This month marks the 25th anniversary of the British victory
over Argentina in the Falklands War. British forces liberated Port
Stanley on June 14, 1982, just 74 days after the invasion of the
islands and capture of 1,000 British citizens by the Argentine
military junta. The retaking of the Falklands and the defeat of the
Argentineans ushered in a new self-confident era for Great Britain
after decades of post-colonial decline. Under Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, Britain was transformed from the "sick man of
Europe" into a resurgent global power. The British lion had roared
again and the world took note. There are lessons in this victory
for today's British leaders.
Margaret Thatcher's decision to dispatch a task force to retake
the Falkland Islands within a day of the invasion was an
extraordinary display of leadership that would be almost
unthinkable today. The armada of over 110 ships and 28,000 men
began to set sail for the South Atlantic--8,000 miles away--just
three days after the Argentineans had landed on British soil.
London went to war against the regime in Buenos Aires without a
U.N. resolution specifically mandating the use of force and
unconstrained by the European Union (then known as the European
The Falklands War was a classic example of a nation-state
asserting its national sovereignty and right to self-defense,
unencumbered by the deadweight of supranational institutions. The
British army, navy, and air force, with the strategic support of
the United States and Chile, ultimately defeated a larger Argentine
force. Britain's victory came at a heavy cost, with the loss of 255
British servicemen. It was a sacrifice though that the British
nation was willing to bear, in the defense of British territory and
the cause of freedom.
Whether confronting Iranian intimidation or squaring up to
al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the global war on terrorism, Britain
faces many of the same dilemmas today: the projection of military
power versus diplomatic pressure; the building of coalitions of the
willing as opposed to waiting for U.N. mandates; and the
willingness to sacrifice significant numbers of British troops in
the face of public unease. The same courage and determination to
defend British interests displayed by Margaret Thatcher a quarter
century ago are necessary today to maintain Britain's place on the
The Iranian Hostage Debacle
In the face of extreme intimidation by Argentina, Britain
projected strength and resolve, the hallmarks of global leadership.
Faced with a similar challenge 25 years later, Downing Street
backed down and allowed the ritual humiliation of British
servicemen at the hands of another dictatorship.
Earlier this year, Britain was left humiliated by the ruthless
regime in Tehran, which kidnapped and paraded 15 British sailors on
world television with no ramifications for those responsible.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad successfully taunted Britain
for two weeks without paying any penalty, and his Revolutionary
Guards continued to arm and train insurgents in Iraq responsible
for the killing of British troops. London's response to Iranian
aggression was weak-kneed and lackluster, projecting a feeble image
on the world stage. The response of the British public was little
better, with an astonishing 26 percent of respondents in a
Sunday Telegraph poll on the crisis declaring that Britain
should apologize to Iran, with just 7 percent backing preparations
for military action.
The Iranian hostage affair underscored several harsh realities:
a precipitous decline in British defense spending which has left
the UK's armed forces severely overstretched; a clear lack of
political leadership at a time of crisis; an unwillingness to
threaten the use of force when faced with extreme provocation; the
steep rise of pacifist sentiment among the British public; a marked
willingness on the part of London to defer to both the United
Nations and the European Union; and London's fear of appearing too
closely aligned with the United States.
There is a very real danger that the UK will end up in the next
decade as a mid-ranking military power with an aversion to the use
of force and an increasing willingness to negotiate with, rather
than confront, terrorist groups and state sponsors of terror, with
its foreign and defense policy constrained by Brussels.
Rebuilding British Power
The world needs a confident, powerful Britain that stands as a
warrior nation in the defense of freedom and Western civilization.
To all intents and purposes, Britain and America today are at war
globally against a vicious enemy and ideology that seeks their
There are a number of steps that Britain must take to strengthen
its position as a global power and ensure that she is able to
confront and defeat the threats it faces. It will take the same
kind of sacrifice and visionary leadership that shaped the British
nation in the weeks following Argentina's invasion of the Falklands
First, future British governments must undertake a commitment to
rebuilding military capacity. Britain spends just 2.2 percent of
GDP on defense, the lowest level since the 1930s. Less money should
be spent on the vast welfare state and more resources allocated to
national security. The UK should spend at least 3 percent of GDP on
defense and strive for a goal of 4 percent of GDP if it wishes to
project military power worldwide. Britain should have the capacity
to take on dangerous rogue regimes such as Iran and be able to
defeat them militarily. Never again should British personnel be
subject to the kind of ritual public humiliation they received at
the hands of the tyrannical regime in Tehran.
Second, Britain must assert its national sovereignty and
withdraw from the European Union's Common Foreign and Security
Policy (CFSP), the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), and
the European Convention on Human Rights, all of which weaken
Britain's capacity to shape its own future and defend itself. As
Lady Thatcher recommended in her seminal Statecraft: Strategies
for a Changing World, the UK must renegotiate key treaties with
the EU and reclaim powers that have been handed over to Brussels,
including control of its own seas. As Tony Blair discovered, it is
impossible for Britain to be both America's closest ally and part
of a politically and economically integrated Europe. Ultimately, a
choice will have to be made.
Third, Britain must defend and prioritize the Anglo-American
Special Relationship. The U.S.-UK alliance is the most successful
partnership of modern times, and it is in the interests of both
London and Washington that its long-term vitality be assured.
British military weakness and rising anti-Americanism threaten the
future of the relationship, so addressing both is crucial if the
alliance is to survive. The Special Relationship operates as a
two-way street that enhances both America's and Britain's ability
to project power internationally and defend against global threats.
Its collapse would significantly weaken both the United States and
Britain, and a world devoid of Anglo-American leadership would be a
far more dangerous place.
A Stark Choice
The spectacle of the British nation being humiliated at the
hands of the Mullahs of Tehran and intimidated by the threats of
barbaric terrorist groups in Iraq (as was the case with the
cancelled deployment of Prince Harry) must never be repeated.
Britain's position as a great power and its willingness to act like
one is being eroded by punishing defense cuts, the rise of European
integration, a declining state education system, the growth of
home-grown Islamic extremism, and spiraling public animosity toward
the United States.
Britain was victorious in the Falklands War because it was free
to shape its own destiny and willing to use military power to
aggressively defend its interests. Today, Great Britain faces a
stark choice between sinking into mediocrity in an increasingly
centralized European Union with a largely pacifist approach to
international affairs, or acting as a powerful global leader
alongside the United States and other English-speaking nations such
as Australia and Canada. For the future security of the free world,
the choice must be to lead.
Ph.D., is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center
for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
useful background on the Falklands conflict, see Margaret Thatcher,
The Downing Street Years (London: HarperCollins, 1993). See
also "The Official Website for the Falklands 25 Commemorative
Events," at www.falklands25.com.
While demanding the withdrawal of Argentine
forces from the Falklands, U.N. Security Council Resolution 502
called on Argentina and the United Kingdom "to refrain from the use
or threat of force in the region of the Falkland Islands."
Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies
for a Changing World (London: HarperCollins, 2002).