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Chapter Sixteen THE SINKING OF THE BELGRANO Rules of Engagement There was no formal state of war between Britain and Argentina. Such a state would have carried with it many awkward implications for Britain, Argentina and other important nations, such as the United States. The lack of a declaration of war meant that Britain was obliged to justify Operation Corporate in terms of the 'inherent right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter', which it reinforced by reference to Resolution 502.* There is always a question of whether acting in self-defence imposes any limitations on the sort of military action permitted. At what point might it exceed the requirements of self-defence? Exercising this 'inherent right' after the seizure of territory by another country is likely to require the use of sufficient force to eject the enemy from that territory. If one is forced to stay on the tactical defensive, in respect of some concept of proportionality, then all the advantages flow to the aggressor, whose offensive action has been completed. There is therefore no reason in principle why self-defence cannot involve going on to the offensive. The commander of the task force was charged with bringing about the withdrawal of the Argentine * Article 51 states: 'Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.' 247 Collision forces from the Falkland Islands and re-establishing British administration . Once military operations have begun in earnest the question of what constitutes minimum force becomes moot and the casualties likely to result from any given exercise almost impossible to calculate. None the less, in order to maintain some political control over military operations, the forces were required to follow rules of engagement. These varied in scope from strategic to detailed tactical instructions. They denned the freedom of action of the commander on the spot rather than controlled matters directly through precise instructions. The military interest is normally to encourage the enemy to assume that the commander's freedom is greater than it actually is. So, in addition to the rules sent to the task force command, the British Government issued a series of public statements which defined the terms under which it would take action against Argentine forces. In general the rules under which British forces were actually operating were more restrictive than those communicated to the outside world. As British forces drew closer to the South Atlantic the potential scope and intensity of hostilities grew. In the weeks before the bulk of the task force arrived all the British could do was inhibit Argentine reinforcements . This was the purpose of the Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ) announced on 7 April to take effect from 12 April. The military would have been content to call it a blockade, but this created problems under international law, and so the more neutral terminology was adopted. The MEZ took the form ofa circle of 200 nautical miles from latitude 51° 41' south and longitude 590 39' west, approximately the centre of the Islands. From the time indicated, any Argentine warships and Argentine naval auxiliaries found within this Zone will be treated as hostile and are liable to be attacked by British forces. This measure is without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures may be needed in exercise of its right of selfdefence , under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The zone was not a territorial zone, which would have been an awkward shape and would have led to ambiguities in interpretation. A 248 The Sinking of the Belgrano circle was more precise although this did mean that some parts of the Islands were only ioo miles from the edge of the Zone. Despite the fact that 200 miles was similar to the distance used in economic zones, it was actually chosen to provide, according to Lewin, enough room between the edge of the zone and the safe haven of a port in the Falklands to be able to signal to a merchant ship, invite it to stop, chase it if it did not stop, fire a shot across it bows, continue to signal to it... Our experience in fishery wars has shown us that this takes quite a lot of distance.1 However, when the MEZ was declared, merchant ships...


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