Not Part of the Game? The Anglo-Chilean Alliance of the Falklands War

Master's Thesis, 2015
55 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Study Background
1.1 Terms and Methods
1.2 Literature Review

Chapter 2: Theoretical Considerations
2.1 Materialist and Idealist Theory
2.2 Idealist Theories
2.3. Offensive Realism
2.4 Neo-Marxist Theory

Chapter 3: Key Events
3.1 The Pacific War
3.2. The Beagle Crisis

Chapter 4: The Alliance in Perspective


Primary Sources
Secondary Sources


One spectrum of the orthodox narrative of the Malvinas campaign in 1982 implies that Argentina’s loss originated with its megalomaniac leadership. Their supposedly erratic moves cost the country 649 lives and caused national humiliation, but also initiated the process that terminated dictatorship. The other spectrum recognises a decisive, if hard-won, military success that turned into Margaret Thatcher’s landslide re-election victory. This orthodox narrative, however, blurs a thorough analysis of the war, because it misinterprets its causes.

This study moves the analysis into uncharted waters by investigating the alliance between Britain and Chile during the war. Chile’s effort was significant insofar as it helped to keep British losses down and provided intelligence that eventually led to the decision to sink the Belgrano. Britain, as part of the deal, transferred arms to Chile and helped to brush up the Pinochet dictatorship’s image abroad; thus sustaining it through its most precarious period, the severe economic crisis of 1982.

Theoretical input by offensive realism and neo-Marxism provides the overall frame. Both are structural theories with particular focus on soil and territory. Chapter 2 distils prevalent aspects of both approaches and defends their use over agency-based theories like social constructivism and interpretivism. Chapter three is the entry point to Southern Cone geopolitics as it analyses the defining events of Chilean-Argentine relations: the Pacific War of 1879-1883 and the Beagle Crisis in 1978. After Chapter four will have put these events in perspective the unorthodox conclusion emerges, arguing that the Falklands War was not an attack on British sovereignty per se but a move against Chile to obtain hegemony in the South Atlantic.


Puro, Chile, es tu cielo azulado / Puras brisas te cruzan también.

Y tu campo de flores bordado / Es la copia feliz del Edén.

-from Chile’s National Anthem

Twenty-three years after General Mario Benjamín Menéndez “…the undersigned, commander of all the Argentine land, sea and air forces in the Falkland Islands,” surrendered “to Major General J.J. Moore C.B., O.B.E., M.C., as representative of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government” (New York Times 1982: World), retired Chilean Air Force General Fernando Matthei publicly admitted he did “everything possible that Argentina will lose the war” (Matthei in TVN 2005: 2/6 min 03:50). He justified this over Chile’s concerns over a possible Argentine assault in the Beagle Channel that would aim to annex three islands under Chilean sovereignty (ibid., min 02:15). In light of the vastly superior Argentine forces, Chile grabbed the opportunity and hammered out an alliance with Britain. This arrangement worked out both ways: Chile, on the one hand, gained breathing space against an almighty neighbour, and British troops saved blood and treasure.

As an indirect result of this success the Prime Minister’s popularity soared and granted her another term in Downing Street No. 10, so she could intensify her reform programme and create a neoliberal society (Thatcher 1999: Speech on Pinochet; Ipsos-MORI 2013: 1). Others make even bolder statements, claiming Britain “would not have won the war” without Chilean support (Edwards 2014a: min 01:57).

Once the ink under the surrender document had dried, Britain also opened the arms trade with the Andean country and helped to raise Pinochet’s international profile that was seriously stained in the wake of the well-documented human rights abuse he endorsed and legislated. The British head of state, therefore, sustained the dictatorship which was almost disintegrating at the time, due to a stark economic crisis. In addition to the effects the war had on both British and Chilean society, it also marked the beginning of the end of the Argentine military junta. The significance of this episode can therefore hardly be overstated.

