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Falklands: so much for the superpowers

By Joseph C. Harsch / April 9, 1982

A British fleet heading purposefully into the South Atlantic with intent to reclaim lost British islands tells us a number of things about the world around us.

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So, too, does another interesting event of the past week: President Reagan of the USA says he would like to have a chat with Leonid Brezhnev of the USSR during the month of June.

The first event tells of the decline of the East-West issue from dominant influence in world affairs. It had nothing to do with the fact that the Argentines landed an expeditionary force on the British Falkland Islands and that the British fared forth on the high seas as in times of yore to try to get them back. However, the Soviets were quick to back the Argentines against the British at the UN, at least to the extent of joining the few abstainers on a resolution demanding withdrawal of the Argentine forces.

It tells us also of the decline in the ability of the superpowers to police and control their respective allies, friends, and clients. The US should have been able to head off this threatened war between its oldest and closest European ally, Britain, and one of its sometimes useful South American associates, Argentina.

During the evening before the Argentine invasion force reached the Falkland Islands, President Reagan telephoned President Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina and urged him to refrain from taking military action. Mr. Reagan spent 50 minutes of his time in the effort. It failed. Argentine troops landed on the main Falkland Island the next day, April 2.

It is simply a cold fact that no one in Washington was able to dissuade the Argentines from doing what they had decided to do. The military junta that rules that important South American country wanted to take those islands by military force. The deed was useful to them in diverting their own public opinion from domestic economic troubles. It was popular, at least in the beginning.

Disapproval in Washington meant nothing to the Argentine leaders. Washington has been talking to them about the possibility of sending an Argentine expedition to Central America to try to destabilize the Sandinista revolutionary regime in Nicaragua.

Their reward was Soviet backing at the UN.

Washington wants things from them. They do not need help from Washington. They recently showed their lack of concern about Washington when they sold grain to the Soviets to make up for President Carter's embargo on US grain.

A hundred years ago Argentina was an economic satellite of Britain, and Britain itself was the premier world power. This could not have happened in those older times. It could not have happened 20 years ago either. Argentina could not have ignored Washington's wishes in such a matter.

But today Britannia no longer rules the seven seas, and a country like Argentina can take care of its own relations with the great powers. It has good trading relations with the USSR even though it is a right-wing military dictatorship. It needs no military protection from Washington against Soviet influence. Being independent, it can act independently. It has.