Falklands a ridiculous war, said Haughey


Britain-Argentina conflict should have been dealt with in UN, taoiseach said

The 1982 conflict between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands was “a ridiculous war, a war that should not have happened”, Charles Haughey, who was taoiseach at the time, privately told an international statesman shortly before the war ended.

He was speaking on June 11th, 1982, more than a month after Britain’s war cabinet ordered the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano by nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror, 48km outside the 320km Falklands exclusion zone, with a death toll of 368, mostly sailors in their teens.

This action precipitated a massive rift in British-Irish relations when the Irish government withdrew its support for European sanctions imposed on Argentina after its invasion of the Falklands and, as a member of the Security Council, Ireland called for the UN to promote a diplomatic settlement.

Haughey made his comments to president Petar Stambolic of Yugoslavia in New York at a meeting which took place after the taoiseach had given an address to the United Nations.

If his reference to the war as “ridiculous” had been made public at the time it would have deepened the rift with Margaret Thatcher.

A record of the meeting has now been released to the National Archives.

Haughey was accompanied by then minister for foreign affairs Gerard Collins and senior civil servants. When the Yugoslav head of state said the Falklands conflict was “an unfortunate war” that should have been avoided by negotiations, Haughey replied: “We think it a ridiculous war, a war that should not have happened.”

According to the newly released record of the meeting, he continued: “Argentina was certainly responsible for starting the conflict in the first instance but we feel that after that the matter should have been dealt with in the United Nations – the Security Council – and through negotiations.”

The issue had “caused us some difficulty” in Ireland, he said, adding: “The EEC/Ten had wished to impose sanctions. We were prepared to do so but only as long as they were in support of political and diplomatic action.

“Once it became clear that the UK was not prepared to pursue this course but had switched to a military approach we felt we had no option but to withdraw from sanctions.

“Our approach, therefore, is that Argentina was wrong in the first place and that it should withdraw. This would mean a general cessation of hostilities.

“A solution should then be found through the United Nations, the UN secretary general and the Security Council,” Haughey is reported as saying.

The meeting coincided with a major battle for possession of Port Stanley on the Falklands and the same day Haughey met UN secretary general Javier Pérez de Cuellar for 35 minutes in the latter’s office on the 38th floor of UN headquarters.

Pérez de Cuellar told the taoiseach of his aspiration that a papal visit to Argentina, “which was after all a 90 per cent Catholic country” taking place at the time would help to resolve the Falklands conflict.