We’re rapidly approaching the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War (April to June 1982), which saw the British military reclaim the United Kingdom’s remote South Atlantic island possessions from Argentine invaders.
Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, a former British Army chief of staff, recently made headlines when he proclaimed that defense cuts make it “just about impossible” for British naval forces to wrest back the Falklands should Argentina occupy them again. The Royal Navy retired aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal last year, leaving the navy with zero capacity to project fixed-wing air power by sea until the troubled Queen Elizabeth-class flattops enter service, presumably around the end of this decade. London also sold the nation’s entire inventory of Harrier jump jets to the U.S. Marine Corps for spare parts, leaving the navy with zero air power to project until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter enters service, also around the end of the decade.
Like nature, power politics abhors a vacuum. It’s probably no coincidence that Buenos Aires is ramping up its demands for the islands as Britain’s capacity to re-conquer them dwindles. Economically stagnant Argentina desperately wants to tap the natural resources found in the waters and seabed adjacent to the Falklands. A recent series of oil discoveries – most recently in the “Sea Lion” field eighty miles north of the islands – has spurred talk of a “black gold rush” in the South Atlantic. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has reproached London for exhausting “Argentinean natural resources” while vowing to “get [the islands] back.” Meanwhile, Britain’s shrinking expeditionary capability has reduced officials like Brig. Bill Aldridge, commander of British forces in the South Atlantic, to insisting that it matters little whether the British military can recover the Falklands; it will never lose them in the first place. Declares Aldridge, “I am not expecting to hand the islands over to anybody and therefore put us in a position to have to retake the islands.”