Two research question guide this study on the Anglo-Chilean alliance: First, why did Chile not stay out of the game and supported eagerly military action against its neighbour?, and second, why did Argentina leave the negotiation table and used its military against a global superpower? Question one relates to events in the Beagle Channel, namely Argentina’s assault three years before its leadership drew up plans for a Falklands invasion. Taking Matthei’s answer as the last word on this question brushes over conundrums like why the Beagle?, or why such hostilities when both Chile and Argentina were closely cooperating in the state-terrorist project Operation Condor to assassinate suspected Marxist subversives? The second question makes for illuminating insights; deploying troops to the Falklands extended a tried and tested tactic. Buenos Aires did not intend to use this force to fight, but rather to blackmail Great Britain into compliance. Such blackmailing succeeded in the Pacific War a century earlier, when Argentina as a result climbed the regional hierarchy and reduced its rival Chile to just one among many. Indeed, the Pacific War of 1879-1883 is a focal point in Southern Cone relations and thus warrants analysis before all others. The Pacific War, as will emerge, cascades into the Beagle Crisis and eventually the Falklands War, ultimately fomenting the Anglo-Chilean alliance.

Offensive realism, developed by John Mearsheimer (2001) and neo-Marxist theory, developed by David Harvey (2001, 2003) and Alex Callinicos (2007, 2009), frame the following inquiry. Both are structural, as opposed to ideational, approaches. They are particularly useful in this study, because they give much import to soil and territory, from which they arrive to explanations of human behaviour and social events like war. Such so-called materialist (because objectively touchable) basis finds strong opposition in idealist approaches like Nicholas Onuf’s social constructivism, and interpretivism according to Mark Bevir. Their uncompromising dedication to the claim that the human mind drives international relations through identity and languages serves well to demonstrate the superiority of structural approaches - after all, ideas about hemispheric solidarity and common language did not prevent war and rivalry between the regional actors. Unfortunately, space limitation prohibits discussing other International Relations theories like Liberalism, Feminism, Green Politics, or various Marxisms.

Hence, the study unfolds as follows: chapter one clarifies terminology and sketches out the overall study background by laying out methods and providing a limited overview of the extant literature. Chapter two develops the theoretical frame by juxtaposing materialist and idealist ontology, and after that social constructivism and interpretivism. Then, offensive realism and neo-Marxist spatial analysis enter the equation and the chapter’s summary lastly defends the choice for materialism. Chapter three begins to tackle both research questions by analysing the Pacific War and the Beagle Crisis. While the former event defined Chilean-Argentine relations, the latter escalated them. Chapter four provides the bridge to the Falklands War and the Anglo-Chilean alliance and applies the theories. Last, the conclusion establishes that Argentina behaved rationally by invading the islands; it made perfect sense to believe the objective would conclude successfully. Thus, some practical advice for policy-makers comes to the fore. Chief among them is Britain taking a sincere and deep interest into Latin American geopolitics. This is the only way the Kingdom can hold the Falklands without frequent war. Chile, on the other hand, should re-think its support for Argentina’s claim, as possession of the islands would inevitably lead to aggression in the Beagle zone and consequently impinge on the ability to manage tensions in the Atacama.

Chapter 1: Study Background

1.1 Terms and Methods

Clarification of terms is in order first. ‘Grand strategy’ takes a realist guise as defined by Egli (2009: Digital Library). It is a long-term plan, by a state or non-state actor, that competes for power in the international system on a global or regional scale that incorporates and coordinates all military and non-military resources to gain an advantage over other actors and reach a defined policy goal.

An alliance “is a formal or informal arrangement for security cooperation between two or more sovereign states” (Walt 1987: 12). Before forging and alliance, states may calculate whether to balance and align against the threat or to bandwagon and alleviate the threat by aligning with it (Walt 1985: 4). This definition serves particularly well for the Chilean-British security arrangement, since both felt threatened, even though neither homeland came actually under fire. It should be noted that the definition above comes from defensive realism. Defensive and offensive realists do advance slightly differing accounts of how the world works. Yet, the defensive definition still captures the bi-state agreement under study more clearly than the offensive sibling does. Last, Malvinas and Falklands, for the purpose of the study, do not carry any political or nationalistic connotations; they are used interchangeably.

After clarifying the terms, methods need explaining. This study, as referred to above, follows two research questions: why did Chile not stay out and why did Argentina use armed forces against a vastly superior power. Augusto Pinochet referred to question one, although ambiguously. Dispatching a “Message to the British” in 1998, he had declared his country’s non-partisanship in the conflict. Negating his words in the very same sentence, he admitted to have “instructed [his] government to provide, within the context of [Chile’s] neutrality, whatever assistance [it] could to [its] friend and ally” (Pinochet 1998: Press release). Chile’s “neutrality,” completely evaporates in the account of General Matthei and air attaché Sidney Edwards, as both insist on decisive Chilean support. Freedman (2005: 336, 433) mentioned the second question already but did not confront it in-depth to elicit Chilean and Argentine incentives.

