Saturday, 29 December 2012

The 30 Year Rule, Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War

The "thirty year rule" is the popular name given to a law in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and Australia that means that every year cabinet papers of the government are released thirty years after they were created. This year the papers brought Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War to light.

The Falklands War was a war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982. The Falkland Islands are 480 kilometres from Argentina in the southern Atlantic Ocean, and Argentina and the UK have been fighting over the Islands since the 1800s, after Argentina became independent of Spain.

The British kept the islands until Argentinean Special Forces invaded on April 2, 1982 and took control of the island. The United Nations Security Council asked Argentina to withdraw, and tried to end the crisis with diplomacy. After seven weeks, Argentina did not withdraw, so the UK sent their military to attack. After a short battle in the air and at sea, the British landed on May 21 and fought on land until Argentina's army surrendered on June 14. The British captured about 11,400 soldiers, and killed almost 750, there were 256 British deaths.

The war turned things around for the unpopular Thatcher, as people branded her as a hero. However the invasion of the Falkland Islands took her by surprise, newly released government papers have shown. Papers released under the 30-year rule show Mrs Thatcher was acutely worried about retaking the islands. One historian said the documents were among the "most powerful material" declassified in the last three decades.

In October 1982, a few months after the war ended, Mrs Thatcher gave evidence behind closed doors to the Falkland Islands Review Committee, chaired by Lord Franks. The transcript of that dramatic testimony has now been published for the first time. "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 told the Franks Committee. She also told the committee: "That night no-one could tell me whether we could retake the Falklands - no-one. We did not know - we did not know."

The British foreign secretary at the time, Lord Carrington, also gave evidence to the Franks Committee, where he too held the view that Argentina was not going to invade the Falklands.

Lord Armstrong was Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet secretary at the time. He told the BBC: "If we had failed to recover the Falklands she would have had to go. If we had lost it she couldn't have won the next election. Her own political career, and that of her party, were on the line.

The decision to go to war was perhaps the defining moment in Thatcher's career, and it has roused a lot of interest from the public as papers on it are released. If you wish to learn more please head to www.bbc.co.uk