A Lesson on North Korea from the 1980's

In the early 1980’s Argentina’s right wing junta was in serious trouble. Having begun with popular and elite support with the initial coup of 1976, it floundered under inflation, unemployment, and growing popular resistance to its political cleansing campaign, now known as the Dirty War, which resulted in the death or disappearance of tens of thousands.

Some of the leaders of Argentina’s junta, officially known as “The Process of National Reorganization”

In an effort to rouse popular support for the nationalist cause the junta decided to invade the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, to this day claimed by both the UK and Argentina (hence the two names). The invasion succeeded spectacularly, with only one Argentine casualty and the surrender of the islands’s defensive forces. What came next, however, was a surprise.

In planning the invasion the junta assumed that the UK government, then PM Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party, would not respond militarily. They were wrong. The British invaded the islands, and in the ensuing battles on land, sea, and air thousands were killed and wounded. The political chaos that followed in Argentina is popularly held responsible for the fall of the junta, which could never recover its powerful nationalist imagine — conversely, the show of force and victory of the British was a major popularity boost to the Conservatives, who held power for the next fifteen years.

Losing the conflict might have hurt the junta, but the Malvinas remain a call to arms for Argentine nationalists.

As the US and other countries appear to consider military action against North Korea, and Trump sends more US troops to Syria and Afghanistan, the War of the Malvinas/Falklands offers some disturbing lessons. First, that these conflicts usually don’t end as planned. And second, that when two right wing nationalist governments collide one of them might actually get its wish and inspire popular support for years to come.