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1982 May 4 Tu
Archive (Rentschler MSS)

Falklands: Jim Rentschler diary (sinkings lead Rentschler & Fontaine to propose new US initiative) ["Brits can declare victory and demonstrate some magnanimity"]

Document type: Declassified documents
Document kind: Diary
Venue: -
Source: Thatcher Archive (copy of the text per the late Ambassador Rentschler)
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Jim Rentschler was the NSC official responsible for European matters, who handled the Falklands for the White House throughout the crisis. He gave a photocopy of the original diary to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation for publication in 2003. The full Falklands diary can be read here as single text.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 672 words
Themes: Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Foreign policy (USA)

Tuesday 4 May 1982
Falklands/Malvinas Postscript #3:

Now it's the Brits' turn for grief, their $40 million destroyer HMS Sheffield taking a direct hit from an Exocet and almost instantly transformed into a flaming hulk - still afloat according to signals but abandoned by its crew. So much for Mrs. Kirkpatrick's "expert" view of Argentine temperament. The stance of these two disputants increasingly resembles that of a couple of staggering streetfighters, spastically-swinging at each other while blinded into fury by the flow of their own blood. Alarmed by the mounting ferocity, my Latin American counterpart Roger Fontaine and I co-author a quick memo for Clark - The Falkland Islands: What Now? What Next?

"Situation

The sinkings of the Belgrano and the Sheffield bring the South Atlantic conflict to an alarmingly new and perhaps desperate stage, one which throws into sharper relief the negative strategic factors which the US will increasingly confront as the hostilities persist. We are in a situation where only an act of sanity may now save not only the belligerents themselves from further loss, but larger US interests as well.

With this in mind, your own private Falklands Task Force provides a rundown of judgments we consider relevant and outlines what we see as the necessary act of sanity (which really depends on the UK, by far the saner of the two disputants at this point). In brief, we feel the moment has been reached in this conflict when the Brits can declare victory on the military level and demonstrate some magnanimity with a political offer designed to stave off an Argentine Götterdämmerung (in which we would all substantially suffer). Urgency is now the issue: as this goes to press the wires are reported another Vulcan attack on Port Stanley. …

"Key judgments

  • Contrary to British hopes, tightening the screws on Argentina will not make them more amenable to negotiations. On the contrary, Galtieri is a high-stakes gambler who will keep putting chips on the table as long as he has them, hoping for the lucky strike [fo.180 begins] to bail him out (he has had one already).
  • What is true of Galtieri is probably also true of anyone who succeeds him (with the possible exception of Orfila, who might favor a diplomatic route but whose margin of maneuver would be tightly constrained by the military).
  • Continuation of the British blockade with sporadic military action will result in a grave setback to all our policies in this hemisphere as Latin American positions harden, while tying the Royal Navy down 8000 miles from its NATO responsibilities.
  • Now that we have come down on the British side, our leverage with Mrs. Thatcher is greatly increased; we are a de facto partner in the enterprise and can use that position to push our own interests in ways denied to us in our previous 'honest broker' role.

"Proposal

That the US initiate another peace offer, this time through the OAS. The offer would link ultimate Argentine sovereignty after a reasonably protracted period (say, 20 years) with immediate withdrawal of Argentine troops and a third country or mixed administration during the transition between now and then. You should discuss the above outline with Haig, drawing on the attached anal and talking points, with a view toward gearing the diplomatic machinery off dead-center. … "

Won't bore you boys with the analytic details, which in any case look to have little chance of flying as both sides hunker down for more hostilities. If nothing else, however, these screeds provide a bit of psyschological ventilation - get something out of our systems and make us feel that we are not totally impotent in this crisis (which, of course, we are). Not that our State colleagues are doing any better: the pile of cables on my desk from Haig to his NATO and OAS counterparts which merely reiterate our position in the conflict, our support for UNSC 502, and our pious hope that the parties will exercise restraint. Not your most promising display of diplomacy. …

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