Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The political dimension

Before we embark on a look at whether a Falklands War could be fought in 2012, I want to add the caveat that here, we are not merely attempting to fight the last war. The Falklands is just a convenient yardstick for judging a fundamental responsibility of Government, our national ability to defend ourselves and our interests. It is, unless the French invade the Channel Islands any time soon, probably the only case in which Britain might have to act unilateraly on the world stage. What we are doing is assessing change over time, comparing 1982 to 2012. In many ways the world has moved on since 1982, so it would inevitably be a very different conflict, much the same as there is hardly likely to be another Battle of Britain any time in the forseeable future.

Any operation at such a distance is inevitably going to be a joint, ‘purple’ operation. In our discussions, I don’t want us to become too centric on any particular Arm or asset. I have no time for single-service narrowmindedness; at some point people need to grow up and consign the spectre of services attempting to out-maneouvre each other to the history books. When armed forces squabble there is only ever one winner – the Treasury.

One aspect that I neglected in my 2009 review, was that of politics – both domestic, regional and international. As Clauszwitz said, war is the pursuit of politics through other means, and this is particularly true of international crises that require military intervention. Very rarely in history have wars been fought for wars sake alone; invariably they are motivated by some kind of politics. Witness the 1982 invasion by Argentina. As this broad spectrum of politics would determine if, when and how a war might be fought, and its potential outcome, it seems only sensible to consider these important factors.

Buenos Aries

In 1982 Argentina was ruled by a military junta. Fighting a brutal internal war and locked in territorial disputes with neighbours, the Malvinas provided a suitable release valve for serious internal problems. Ostensibly, much has changed since then. But has it? Argentina is led by a person whose chief virtue is that they are the widow of the last President (Democracy, love it). Not only that, but Christina Fernandez-Kirchner has developed a reputation not only for tasteless flirting at international summits, but also  coming out with some inflamatory remarks in recent years. Althought it is tempting to think that whilst Argentina is a democracy military action is unlikely, this underestimates the importance of the Malvinas issue to the Argentine psyche – it has the ability to reduce perfectly sane people into a blithering mess. With the global economy in the situation that it is, and with the potential for social and economic unrest, the Malvina’s option is never going to be completely off  the table for Buenos Aires.

South America

In 1982 Argentina was pretty much isolated, as military dictatorships invariably tend to be. Locked in territorial disputes with neighbours, she had to retain most of her best troops to stave off a threat from Chile. In 2o12, the scene is quiet different. As a democracy Argentina is very much in from the cold, and recent years have seen something of a South American love in, with characters such as Lula and Chavez supporting Fernandez-Kirchner’s rantings. Whilst much of this is motivated by the popularity of anti-imperialist rhetoric, there have been several cases of latin american countries denying British ships access to facilities, ostensibly at the behest of Buenos Aires. This regional support would extremely unlikely to deter Argentina.

Yet, if Argentina were to unexpectedly invade the Falklands, as an agressive act without provocation, we might see support from South American countries fall away. Britain has defence links with Brazil, and whilst Chile and Argentina are getting on a lot better nowadays, again, Britain has strong links with Chile. The Argentines and Uruguayans also have underlying issues. Thus, whilst Argentina might not be as isolated as she was in 1982, an invasion would not win her any allies.


The current Government clearly believes that there is no threat in the South Atlantic. When posed questions in Parliament about the possiblity of another Falklands War, the Prime Minister simply replied, in a naive Rumsfeldian manner, that as Argentina is a democracy this would be unthinkable.

Putting aside the economic reasoning, the SDSR was, effectively, a 1920’s style 10 year gamble on the part of the Government. That for at least the next ten years, Britain would not have to act on her own militarily, without the aid of allies. Whilst in some respects that is true –  invariably Britain acts as part of an alliance, whether it be EU, NATO or otherwise – all the time Britain has interests around the globe, you can never quite discount the need to intervene on your own. Whilst the British Empire is no more – indeed, empires have had their day – there are still Brits around the globe who want to be British, and who deserve our protection. The problem is, that defence cuts rarely deter threats. Quite the opposite.

