30 Years After
Issues and Representations of the Falklands War
Edited by Carine Berbéri & Monia O’Brien Castro
Farnham: Ashgate, 2015
Hardcover. 195 p. ISBN 978-1472425027. £65.00
Reviewed by Neil Davie
Université Lumière Lyon 2
This collection of essays, edited by Carine Berbéri and Molly O’Brien Castro, has its origin in a one-day conference organised at the University of Tours in November 2012 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War, though a number of chapters were commissioned specially for this volume. Why devote a book to what Mark Donnelly in his foreword calls “a small, brief colonial war over control of a territory that contained fewer than 2,000 inhabitants”? This collection demonstrates convincingly the usefulness of the exercise, examining the multiple foreign policy and defence ramifications of a conflict which involved not only the principal belligerents, but sucked in other actors, notably the United States and France. As the book’s title suggests however, the focus is not only on the immediate circumstances of the Falklands War, but also on its longer-term impact. The latter includes of course the still difficult diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina (complicated by the intractable sovereignty issues surrounding the islands), but also concerns the impact of the conflict on what Donnelly calls the “national imaginaries” of both countries in the years that followed. In all of these areas, this short volume provides much penetrating analysis, and leaves much to ponder for students of British foreign affairs; if rather less, as we shall see, for those seeking insights into the effect of the so-called “Falklands Factor” on domestic politics in the UK.
Donnelly’s perspicacious foreword and the editors’ introduction provide welcome contextualisation for what is to follow. Indeed, perhaps a rather longer introduction would have been useful here, especially for readers new to the subject. This would have been particularly valuable given the structure of the book, which casts an often penetrating light, as noted above, on particular aspects of the Falklands War and its aftermath, but does not attempt systematic coverage of either. The first part of the book is devoted to “representations” of the conflict, with analyses of the British media coverage by Matthew Leggett and of subsequent literary and film treatments of the events in Argentina (María Angélica Semilla Durán) and in the UK (Georges Fournier). Part II is devoted to the long-term effects of the conflict on the various nations directly or indirectly involved, with judicious surveys of the issues surrounding Anglo-Argentinian relations in the region (Michael Parsons), Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States (Richard Davis), and in what for this reviewer was an unfamiliar dimension of the conflict, the role of Mitterand’s France in applying diplomatic pressure and providing logistical support to aid the British (Georges Saunier). Part III provides detailed analysis of the military and defence policy issues from specialists Marc Fourches and Charles Maisonneuve, while in the final, fourth part, Trevor Harris assesses the “global dimension of the Falklands / Malvinas Conflict” (making many incisive points about the specifically British context along the way); and Alexis Chommeloux explores the framework of international law which regulates (or not) conflicts of this kind.
Several of the authors in this collection cite Jorge Louis Borges’ well-known comment that the Falklands War resembled a fight “between two bald men over a comb”. The irony, of course, as Argentinian president Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín subsequently observed, is that in invading the Falkland Islands, his predecessors’ military government may well have “put at risk the only international dispute we were actually winning”. Thus, what Ronald Reagan would subsequently refer to as “a little bunch of ice-cold rocks down there”, where the sheep and penguin populations greatly outnumber the humans, was suddenly and unexpectedly catapulted into the international limelight; sending many – including, if they were honest, a good number of Britons – reaching for their atlases to find out just where those “rocks” were situated. Whether or not the battle for the Falklands should be considered a “colonial” war is a moot point (the jury is evidently still out on that one).
What is clear is that this brief, bloody conflict raises a whole raft of interesting and significant questions. Its study offers key insights into the geopolitics of the last thirty years, and illuminates important areas of national politics and culture in both Britain and Argentina. Many of these themes are touched on here, though it is inevitable in a book of this length that the reader is sometimes left wishing for a more detailed treatment of particular topics. A case in point is the “Falklands Factor”, mentioned briefly by Donnelly and Harris. Readers (like this reviewer) interested in a more detailed analysis of the war’s impact on British politics and culture in the last thirty years will need to look elsewhere, which is perhaps a shame. That being said, 30 Years After represents a valuable addition to the literature on the Falklands War, and more generally contributes to a deeper understanding of the foreign policy issues facing Britain as it attempts to continue (as David Cameron recently reaffirmed) “to punch above its weight” on the international stage. Not the last word on the Falklands War then, but a stimulating and thought-provoking exploration of some of its key aspects and consequences, no mean achievement in under 200 pages.
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