British Government papers dealing with the Falklands War of 1982 have been released in accordance with the rule that government papers from 30 years ago are made public at the end of each year.
They reveal that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taken by surprise by the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Later in 1982, she told the Falklands Islands Review Committee, commonly called the Franks Committee after its Chairman, Lord Franks, that:
I never, never expected the Argentines to invade the Falklands head-on. It was such a stupid thing to do, as events happened, such a stupid thing even to contemplate doing.
Mrs Thatcher’s evidence about the Falklands War was some of the most powerful material to be declassified by the National Archives in the last three decades.
The documents show that US support for the UK was equivocal. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the Pentagon provided the UK with intelligence and weapons, including the newest version of the Sidewinder AAM. However, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the UN, were concerned that taking sides would damage US relations with Latin America. This biography of Kirkpatrick argues that she was pro-Argentinian, and tried to undermine Haig, who favoured the UK.
Thatcher also successfully pressured the French not to supply Exocet missiles to Peru during the conflict, as she feared that the Peruvians would sell them to Argentina, which had limited stocks of Exocets. A programme broadcast in BBC Radio 4’s Document series in March 2012 argued that the French Government fully supported the UK, but that contractors working for the French company that supplied the missiles helped the Argentinians.
Hennessy said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that Weinberger was willing to lend the RN a US aircraft carrier if a British carrier was sunk. I had heard Weinberger say this on a TV documentary, but assumed that he meant a mothballed WWII veteran Essex class vessel or an Iwo Jima class amphibious assault ship, which would have had a British crew and carried Harrier jump jets and helicopters.
According to Hennessy, Weinberger meant the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an active nuclear powered carrier. Presumably she would have retained her US crew and aircraft.
The right wing Daily Telegraph comments that Thatcher rejected a proposal for a ceasefire by President Ronald Reagan after the British landing. The Americans feared that the Argentinians would look to Cuba and the USSR for support, suggested that British troops should be replaced by a US-Brazilian peacekeeping force after Port Stanley was re-captured.
The left wing Guardian notes that Thatcher was more willing to accept a diplomatic solution than has hitherto been realised.
The documents are available for consultation at the UK National Archives at Kew in London. The ones dealing with War Cabinet decisons are in files CAB 148/211 and CAB 148/212, which can be downloaded for free from its website.