Adam M. Howard, the General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. The volume was reviewed by Kristin Ahlberg, Assistant to the General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, and Stephen Randolph, Historian of the Department of State. Chris Tudda coordinated the final declassification review under Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Mandy A. Chalou, Stephanie Eckroth, Heather McDaniel, and Rita Baker performed the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber, Inc., prepared the index.

Alexander R. Wieland
  1. Please note that the naming convention in editorial matter for this geographic area reflects Department of State policy at the time of compilation in 2011; it does not reflect the naming convention in 2015, Falkland (Malvinas) Islands.