To tackle these contradictions and shortcomings, this study take analyses original documents in addition to the available literature; the research question will be answered by employing qualitative methods. As in any research, methods need explaining because all research rests on individual assumptions about what reality and truth consists of (White 2011: xxiii). For the present purpose, a method in qualitative social science research relates to “a set of flexible approaches whose application needs to be logically grounded in the context of the research as it proceeds” (ibid., xxii). These flexible approaches consist of two strands of international theory, combined with using the pertinent literature and declassified documents. The research design facilitates explicit rather than implicit method and theory (ibid., xxi). Qualitative research exposes connections and provides context of an event, but in contrast to quantitative research commands less explanatory and predictive power (Bhattacherjee 2012: 113). This assertion contradicts the choice for offensive realism somewhat, as this theory claims to possess the ability to predict the course of international relations significantly (Mearsheimer 2001: ch 1). This study resolves the conundrum by ignoring these claims largely, except for some minor advise in the conclusion. The primary aim - to build an unorthodox context around the Anglo-Chilean alliance, however - fits well into the qualitative approach.

The specific methods are interview and document analysis and observation. Many online archives like the Margaret Thatcher Foundation (, the National Security Archive at George Washington University (, the Chile Archive of Manuel Enriquez Study Centre (, among others provide valuable, publicly accessible data. Key protagonists like Fernando Matthei, gave interviews in documentaries about the Beagle Crisis and the Falklands War, both aired on Chilean public television and accessible on YouTube. Original recollections like Sidney Edwards’ My Secret Falklands War (2014b) or those recorded from the junta’s key figures by Argentine journalist Juan Bautista Yofre provide yet more material. They will re-emerge in the literature review.


Limitations apply to this study, nonetheless. The first is a methodological one, as a qualitative approach cannot claim to establish ultimate truth. The inherent subjectivity of qualitative research (White 2011: xxi) gives axiological (variables deemed valuable) primacy to specific data, and hence, conclusions relate more or less to the individual researcher rather than a general account.

Government secrecy create a more sever limitation. Even though the British government declassifies official files after 30 years and so enables the production and dissemination of knowledge, any actor in charge can easily suppress relevant material and circumvent the 30-year rule by invoking section 3(4) of the 1958 Public Records Act. This actually happened with a number of files about the Falklands War (Norton-Taylor 2015: Comment is Free). Similarly, many documents have not been digitalised yet, so the official archives in Kew Gardens, London, or Port Stanley, as well as Buenos Aires, may still contain undiscovered accounts. The Chilean operation did not even produce any written words in the first place, due to its secret nature and high risk of irreparable diplomatic damage in case of a leak. It follows that in light of all these constrains and the impossibility of physical presence in the archives relevant sources remain unused. In a more positive view, this might actually open up new avenues for research if researchers could gain access to the archives or more documents are being declassified. Any developments down this road might challenge the present conclusions and should serve as a reminder that the Falklands War is still not a case for closure.

One final limitation concerns trustworthiness of official material and sources. Actors such as governments, but also state agents intimately linked to certain interests, engage in propaganda and deception, especially with territorial integrity or personal responsibility are at stake. Put bluntly, (former) personnel may lie about their involvement, and blackened passages in documents may twist the perception of specific events. Such practices could be legitimate for strategic reasons, to protect sources or tactics, but they also hamper research and disfigure the public’s right to know. Therefore, even material that appears credible on the outside must be treated with a critical attitude. Utmost care has been taken to retain such an attitude, and fortunately, crosschecking sources has been possible to large extent, increasing the study’s soundness. So far, none of the limitations compromise the finding that Chile became part of the game in the Malvinas for geopolitical and -economic reasons, and that the war represented a tactic of Argentine grand strategy. This argument is not yet established in the respective scholarship.