Crises rarely tap you on the shoulder to give you fair warning just before they explode. Even when they do, you cannot always rely on your Foreign Office to deal with them properly (ahem, Carrington). That is exactly what I am trying to get across here- in an uncertain world, the only certain thing is that you can expect the unexpected. Who foresaw the Arab Spring, and Lybia in particular? No one predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And what about the first Gulf War? The moral is very much that you cannot plan for international crises, but you can at least try to put yourself in a position to respond to most scenarios as best you can.

Any Government faced with an invasion of British territory – or any other gross affront to British interests – would be hard pressed to survive. The British public might not be quite the flag waving rabble of Charles and Di’s wedding, but I doubt very much whether any administration surrendering the Falklands would survive. Given the support for the armed forces in recent years, any pictures of  being made to lie prostate on the ground would provoke outrage. In 1982 Thatcher was able to turn things around by hook and crook, but whether that would be possible in 2012 is another matter.

Port Stanley

In 1982 the issue was very clear – the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were British, and wanted to remain British. In that sense, Britain was acting to defend their rights of self-determination, to live under the sovereignty of their choosing. Virtually all of the Falkland Islanders are of British descent, and whilst there are allegations of Imperialism, in many cases Falklands families have been living there longer than Spanish-descended Argentines have been living in South America. Any Government abandoning the Falkland Islanders to Argentina against their will could expect to be relegated to the opposition benches pretty sharpish, particularly given the place that the Falklands holds in British culture after 1982.

The issue of citizenship, sovereignty and self-determination still remains, yet since 2009 a huge new issue has arisen – that of black gold. Huge fossil fuel reserves have been discovered in the South Atlantic off the Falkland Islands, and ownership of the territorial waters brings with it the right to explore for gas and oil. It might be a coincidence, but Argentine bluff and bluster since the discovery has increased considerably.

Lucrative natural resources have had the ability to cause war more than any other factor in the past 25 or so years. And with the global economy in the doldrums, any means of making money is going to be sought after. Any businesses looking to drill for oil in the South Atlantic will exert considerable lobbying pressure on the UK Government, and indeed on other Governments. The Government might also be more inclined to act to support oil companies, more than it would for a few thousands kelpers. The same goes for fishing rights, albeit on not such a money-spinning level.

United Nations and global opinion

The policy of the United Nations – Security Council and General Assembly – has been unequivocal in its policy on the Falklands – Britain and Argentina should resume negotiations towards a peaceful settlement. Quite how these negotations should come about, what should be negotiated and what a peaceful settlement would comprise, has never been elaborated. Thus the UN, sadly as usual, is as intransigent as it could possibly be.

Any un-mitigated invasion of the Falklands would no doubt be brought before the Security Council. Of the 5 permanent members, the UK would of course vote for action, the US and France would probably be swayed towards the British cause, however China may prove more difficult. And with the current frosty state of relations between Britain and Russia, help from that direction can probably be discounted. The chance of any resolution going through without a veto from one of the permanent 5 members seems unlikely. When we consider the rest of the membership, it is also unlikely that all of them would vote for Britain – anti-colonialism is hot political currency these days, and the non-aligned movement has gained influence in the past few years.

As a key member of the EU and NATO, Britain could in theory call on support from these quarters. However, as in 1982, I would find it hard to believe that France would lend us Charles de Gaulle, or that the US would provide AWACS for us. The best we could probably hope for is sanctions to be placed on Argentina, covert assistance with supplies and basing, and help in covering for our standing patrols, such as in the Gulf or off the horn of Africa, in order to free up slack for a Task Force. We might find ourselves in need of more Tomahawks at some point, in which case we would have to go cap in hand to the US.



