Historical Spotlight: The Falklands War
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the 74-day conflict known as the Falklands War, which began on April 2, 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the British dependent territory of the Falkland Islands. This undeclared war was part of a much longer dispute over the sovereignty of the Falklands and associated islands in the South Atlantic.
Although the United States was not a direct combatant in the conflict, the Falklands War did impact NGA predecessor organizations, particularly in relation to deconflicting requests made under existing agreements in place with both the United Kingdom and Argentina.
In the opening weeks of the war, requests were being received from both Argentina and the United Kingdom for LANDSAT photos of the same coverage area – specifically, the open ocean area west of the Falkland Islands on May 7-8, the Falkland Islands on May 9-11 and South Georgia on May 10-12.
The request from Argentina was received by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which the United States was obliged to honor under the terms of an existing US-Argentine Memorandum of Understanding. The Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), meanwhile, received the same coverage area request from the United Kingdom under an existing liaison agreement.
With both combatant nations waiting for the requested LANDSAT photos, an action memorandum went out to the Department of State requesting guidance on how to respond. In the end, it was Lawrence Eagleburger, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, who made the decision to honor both requests. This was due, in part, to the perceived critical significance of maintaining the “depoliticized” character of NASA’s programs.
The timely and sensitive considerations at work in the deconfliction of these competing requests provides insight into the challenges of maintaining such varied partnerships, as well as the valued role of the United States as a leader in what would come to be known as GEOINT.
Read the Action Memorandum from the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Richard Burt) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Lawrence Eagleburger), dated April 30, 1982, that decided how to deconflict LANDSAT requests from both Argentina and the UK.
As background, read the April 6, 1982, Memorandum from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Francis “Bing” West) to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger providing a summary report of the intelligence, communications and logistics support the United States routinely provided to Argentina and the U.K. at the start of the Falklands War.
Also of interest, read the Telegram from the Central Intelligence Agency, sent April 12, 1982 – just ten days into the conflict, outlining the views of the Argentine Government. This document is an example of the reports being received by the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), an NGA predecessor organization, as the situation in the Falkland Islands unfolded.
Disclaimer: The documents linked in this article are taken from the Foreign Relations of the United States series, maintained by the Office of the Historian, the Department of State. All documents in the FRUS series are in the public domain and can be used, copied, and distributed without seeking permission from the Department of State or any other component of the U.S. Government. For more information, visit the State Department website and read more about the series here .