1.2 Literature Review

Aside from the data original accounts give away, the work of Sir Lawrence Freedman (2005b, 2006c) and the journalist Juan Bautista Yofre (2011) provide building blocks. Freedman represents a British-centric perspective, while Bautista Yofre has an Argentine angle. Carlos Castro Sauritain (2006) puts forward a (limited) Chilean perspective. In his book Las Relaciones Vecinales de Chile y la Guerra del Atlantico Sur he develops a rather nationalist as opposed to geopolitical perspective. His account also lacks theoretical demarcations and thus blurs the narrative. One of his biggest mistakes is to locate Argentine behaviour in a supposed culture of irrationality, emanating from the chaos that brought the state into existence, contrary to Chile, which was created in orderly fashion. Argentines therefore take an erratic, aggressive stance on conflict resolution. Castro Sauritain correctly points to the role blurry borders played in Chile’s north. Santiago had massive problems to manage them and could not avoid the tensions in the Atacama region affecting territorial integrity in the southern part of the country (Castro Sauritain 2006: 21, 93). Castro Sauritain also promotes the mainstream argument that Argentina started the war because the internal economic collapse forced the junta to take drastic steps towards both the Beagle Channel and the Falklands, with the ultimate aim to regain popularity (ibid., 111). Neo-Marxist analysis ties to this argument, but will also provide insights beyond this superficial claim; the junta did not care about popularity but about survival. He also maintains the Chilean-British security arrangement was a rather loose coalition, its impact exaggerated by Matthei (ibid., 50, 125), but evidence proves otherwise. Castro Sauritain, nevertheless, represents clearly the Chilean’s concerns over a renewed Peruvian-Bolivian alliance and Chile’s precarious security environment (ibid., 101) and so brings to mind the presence of the Pacific War.

Lawrence Freedman’s The Official History of the Falklands Campaign VOL I + II, published in 2005, represents indispensable reading and the most comprehensive account of the war to date. This project was commissioned by the Cabinet Office in 1996 and gained the approval of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 (Freedman 2005a: 37). Freedman’s research provides insights into the development of the war, the diplomatic efforts in London, New York, and Washington, as well as Buenos Aires, and the military campaign itself. Even more so, Volume I contains a chapter on “Chile” (Freedman 2005c: 334). Unfortunately, this chapter does not differ from the rest of the book when it comes to perspective, as it gives too much weight to the British view on the game Britain and Chile played against Argentina. The shortcomings stemming from Freedman’s account may be tolerable to some extent, since he nowhere claimed to focus on the Southern Cone. Yet, ignoring Argentina’s ambition to reach regional hegemony should have been a bit more in the focus (ibid., 334). This way the reasons for Chile’s behaviour would have become clearer. Freedman also provides detail on the ‘Sea King’ incident, which he claims had no negative consequences for the alliance, although Matthei contests this assertion (Freedman 2005c: 371; Matthei 2005: 4/6 min 01:50). Though investigating this contradiction and the Sea King crash on Chilean territory might further research into the actual nature of the alliance, it is ultimately too specific to the creation of context this study attempts. Freedman’s discussion of the role of the British air attaché in coordinating the alliance (ibid., 337) is intriguing but now superseded by that attaché’s own book, discussed below.

Like most studies on the subject, Freedman’s too lack theory. He writes (2005c: 16), international relations scholars are often sceptical when it is suggested that countries can go to war for the sake of principle—but democracies find it difficult to go to war for anything else, especially when national survival is not directly threatened.

Yet later on, he himself asserts that Britain’s collaboration with Chile actually runs counter to principles like democracy (Freedman 2005c: 334). It turns out then that Thatcher had a better grasp on the situation and realised that more than principles was at stake. A slippery response to Argentina’s challenge could have appeared as weakness to Moscow and lead to serious consequences for the global balance of power. Moscow indeed watched with eagle eyes how the third biggest military power dealt with the crisis in the South Atlantic (Thatcher 1993: 171, 172). Thatcher, therefore, did not have qualms to collaborate with a savage dictator beyond raison d’ètat, not least because both shared a passionate anti-communism. Freedman’s analytical shortcomings notwithstanding the British view must have a place in the analysis, Freedman’s work best suits this purpose.