Filed under debate, defence, Falklands War, politics, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The political dimension

  1. x

    As a kid you have to guard yourself against any Thatcher bashing; I was shocked and dismayed how anti-Thatcher sentiment permeates tertiary education in the UK. One young lecturer made the Miners’ Strike sound like the Indian Mutiny meets William the Bastard’s Harrying of the North.

    Even though many Brits thought that the “Argies” had invaded somewhere in the Outer Hebrides once the public realised the truth they were fully behind action. That many left wing politicians weren’t is yet more proof of how they tend to speak for themselves and not those they supposedly represent.

    Just because patriotism or indignation appears suddenly, rises to a fervour, and then dies away quickly doesn’t mean those feelings were any less valid. Even if there are those who to reinforce their position point to transience as evidence of a lack of sincerity.

    As I have said several times now over at the wonderful Think Defence website for the Argentines to win the islands they don’t have to war just engineer some event. And the event doesn’t even have to be well engineered! As for South America I can’t see Brazilians laying down their lives for an Argentine cause; well not at the moment. But I can see Chile sitting the war out. And we can forget about Venezuela or Cuba or Guatemala (invading Belize.)
    Russia would abstain from a vote in the SC; they are on a sticky wicket concerning Georgia. China might like to veto action but I think UN statutes would support action as self defence. As for the other members of the SC well the UN is a Third World talking shop; you aren’t going to get anything sensible or reasonable from them. The US would do as they did in 82, but in a much more covert manner.

    • James Daly

      I guess I would describe myself as fairly anti-Thatcher if I had to. But I think it is important, when you find yourself opposing something, to keep sight of why, and not get caught up in rhetoric and personality. I might have liked some of her domestic policies, but she was no walkover internationally. And unlike a lot of modern politicians, she knew what she wanted to do and she did it.

      • x

        Well I look at it in a rather simplistic way. If the best the Left can do is attack the record of PM from over 20 years ago it doesn’t say much for them as a political force.

        Many ex-miners who I know who opposed the Community Charge are moaning about their high council tax on their detached 4 bedroom houses. One even bemoans the threat to housing benefit on the two ex-council houses he rents out.

        I can’t believe a Conservative PM left us vulnerable to over seas energy supplies. (Shades of RN switching to oil.) But I also know many who went on strike in 84 had a far better life than I did.

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  3. John Erickson

    And just who are you calling a member of the “flag-waving Charles and Di rabble”? I resemble that remark! 😉
    I think that China would be more likely to stand aside than Russia. China is sucking up to as many markets as possible, and they know that if they piss off the UK, the US is right behind them. Though, as you said, with Chechnya, I doubt Russia would go full negative, and would probably also abstain, unless they tried some form of negotiation to keep them from vetoing any resolution.
    The US would provide plenty of information (I hesitate to use the US military and “intelligence” in the same sentence), and probably some ammunition – just to replenish an ally’s stock, mind you, specifically NOT to be used in combat! 😀 Probably also UAVs aplenty as well, though must studiously NOT armed. And though it wouldn’t be official, I’d bet dollars to quid that there’d be a few US Navy supply ships that would just HAPPEN to be in the area with food, fuel, spares, and whatever might just HAPPEN to be of use to a UK task force.
    Though why I waste my opinion on a person that INSULTS me I will never know….. 😉

    • James Daly

      In 1982 the American commander on Ascension was order to render all assistance necessary, but under no circumstances to be caught doing so! I think a few USNS tankers full of AVCAT found themselves miraculously close to Ascension in the spring of 1982 too. Replenishing Ammo stocks would be crucial – note that most of our munitions now are either British made, or US, so we don’t need to rely on the French any more! If Libya is anything to go by we would run out of Tomahawks pretty quickly. Intelligence would be extremely useful – human int, satellite stuff, anything. And considering that the US Military has exercised with the Args a bit in recent years, they might be able to offer some nuggets of advice from that experience. Not only that, but putting the kybosh on the Args would help immeasurably, as we would be looking to NATO and EU allies to ensure that they couldn’t get ammo resupplies, spare parts or after sales support for any of their hardware.

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