Originally published May 19, 1982.
With time, patience and hope all running out on last-ditch peace talks at the United Nations in New York, observers here expressed certainty yesterday that the Falkland Islands crisis would be resolved by the sword – and soon.
An informed non-Argentine source predicted that there was a 75-per-cent chance of a large-scale armed conflict between Argentina and Britain by as early as tomorrow. "It's obvious that Argentina is loaded for bear – and they'll go down swinging," said the source, who refused to be identified. "So, the Britons had better have something up their sleeve." In a radio interview aired here yesterday, General Mario Benjamin Menendez, Argentina's military governor of the Falkland Islands, reiterated that he would not be moved from the territory. Gen. Menendez is considered a military hard-liner and his repeated refusals to be pushed out of his post are regarded as being as much a warning to his own Government as to Britain.
In recent days, all three members of Argentina's ruling military junta have made separate, but similarly defiant public statements, after more than a week of virtual silence regarding the conflict with Britain.
Yesterday, local newspapers reported a warning issued by General Basilio Lami Dozo, commander of the Argentine air force and a junta member, that preparations were being made to launch a massive air attack against the Royal Navy fleet patrolling the waters around the Falklands. "The fire power of the air force is being maintained in readiness," he was quoted as saying. "And once the British forces are perfectly located and within range of all available armed systems, we are going to make a massive attack." Despite indications last week of a softening in Argentina's position regarding its claim to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, Gen. Lami Dozo was quoted as resolutely restaking his country's claim.
If the Argentine position has wavered at all, he was quoted as saying, it was "perhaps (by) employing different words, but it did not change in the absolute." Argentina has maintained since the outset of its conflict with Britain that a negotiated solution must result in the recognition of Argentina's title to the Falkland Islands, or the Malvinas as they are called here.
Last Saturday, Argentine President Leopoldo Galtieri said his country is ready to sacrifice as many as 40,000 lives in the defence of its claim to the Falklands. Navy commander Admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya also underscored Argentina's fighting resolve in a speech here on Monday. "If all junta members say they're ready to go, they're ready to go," a foreign observer said.
A source in the Argentine Foreign Ministry said yesterday that his Government has gone "to the limit" in its efforts to forge a formula for peace in talks with United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in New York. "We can't give any more," he said. The source said that Britain must bear responsibility for the "consequences of its intransigence. "We want a peaceful solution," he said. "Why must there be more killings?" The source predicted that a new round of peace efforts would resume only after more battles result in a renewed willingness to negotiate. "Both parties will be forced to talk about the same things that the British don't want to talk about today, but only after the deaths of 5,000 or 6,000 people," the source said.
Sources here said yesterday that a major stumbling block in the New York peace talks is Argentina's desire to play some direct role in the interim administration of the disputed territory while negotiations with Britain are conducted.
However, the Foreign Ministry official denied that this was a problem. He said his Government would willingly accept an interim UN administration of the islands, with no Argentine role, as long as negotiations regarding the future status of the territory lead inexorably to recognition of Argentine sovereignty. "That part has not changed," he said.
The official charged that Britain has misread Argentina if it believes that increased military pressure will produce a softening of this country's position in the dispute. And he warned that Britain may pay dearly for the mistake. "They never thought we had the Exocets," he said, referring to the French-built, air-to-sea missile that sank the British destroyer HMS Sheffield two weeks ago. "Can you be sure we don't have more surprises?" A non-Argentine source predicted that Britain probably could prevail in a full-out battle for the Falklands – but only with great losses. "The British had better hang on to their hats," he said.
That source said both sides in the dispute would be under extreme pressure to make good on their bellicose threats once peace efforts collapse. "This has been a Mexican standoff long enough," he said, referring to a kind of dispute in which two opponents stare at one another with neither willing to strike the first blow.