I’ve today read an interesting editorial in SARTA (the South Atlantic Remote Territories Media Association) entitled “UK Press Play Bait and Switch with Falklands Self- Determination” by their regular correspondent J.Brock who I understand is a Falkland Islander. Brock accuses the UK media of overplaying what he and the Falkland Government insist is a non-existent Argentine military threat to the Islands, while “shamefully’ ignoring Argentina’s determined economic, political and diplomatic harassment.
I’ll quickly agree with Brock that UK media are indeed “shamefully” ignoring the Falklands’ problems in favour of finding critical stories about the defence cuts. They write about news of interest to UK readers/viewers (dare I call them consumers?) The Falklands are too far away to be of interest – unless of course something serious happens…
However my interest is purely in the UK military dimension of all this, set against my background as a Falklands War veteran. I truly would not wish to see my son (to be commissioned into a cavalry regiment on December 17th) sent South, as we were in 1982. The price we paid for the FCO’s inadequacy, bungling and arrogance was far too great.
I’ve noted in the past, an understandable desire by Falkland Islanders to down-play the Argentine threat. Self-preservation makes this understandable. Why taunt the playground bully? The Falkland Island Government argue that unlike in 1982, there are now sufficient military forces on the Islands to deter an invasion, satellite imagery to warn of pre-deployment build-up in Argentina, with contingency plans to reinforce from UK. They also quote the Argentine promise never to ‘militarily’ invade.
From the diplomatic point of view this is all fine and correct. But, especially in Argentina, things change very rapidly. Discovering significant oil around the Islands, further economic problems in Argentina, and a switch from minority liberal politics back to the blue-collar right wing supported by Argentina’s effective, well-organised military, makes things completely different.
Defence planning can only be done in ten year slices. Once a capability like operating Harriers from ski-jump carriers is removed – along with it (to all intents and purposes) the Fleet Air Arm – for operational planning that’s a permanent cut. If reinstituted at some time in the future, that capability will take a very long time to regain.
Such things – as with HMS Endurance’ scrapping in 1982, send signals, altering the diplomatic status quo upon which diplomatic assessments are made. A friend involved with the Falklands Rockhopper oil company believes as I do, that discovering oil will create a huge provocation and he believes irresistible temptation for Argentina.
Returning to the defence cuts, the UK very obviously isn’t thinking about the Falklands as it makes these cuts. It’s thinking about the UK economy and ‘winning’ in Afghanistan. Why otherwise scrap Ark Royal and chose to keep land-based Tornados rather than Harriers? The UK is not in fact thinking strategically about its foreign policy responsibilities, just saving money – and Afghanistan.
Even in our enlightened world of UN Charter Chapter One, 2-1 ‘guaranteeing’ the Islanders’ right to self-determination, a nation still has to be able to enforce the law with military capability. And with regard to defending or re-taking the Falklands, the UK will certainly have to operate on its own. And I really don’t think we can rely on the brave pilots of four Eurofighter Typhoons, and however many of our submariners the Royal Navy is able to deploy south in time – the South Atlantic being huge and very rough.
The arithmetic of deterrence is very different to that of warfighting. With regard to the latter, it may add up – even though to me it doesn’t. But the arithmetic of warfighting very definitely does not add up.
As we saw in the 1990-1 Gulf War when the UK was able only to deploy two actual fighting armoured brigades from its entire Germany ‘deterrence’ corps, forces designed to deter suddenly lose their deterrence value when the enemy is no longer put off, decides the prize is worth the risk, and makes a move.
With respect to J Brock, I will attach below his comments regarding the current Argentine acts against the Falkland Islanders, in the hope that other UK media might pick them up. To me however, this only further justifies my view that the Islands are inevitably going to be taken over by Argentina at some time, regardless of the feelings of the Islanders.
My Advice to Argentina
My advice to Argentina, which I have in the past had the temerity to proffer personally to both their London ambassador and political minister, is to be so nice to the Islanders that they end up actively wanting to become Argentine. However, given the huge disparity between average incomes etc etc in the two countries, such a radical change of heart is highly unlikely.
All Argentina has to do is wait. There’s no need to hassle the Islanders. Unless the Royal Navy can manage to turn around these current defence cuts – and future ones too, Britain’s’ capability will decline to the point at which the deterrence value of the Mount Pleasant force is no longer effective.
With oil flowing and harassment having no effect, what do you think Argentina is likely to do next?
Here’s what J Brock says:
A political lack of will [by Argentina] to use military force for an invasion of the Falklands leaves the door open [for them] to explore other more delicious ways of hurting the Islands.
