A better way than Fortress Falklands

Britain's triumph of arms in the Falkland Islands last year was accompanied by the knowledge on all sides that a military solution was actually no solution. Among those making this point was that general turned diplomat, Alexander Haig.Now it is good to hear that Britain is quietly resuming the search for a diplomatic settlement of the dispute with Argentina about sovereignty over the Falklands. By joining such a search without delay Argentina could start to repair the losses wrought on an already dubious international reputation by its invasion of the islands.

The alternative appears to be what Prime Minister Thatcher has espoused, a Fortress Falklands policy. This means keeping the islands an armed camp at the end of an 8,000-mile supply route. As far back as 1979, when Lord Carrington was foreign secretary, he is said to have warned the prime minister about such an option. It would carry a serious threat of Argentinian invasion, according to this warning, and so would continuing talks with Argentina without any concessions on sovereignty.

Concessions on sovereignty from victorious Britain are obviously not in the cards at the moment. But patient efforts toward resolution of the problem without further tragic conflict are well worth continuing. Lord Carrington is among those looking toward an international approach.

It might be along the lines of the Antarctic Treaty. This treaty, signed by a dozen countries in 1959, provided for a freeze on territorial claims to the region under such specifications as that it would be used for peaceful purposes only.

Another international approach might be to turn the case over the International Court of Justice, which Britain suggested as long ago as 1948.

Surely the British people would like the certainty of an agreement that both protects the rights of the inhabitants of the Falklands and brings an end to prospects of renewed violence. The war is still a political issue in Britain. A poll showed 7 out of 10 Britons doubting the conclusions of the recent official report on the background of the invasion.

But Britain cannot be expected to go anywhere diplomatically without response from Argentina. A start would be for Argentina to do what it amazingly has not done so far: formally acknowledge an end to the hostilities with Britain. Such a step would lend some weight to the Argentinians' denials of rumors that they intend to resume harassment of the British.

If Argentina returns to civilian rule this year, as advertised, it will immediately look better in international eyes. It could build on this image by cooperating on the Falklands.

In the meantime, the cause of diplomacy is hardly served by talk of the Reagan administration considering the lifting of the arms embargo on Argentina. There is reported to be $50,000 for US training of Argentinian soldiers in the current budget, though training as well as weapons sales are supposed to be forbidden. Surely Argentina will have to do more to earn US military aid than it has done so far.

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