What do the Falklands and First Gulf War Have in Common?
Image Credit: Wikicommons

What do the Falklands and First Gulf War Have in Common?


A report emerged over the weekend that the United States may have inadvertently green-lit the 1982 Falklands War by sending overly positive signals to the Argentine junta. These signals (based on U.S. appreciation for Argentine anti-communist efforts) may have led the Argentines to believe that the U.S. would support its invasion, or at least not lend significant assistance to the United Kingdom in the ensuing war.

This incident immediately brought to mind the 1990 conversation between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and U.S. ambassador April Glaspie. In an ambiguous and confusing conversation, Glaspie suggested that “we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” a statement which some have argued Hussein interpreted as a green light for invasion.

In both cases the leadership wanted an invasion, and in both cases it wanted to believe that the United States would stand aside.  By simply making neutral comments about the state of affairs, U.S. policymakers may have inadvertently helped convince the leaders of Argentina and Iraq to pursue war.

The implications for current East Asian affairs are obvious.

Holding preponderant military, economic, and diplomatic muscle, the United States needs to take great care in messaging both its allies and its potential adversaries. States (like Japan, Vietnam, or the Philippines) that grow too secure in the U.S. commitment to their security could become risk-acceptant.  At the same time, the United States genuinely does want to convey commitment; we need the ASEAN states, not to mention Japan and South Korea, to believe in the firmness of American attachment to their security.

This is perhaps why the United States engages in elaborate displays of rhetoric and commitment over issues like the North Korean ballistic missile program, which does not threaten East Asian security in any meaningful sense.  Japan and South Korea (and by extension perhaps Australia and the states of Southeast Asia) interpret this behavior as supportive, but don’t take any direct messages of commitment over any issue of real interest.  For their part, the Chinese get an appropriate message of non-confrontational concern, and the North Koreans get bathed in the attention they so deeply crave. 

Messaging with adversaries can be just as fraught with problems.  Robert Dreyfuss’ recent post on how the United States and Iran managed to avoid a fracas over an air combat scrum in the Gulf reveals how complex the problem of evaluating intent can be.  When both sides have incentive to deceive, coming to an accommodation about a narrative of events, much less the real story, can be altogether difficult. This is especially the case when both sides seek to maintain a “reputation for toughness,” which supposedly pays diplomatic and military dividends down the road.

Such difficulties are nothing new to the region, having been part of the delicate dance between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the status of Taiwan for the past thirty years.  People complain about diplomats, but they earn their keep. American diplomats have become adept over the past sixty years in conveying the appropriate level of commitment to allies and adversaries alike, a few inevitable mistakes notwithstanding.  China, facing an altogether less complex series of diplomatic tasks, was nevertheless widely perceived as having engaged in diplomatic overreach in the latter part of the last decade.

Diplomacy is hard, and requires a great deal of experience.

January 6, 2013 at 05:51

The First Gulf War and the Falklands War took place more than 20 years ago, what is the point of revealing this information NOW instead of back then?

January 6, 2013 at 02:35

The war you are pumping so much for will be the long awaited occasion to fulfil Admiral Bill Halsey's prophesy he uttered in 1941. If you have forgotten what he said go back to school and learn your school text one more time.

arms merchant
January 5, 2013 at 22:52

What the Falklands and the gulf war have in common was the immense profits made by arms merchants selling their deadly wares to all and sundry. That plane shown above was from France. Almost every major arms manufacturer in the world was lining up to sell weapons to Iraq in the 1980s. The only ones not selling to Iraq were Israeli companies. So, the only thing common was the obscene profits flowing into the pockets of the arms merchants.

January 5, 2013 at 20:22

And the giant pile of spent fuel rods will send a permanent loud message to the U.S. and the rest of the world that the smuts there have already signed the death warrant for everyone. How do you rate the smuts' ability or desire to collect that giant pile of spent fuel rods and take them away to a safe place? Perhaps guys like you should go lend a helping hand ! LOL.

January 5, 2013 at 05:49

What kind of nonsense are you offloading here. Your stupid fat-faced (ex-)PM had the brains of a mouse and decided to harm relationship with another country when your whole nation should be focusing efforts in tackling the 11,000+ used fuel rods problem  at the Fukushima site. Now there is the danger your country could drag the rest of the world down into the great eternal abyss because your country is blind to the forest because of the trees right in front of you.  Who's the aggressor, he's sitting right inside your capital city.

January 4, 2013 at 20:23

The Asian disputes are even worse than the Gulf War and the Falklands because for such a conflict to escalate would require the weaker nation in the dispute to believe that the US will militarily intervene when things go south.
It's more similar to the case between the Iran and Israel standoff where the US would be forced into finishing off the Iranian facilities if Israel ever decided to start their war.  America would lose much prestige if they stood by and let weaker nation commit their strategic blunder and suffer the consequences.  That makes the case for the reluctant military intervention ever more likely.

hidden dirty agendas
January 4, 2013 at 19:34

The writer of this article is clearly from the perennial producers of bogus opinion pieces with hidden dirty agendas. I find no reference at all to the undisputed facts that it was U.S. companies and U.S. officials that were instrumental in the supplying of chemical weapons to Iraq prior to its quarrel with Kuwait and that U.S. embassy staff and the U.S. CIA were up to their necks supplying money, advisers and weapons to Argentina's military generals in their dirty campaign of human rights abuses which took place long before the outbreak of the Falklands brouhaha.

January 4, 2013 at 13:50

There was a bigger game involved with the first gulf war than just Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.  It was about the elder Bush's "New World Order" agenda of controlling europe and Japan by controlling the flow of oil in the gulf.
Chapter 11

 …The forces that laid the ground for filling the vacuum and for
the emergence of the two superpowers, the United States and the USSR,
after World War II at the expense of France, Britain, and Germany can
develop new forces, which we expect will be in Europe or Japan… – Saddam Hussien



John Chan
January 4, 2013 at 11:01

American Exceptionalism terminology:
1. Inadvertently green-lite = we have no opinion = you are being duped.
2. Needs to take great care in messaging = beware at your own risk, Oxford dictionary doesn’t apply.

January 4, 2013 at 07:09

The US should send its messages to the Chinese loud and clear. The aggression of china toward its neighbors in East and South China Sea is unacceptable by any standard. War with loner china is unavoidable if china doesn’t back off.

January 4, 2013 at 03:01

Why write about this with out publishing the report, show the report and we can all make a comment

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