Leadership and the Falklands Is Conflict Capstone Project

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A sequence of national political and economic reorganizations and institutional realignments that culminated in systemic leadership failures during the Falklands Island conflict ultimately persuaded the Galtieri Junta to relinquish power in 1983. This paper examines the historical background to this war focusing on the organizational and communication mistakes that led the government to assess the invasion as likely to benefit them. These miscalculations arose from the internal structure of the military junta, the psychology of Galtieri and the other leaders (on both the Argentinian and British sides), and broad cultural factors that played a potent although often unconscious role. The defeat of the Argentinian military by Great Britain during the 1982 Falklands War and the Junta's resignation the following year can only be understood by taking into account all these levels of organization and human interaction.

Historical Background

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Where one begins the story of the conflict over the Falkland Islands depends in no small part on which side one is privileging, for the scattering of two larger and numerous smaller islands has been claimed by a number of different nations. Thus French accounts of the history of the islands tend to start with French occupation, Spanish accounts with the Spanish occupation, and British accounts with the British occupation (Gustafson, 1988, p. 26). As This paper focuses on the Falklands War between Argentina and Great Britain, the historical background also focuses on British claims to the territory -- without meaning to deny the importance of the other European colonial powers on the history of the islands and the region in general.

TOPIC: Capstone Project on Leadership and the Falklands Is Conflict Assignment

As Gustafson (1988) notes, the Falkland Islands have been subject to competing claims of sovereignty since the 18th century. The 4,700-square-mile islands -- called the Islas Malvinas by the Argentinians and located about 300 miles east of the Argentinian coast are home to about 2000 people -- were uninhabited when Europeans began exploring them. Although indigenous people living on the mainland may have made excursions to the islands, they never settled them, and so the first permanent settlements were made by a series of European powers. The islands' early inhabited history includes a series of disputes between the United Kingdom and France, Spain, and the United Provinces of the River Plata and its political successor, Argentina.

In a move that foreshadowed in key psychological, political, and cultural ways the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina in 1982, Luis Vernet established a colony on the islands in 1828. Vernet claimed authority to become the island's governor for this move both from the Government of the Central Provinces and the British Consulate (Beck, 1988, p. 136). This dual diplomatic permission was an acknowledgement of the already well-developed political tensions about control of the islands. However, even as he acknowledged his vassalage status and asked for promises of military protection from the British, Vernet also acted in autocratic ways, as if the islands were his own fiefdom. (His inclination to do so may well have arisen from the fact that his was given the governorship of the islands in part as a repayment of a debt owed to him from the government of the United Provinces.)

Vernet quickly moved to establish his own laws for the islands, a political acknowledgement that there is an element of exceptionalism about the islands. After he began to limit sealing on the islands, both Great Britain and the United States lodged protests. Vernet then seized American ships, the U.S. responded by sending in the Navy, the United Provinces called their people home, then sent them back. Great Britain then sent its warships to the islands in 1833 and once there were able to re-impose British rule. With this bloodless re-occupation by the British, the islands remained in British control until 1982 (Beck, 1988).

From the perspective of establishing an historical explanation for the Falklands War, what is most important about these early conflicts over the islands is that the mainland authority (first the United Provinces and later the nation of Argentina) used occupation of the islands as a sign of national authority and power. Part of the story that Argentinians told themselves about the islands between 1833 and 1982 was that the British had unfairly seized land that was rightfully theirs. It was this story of entitlement that made the Falklands so appealing as a political diversion to the ruling junta in 1982 as it sought a way to distract the citizens of Argentina from a range of domestic problems.

This is to some extent a simplification of the process and the thinking of the Argentine leadership as its members decided to invade the islands. But the historical animus between the islands' British control and the mainland government -- I argue -- made the junta inclined to make mistakes in strategy that they would not have been as likely to make vis-a-vis other issues. Low-standing anger and long-simmering hatred are both heavy burdens when trying to make rational decisions -- something that would have been hard enough to do in the domestic turmoil. With the history of the conflict pressing against him, Galtieri was effectively robbed of the possibility of making sound decisions (Makin, 1983b).

We all, as humans, have areas of weakness in which we are likely to let unexamined emotions have undue influence, reducing our ability to think and act rationally and to be as attentive to long-term goals and consequences as we might otherwise be. This is one of the important dynamics of what happened in the internal debates of the Argentine junta. Failures in leadership are likely to occur when leaders act on motivations that are not well examined, and that is in part what brought about first the Falklands War defeat and then the resignation of the Galtieri Junta. Galtieri was sure that the people would follow him in rallying around the invasion of the islands as a national priority (although he was also simply trying to throw sand in their eyes) and so was unable to recover afterward when he realized that his version of events was not as widely held to be true as he had thought (Makin, 1983b).

An analogy could be made between Galtieri's invasion of the Falkland Islands and the George W. Bush invasion of Iraq. Bush too believed that his nation's people would set the same priority on military adventuring. (Obviously the wars are on a very different scale and there are other differences, but there are also key similarities in terms of leadership beliefs.) Bush was able to remain in power after the war was rejected by the American people because of the political structure and stability of the United States. Galtieri, faced with clear military defeat and economic misery at home and without the feeble but still important veneer of having to come to power through an honest election, had to cede power.

Overview of the Conflict

The Falklands War lasted about two and a half months, killing 907 people, and restoring the status quo in which Great Britain controlled the islands and Argentina remains resentful of this fact. The near-term roots of the war -- as opposed to the longer-term historical causes described above -- began in 1976, when the National Reorganization Process -- a military dictatorship -- took control over the country. The junta had engaged in violent oppression of its political opponents -- killing and "disappearing" thousands. Even as the leadership of the junta changed, the repression continued.

At least as devastating as the political violence of the junta to the people of the country was the economic chaos of the time. The military dictatorship was unable to provide any economic stability for its people. History has shown us repeatedly that people are willing to put up with terrible conditions in other areas of their lives if they can have some confidence in the monetary system. Previous Argentine regimes had been able to provide some security: In the late 1960s rigid federal controls over monetary policy had put a break on inflation.

Beginning in 1973, the government began to lose control of inflation again and the nation's currency rapidly began to lose power over the peso as its value was undermined by increasing political instability and violence; pressure by the labor unions to increase wages devalued by inflation (thereby setting up a highly problematic feedback loop); run-away budget deficits; and inflation itself. In 1982, the inflation rate was over 200% officially; some scholars argue that it was in fact closer to 600% in terms of what ordinary people had to pay to buy basic goods. Wages and gross national product were in free fall and general strikes hit the country nearly every day. Before the invasion, the government had announced that in 1983 it would devalue the currency by the ratio of 10,000 to one. This would have had a devastating effect on the nation's people.

To understand the effect of such economic pressures on the people and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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