The Argentines have put alternatives to good use in diplomacy and in economics in failing to comply with the terms of the 1999 Agreement signed on 14 July 1999 by the then Foreign Secretary the late Rt Honourable Mr Robin Cook, MP and the late Hon Dr Guido Di Tella, Argentina’s Foreign Minister. Some of those ignored terms include:
1. Co-operation in the fishing industry especially with straddling stocks, the sharing of data and joint scientific cruises. Several cruises had taken place and data had been shared. This stopped in 2007.
2. The set up of a joint area of co-operation for hydrocarbons exploration. There were 6-monthly meetings that ceased sometime before 2007.
3. One flight a week via LAN Chile. One flight a month would land in Argentina at Rio Gallegos and one flight a month would stop at Rio Gallegos prior to flying to the Falklands. Other flights would be from Punta Arenas in Chile. Though this flight is lucrative and hasn’t stopped the Argentines have tried by saying that the government had changed and the rights to fly to the Falklands had been rescinded. This did not wash with the appropriate authorities and the flight continues.
However, Argentina under both Kirchner governments instituted several sanctions against the Falklands which hurt our ability to develop international business with South America. At the end of 1998 and at the beginning of 1999 there was a charter flight ban, meaning that no charter flight could over-fly Argentine air space en route to the Falklands. This effectively hacked away at our tourism industry, forcing tour companies to base their operations in South America rather than the Falklands.
On 17 February 2010 Argentine President, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, issued Decree No 256/2010 and Disposition 14/210, meaning that all shipping going from Argentina to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands must ask Argentine authorities for permission. Subsequently they have denied Falklands shipping the right to innocent pass through their waters to other South American ports.
Diplomatic and Political Pressure:
Most recently the Argentines have called the UK Ambassador in Buenos Aires to a dressing down over routine missile firing at Port Harriet on East Falkland despite this being a twice annual event for the past 28 years. Other events included:
1. Engineering the unwitting signing of the Rio Group Declaration 2010, including a section about approving negotiations between Britain and Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, by a group of Caribbean British Overseas Territories
2. Pressure on the Mayor of Punta Arenas, Chile for allowing student exchanges between that city and the Falkland Islands
3. Putting pressure on other States to un-invite Falklands’ scientists and politicians from international conferences
4. Influencing UK and US politicians and influential journalists to push the Argentine agenda regarding sovereignty over the Falklands
5. Generally persuading unwitting people that the Falkland Islands are Argentine Territory and that the British are there illegally
Written several ways the response says the same thing – I summarise:
1. Sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is not negotiable and
2. There will be no negotiations over sovereignty unless the people of the Falkland Islands want it
3. The people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self determination as enshrined in the UN Charter Chapter 1 Article 2 Subsection 2, stating that The purposes of the United Nations are friendly relations among nations based on respect, the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples.
4. Further detail can be found in UN Resolution 15.14 stating that All peoples have the right to self determination; by virtue of that right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Self-determination is a fundamental human right and as a British Overseas Territory it is an integral part of our Constitution; the newest revision being relevant on 01 January 2009.
The Falkland Islands’ Response:
Our Constitution affords the Falklands an internal self government with responsibilities for everything except defence and foreign affairs, meaning that FIG have the remit to offer exploration and exploitation licences for hydrocarbons in waters surrounding the Falklands.
If we had ‘colony’ status all of our income would go to the UK treasury in return for grant in aid. Becoming part of Tierra del Fuego would result in the same scenario. Islanders feel it best that we determine our own future and keep income from our resources for the betterment of the Falklands. That way we depend on no one. The Battle Day statement issued in the early ’90s reflects our determination to pay for our own defence as well as giving back to Britain some of the money spent on liberating us. Who knows, if hydrocarbons discoveries are significant we could pay it all back.
Islanders, being resourceful, also know how to seek alternatives. We are more apprehensive about the UK press than we ever would be about Argentines as Islanders know what they are capable of and expect any reaction to UK press reports to reflect negatively on them.
We plant more gardens with potatoes, carrots, Swede turnip and other greens and pay £1.20 for a medium sized tomato – when they are available. Wind-power has replaced 1/3rd of the energy required for electricity and other energy efficient and home grown measures are being used instead of importing hydrocarbons products.
Most of all, we source our disappoints and take them in stride while seeking viable alternatives as the exercise thus far has made us better, more efficient people.
Shame on you:
Elements of the UK press are focusing on a war that wont exist, allowing economic, political and diplomatic pressure from Argentina to wreak havoc on Falklands businesses and relations with other nations in the area to go unreported and ignored. Many Islanders feel that those elements of the UK press pushing for a war are doing their readership a disservice by keeping them from knowing what really is happening in the South Atlantic.
If you want a story that sells, try telling the truth. It’s better than the fiction you are putting out as fact.