Monday, 30 January 2012

We need to talk about The Falkland Islands.

Actually, we don’t need to talk about The Falkland Islands at all, but seeing as other commentators insist on it and 1980’s politics is on trend, I may as well throw my (admittedly amateur) hat in the ring too.

General Sir Michael Jackson, the retired Chief of the General Staff, in an interview for The Sunday Telegraph has warned us all that should the Falklands suffer a successful invasion by Argentina it would be near impossible for us to reclaim them by force. He lays the blame for this squarely (and correctly) at the door of those who allowed the Harrier Fleet & our Aircraft Carriers to be sold/scrapped without replacements.

Ignoring the fact that General Sir Michael Jackson was the Chief of the General Staff for some time and thus had considerable influence over the decisions he now derides, is he factually correct? Yes, undoubtedly. The man in charge of the task force that won the Falklands War in 1982, Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, was typically blunt in his assessment of how that particular adventure was successful – air superiority. It would have been impossible to land enough men and equipment on the islands without controlling the skies above them. Little has changed since then in terms of geography – the islands haven’t floated any closer to us or further away from Argentina – so it still stands that without any friendly, local airfields we would need carriers form which to base air operations from.

So is it time to worry about this apparent inability to reclaim the islands should the worst happen? I’d argue no. Worrying about this is like worrying about your apparent inability to reclaim the moon from invading aliens – it’s so unlikely to be an issue that there’s little point in spending much time on it.

General Jackson has learned plenty form the politicians he spent years criticising and looking down upon. He has an agenda and knows the best way to achieve it is through good old scaremongering and dismissal of any rationale with a sound bite. In this case, he outlines the factors that make invasion unlikely – massively increased defence force, ability to resupply quickly- and then follows with “But I suppose I have learned in life, never say never." Oh well, clearly the invasion is a certainty then. In addition he also talks about the ‘small’ amount of intelligence coming from Buenos Aires whilst failing to note that ever since 1982, intelligence operations in Argentina have somewhat improved and despatches are treated a little more seriously.

The Argentine force in 1982 was already largely outdated (though still effective to a degree) and there has been no significant investment in their military capability since then. Their aged aircraft against the Typhoons stationed in the Falklands? I wouldn’t fancy their chances. Their landing craft sneaking ashore after evading the highly sophisticated sonar of the nuclear submarine patrolling those waters? Good luck to them.

It’s interesting that, whilst clearly learning some tricks from politics, Gen Jackson seemed to ignore the politics at play on the issue. There is oil in The Falklands. There is potentially more oil there than in the fields we have in the North Sea. The US, naturally, is lined up to invest and if that happens, any chance of Argentina invading is gone. They simply wouldn’t risk it.

The decision that led to the Harriers and the Aircraft Carriers being taken out of service before their replacements entered service wasn’t taken by the Secretary of State for Defence on a whim. It was the result of years of consultations and review with all of the UK’s senior defence staff and intelligence staff. Included in that review was an analysis of the ability to defend the UK’s interests worldwide and it concluded that the likelihood of an invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina was remote enough that the ability to reclaim them did not warrant the spend.

Generals, Admirals & Air Marshalls will always advocate increased spending on defence and it’s understandable – their role is to defend the UK and the more we spend on it the easier it is. However, Gen. Jackson knew, when in service, that the spending wasn’t right in this instance and advocated – quite correctly – more troops on the ground and the armour to support them. It’s a shame that he know feels he needs to bring up what is effectively a non issue when he has so much more to offer. 

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