In order to recover the territory that had been usurped by force on Jan. 5, 1833, Argentina adandoned its diplomatic patience with Britain -- exercised for almost 150 years -- and on April 2, 1982, militarily occupied the Malvinas [ Falkland] Islands. The whole world wondered what has caused such a drastic decision.
Since it is easier to amuse oneself by looking at the tree while ignoring the woods, the general explanation is that the Argentine military government tried to resolve its internal conflicts by means of an ace with international repercussions. But let us also try to look at the woods.
Since 1975, NATO has been considering the possibility of controlling the South Atlantic -- an area of strategic concern to the Western world. Decisive factors have been the emergence of a pro-Soviet government in Angola and the influence the USSR has had over Guinea-Bissau since 1975. together with the need for securing maritime traffic in the South Atlantic as a ''strategic avenue to southern Africa'' - particularly in the event of a blockade of the Panama Canal or a new closing of the Suez Canal.
However, Britain would not be interested in NATO accepting its offer for control of the area, with a nuclear base in the Malvinas, if 1982 were not the year scheduled for holding discussions on sovereignty over the Antarctic territory, which is being claimed by 12 countries including Argentina, Chile, and Britain.
Possession of the Malvinas until a few weeks ago gave Britain the legal support for claiming its uti possidetis over the Antarctic territory, based on its 200 miles of water jurisdiction around the islands. This would explain the disproportionately bellicose attitude of sending a task force of two-thirds of its fleet to fight for their recovery.
Let us not forget that in 1928 Britain complained to the United States that Captain Byrd, during his expeditions to the South Pole, had taken possession of British territories on behalf of that nation. The Foreign Office based its complaint on Captain Byrd exploring a region that was a dependency of the Malvinas - when it was actually a dependency of Argentina, it being on Argentina's 200-mile-wide territorial platform.
The New York Herald Tribune, in an editorial column Feb. 24, 1929, commented on the British claim: ''The world is looking toward the Antarctic and, even though South Georgia, the Shetland islands and the Orkney islands are shown on British maps as British dependencies, Argentina has, after all, as much right to claim that Antarctic region as Britain has.''
But what is at stake today in the Malvinas is the use of energy, the future of the economic life of big and small nations. It is the existence of unexploited oil and natural gas deposits. In other words, it is the control of raw materials over a vast geographic region, South America, where Great Britain has had large interests and has been actively involved in looking after them since the beginning of the 19th century.
T he political and military history of Latin American countries is full of examples where British economic interests have played a decisive role in coups d'etat, revolutions, etc. Two of the most salient examples would be the nitrate war (1879) between Chile and the British corporations in Peru and Bolivia; and the Chaco war (1932), where Bolivia had to fight the interests of the Shell Corporation in Paraguay.
In 1978 it was reported that the oil wealth of the Argentine territorial platform is potentially four times as big as that of the North Sea. On June 2, 1981, the Wall Street Journal said that Argentina swims in a sea of oil. Recently, a member of Parliament, Sir John Biggs-Davison defended the possession of the islands, saying that Britain ''must have the potential resources of the Antarctic.''
Since 1975, high-level British officials (Secretary Edward Rowlands and Lord Montgomery of the Foreign Trade Board) have traveled to Buenos Aires trying to reach an agreement over the Malvinas, based on economic cooperation in the southwestern Atlantic - namely, over oil and fishing.
The British expressed their willingness formally to recognize Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas and accept a solution similar to that adopted with respect to some territories in Hong Kong. Argentina would lease back to Great Britain particularly the underwater area, where the facilities no longer in use in the North Sea would be installed.
In Argentina, contrary to a recent US newspaper report, nationalistic feelings do not ''prepare hearts and minds for fascism.'' There are enough reasons to understand why the oil must belong to and be exploited by Argentina. It was British oil interests that backed the 1930 military coup in Argentina, which deposed President Hipolito Irigoyen and started a crisis that has not been overcome to this day.
Argentina cannot take a decision opposed to the one already taken. If that happened, Argentina would forever lose its bio-oceanic principle, its claim to the Beagle islands in order to consolidate its right in the South Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, its sovereignty over the Malvinas and, consequently, over its vast Antarctic territory. Non-British oil interests should be glad that, as a result of the British-Argentine dispute, Shell Oil Corporation will not be able to exploit the vast and rich Argentine territorial platform.