Another authority on geopolitics in the South Atlantic is Klaud Dodds (2002, 2007). He focuses more on the consequences for territorial integrity than the history of South Atlantic littoral states. Dodds is one of the few authors who correctly hint at the sources of Argentina’s imperial ambition, namely the largely successful annexation of land from its neighbours in the 19th century (Dodds 2007: 87). He does, however, fail to analyse this project in-depth and so misses a chance to put Argentine and Chilean behaviour in context. Furthermore, Dodds constructs a frame within which Chilean-Argentine rivalry has always been an influence on the U.K.’s involvement in Antarctica, and that Argentine strategists knew very well what value the Falklands and Beagle islands hold. Possessing these two spots awards the holder domination in the South Atlantic and control in the Southwest Atlantic economic zone (Dodds 2002: 10, 75, 112). Dodds takes Argentina serious as geopolitical actor and prepares the ground for more holistic scholarship on the war and the region in general, without a simplistic perpetrator/victim dichotomy that inhibits much analysis of international relations.

A huge error of his is to assume that with the signing of the Antarctic Treaty 1961 all geopolitical struggles in the region ceased and thus attention turned to the Falklands (ibid., 91). He fails to perceive the borders in the region as fluid and thus cannot apparently not see the many border issues that are still determining regional politics. For example, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 2014 in favour of a Peruvian territorial demand against Chile (ICJ 2014: 8); the verdict on the Bolivian case also against Chile will be delivered “in due course” (ICJ 2015: 1); and Argentina still “intends to recover the islands by peaceful means in accordance with the principles of international law” (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores: accessed 2015). Both the Bolivian and the Argentinian demands are thus poised to occupy Southern Cone relations for sometime and show that geopolitics is not over by a long shot. Despite these errors, Dodds’ work, illustrates well some dynamics of South American geopolitics.

The British air attaché to Santiago, Sidney Edwards, altogether neglects such dynamics and the history of the Southern Cone. Still, his account in My Secret Falklands War (2014b) gives and invaluable first-hand perspective from the inside of the Anglo-Chilean alliance. He describes vividly that the alliance was not only set up to collect intelligence but also to transfer arms and so facilitate troop movements along the border that would tie down Argentine contingents. These arms also had the purpose to defend a potential Peruvian attack (Edwards, 2014b: ch 2 & 3). As such, he paves the way to closer inspect Chilean decision-making processes. His details on the country’s far-reaching efforts to help Britain by for example, providing secret runways, access to highly secret surveillance sites, and intelligence leading to the sinking of the Belgrano, (ibid., ch 5, 6, 7) indicate how close the collaboration actually was - even though Matthei claims the alliance was the product of purely self-defence arithmetics (Matthei 2005 6/6 min 06:55). The value of this story aside, Edwards fails to contextualise Argentina’s behaviour regarding the wider systemic pressure all actors had to manage.

Bautista Yofre’s work, even though it relates an inside view of the junta, fails on that same account. In his 1982 - Los Documentos Secretos de la Guerra: El Derrumbe del Proceso (2011), he processes original documents and interviews figures like Leopoldo Galtieri. With the help of these sources, it becomes clear for example that for the junta the Falklands and the Beagle belonged in the same basket and justified war. He also shows how Argentina managed anti-Marxist operations abroad in order to improve relations with the United States, ascend to the status of respected world power and balance against Brazil (Bautista Yofre 2011: ch 3 & 4). Clearly, Argentina has been calculating its actions all along and considered the risks attached to its behaviour. Bautista Yofre, however, does not fill the gap in the literature and shed more light on the roots of Chilean-Argentine rivalry, namely the Pacific War, nor does he frame his narrative theoretically. His work thus may well fit into the extant literature, yet does not challenge the overall orthodoxy that holds a clumsy Argentina provoked the war through bad leadership.


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Not Part of the Game? The Anglo-Chilean Alliance of the Falklands War
University of Leicester  (Department of Politics and International Relations)
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Falklands, islands, Marxism, offensive, realism, capitalism, Great Britain, Malvinas, history, Latin America, geopolitics, geostrategy, imperialism, Argentina, Chile, alliance formation, capitalist logics, competition, international theory, international relations, South, Atlantic, Pacific, war, Beagle, crisis
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Christian Scheinpflug (Author), 2015, Not Part of the Game? The Anglo-Chilean Alliance of the Falklands War, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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