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Falklands future remains uncertain 30 years on

After much sabre-rattling throughout February, the rhetoric surrounding the Falklands has subsided somewhat in the weeks leading up to today’s 30thanniversary of the conflict between Britain and Argentina. (Read the full article here)

Today we should commemorate those who sacrificed their lives 30 years ago; 655 British servicemen and 649 Argentine soldiers died in the 74 day war.

It is also a time to reflect on the present situation, cut through some of the scaremongering media reports the region has attracted recently and to consider constructive ways forward in the future.

This morning William Hague, Foreign Secretary, said: “If anniversaries provide moments for reflection, it is surely time to reflect on how we can all work together in our common interest in the years ahead.”

What’s on the agenda?

In February, Admiral Sir John Forster Woodward (known as Sandy), who ordered the sinking of the General Belgrano in 1982, told the Telegraph that the current state of the Navy is “fairly dire.” The headline of the piece was equally plain – “Falkland Islands: Britain ‘would lose’ if Argentina decides to invade now.”

The Admiral’s first point on the state of the Navy is certainly not an unreasonable one, but the suggestion Britain would lose in the Falklands as a result is unbecoming.

Admiral Woodward is using the heightened tension over the islands as means to goad the current government into upping its defence spend. Much of the press about the Falklands these past few months has not been about the Falklands at all; it has been about military funding and the SDSR.

Woodward said that if the Navy had been more vocal about the role it played in the 1982 conflict, “then investment in the services would have been more naval than it has been. We wouldn’t have ditched the aircraft carriers Invincible and Ark Royal. We wouldn’t have got rid of the Sea Harriers – an appalling decision.”

Woodward has made a similar claim in the Times this morning, adding a warning to Prime Minister David Cameron that he should not revert back to acquiring the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter variant as it will leave Britain without an aircraft carrier capability for even longer than first anticipated.

Lord West, who 30 years ago skippered HMS Ardent, has the same agenda and is using the Falklands struggle as a precursor to concerns over the defence budget and its allocation. He told the Telegraph that less money should be siphoned off to international aid efforts and should instead be directed toward increasing Britain’s military might.

He said: “I am horrified our naval flotilla now comprises only 19 frigates and destroyers. In the Falklands, in the first month of fighting, we had four sunk and 14 damaged. That makes you think. We seem to have forgotten that when you fight you lose things. Here we are with 19 frigates and destroyers. Are they bonkers? Are they mad? How have they allowed this to happen?

“I believe defence should get a better crack of the whip among Government departments. It seems to me a tiny fraction of the aid budget, the welfare budget and of the NHS, so tiny it would hardly affect them, would make an immense difference to defence.”

There are two key perspectives to consider with the Falklands; one is Argentina’s position to attack, the other is Britain’s ability to defend. Once we disregard the first, the second, at least in in terms of this potential conflict, becomes unimportant.

Robert Knapp makes a clear argument for this in his reasoned article “The Great Falklands Myth.”

“The frequent articles released by men such as Admiral Sandy Woodward warning of the immense military vulnerability of the islands have very little grounding in reality,” Knapp says. “The military balance in the South Atlantic is very strongly rooted in the favour of the UK and this is unlikely to change in the near future … there is neither the political will nor the economic capability for Argentina to attempt any kind of military action against the islands.”

How to solve a problem like the Falklands

With defence expenditure around £3 billion and inflation in double figures, the Argentine economy is too weak and the government lacks sufficient backing to see through any significant military move against the Falklands.

What must be established to ensure the future security of the region is a long-term and realistic political framework. Ben Macintyre proposes seven ways to end the stalemate in the Times, which includes a leaseback agreement similar to that seen with Hong Kong, as well as an outright sale and a number of other arbitration measures.

Professor Hanke in the Cato Institute offered a curious option, saying that a free market solution might encourage the islanders to vote to align with the Argentineans if they were offered $500,000 each to do so. It would be a “transparent market solution for the Falklands and … a cost-effective way to unambiguously establish sovereignty,” Hanke said.

Argentina’s latest efforts to destabilise relations is to threaten legal action over a number of British and US companies that are producing research reports on the Falklands’ oil industry.

With the recently discovered oil reserves in the region added into the equation the transatlantic jarring over sovereignty has become even more complex. Cool heads will be needed for a diplomatic solution to prevail. But a diplomatic solution will be found because one thing for sure: Argentina will not – cannot – instigate a military assault on British rule in the Falklands anytime soon.

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