The Falkland Islanders don’t need any more hassle than they’re getting at the moment from Argentina.
They also need to keep David Cameron’s nose to the grindstone.
The Brit Prime Minister is not thinking straight. I expect just as Prince William’s helicopter Flight was routinely due to do a Falkland tour over these 30th anniversary months, so too are 3 Para in line to provide the duty company to guard the Mount Pleasant airbase. But the symbolism of this was obvious months ago – as was the ludicrous invective it would stimulate from Buenos Aries. This meaningless hiatus could have been avoided by changing the deployment plans long before they became known publicly.
Instead, MoD and FCO officials decided “not to alter long-standing arrangements” – for which one cannot but agree with Argentine insistence that this was done to annoy them. And exactly who suffers from this?
Then there’s the mindset that drives current Falklands Islands defence plans – the air force belief that air power alone can solve problems, which politicians are always happy to embrace as it’s clean, seems less risky and isn’t as expensive as other options. Four Typhoons can shoot down 17 aircraft (allegedly), which takes care of Argentina’s aged and neglected air force. But they then need to land and re-load…. I know everyone is totally confident in the current defence plan in relation to the state of the Argentine air force. But the danger lies in tempting the Argentines to have a go – as was the underlying causal factor in 1982. Relying on four aircraft and one rifle company ++ is slim.
But this is all part of Whitehall judgement being based solely on money and cost, and not capability.
The MoD understands cost and is very good at maximising it; but not with creating capability at sensible cost.
Nobody’s really thought about what the UK’s strategic interests actually are – so there’s no coherent way of restructuring UK defences. This is why Julian Thompson and others (like me) use the Falklands to criticise the whole aircraft carrier nonsense. Others like the good Admiral Woodward over state which doesn’t ‘t help terribly much, but t’was always so…
For me personally the Falklands are at the top of my list of UK defence interests; especially with oil likely to totally confuse the issue. I confess this largely due to the investment of blood and other personal commodities by those of us who fought there in 1982. But the UK has other strategic interests for which (for example) having a proper aircraft carrier are essential. There are other requirements too: AWACs, infantry battalions, LPDs, gunships, artillery, modern tanks…. some of which are required in order to defend the Falklands.
But unless there is a list of the UK’s vital defence interests, how can anybody work out what’s needed and what can be cut? That’s the point at which – as in 1981 – someone in Whitehall decides it’s politically acceptable to say that the Falklands are no longer affordable. They’re saying this at the moment in private, but both parties fear too much the occurrence of a “Reverse Thatcher” to risk putting it forward as part of stringency measures.
Oil revenue isn’t likely to alter the equation very much, as defending oil rigs will greatly increase Falklands defence costs. With no friendly ports for 5,000 miles, and home being over 8,000, a carrier task group with submarines in support of a greatly reinforced Commachio Company looks to me like the only way to do it.