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February 3, 2012
A Falklands War, Round II?
They're at it again -- again, that is, for those of us who remember the Falklands War of 1982.
British and Argentine leaders are pounding on their chests, screaming defiance over a bunch of rocks in the South Atlantic most of you have probably never heard of. Yet it's shaping up to be a big deal in the U.K. -- or at least a major distraction from the EU, the euro, and the Scots' referendum on independence. There were questions in Parliament this week -- and threats of war from both countries' governments.
Why should we Americans care? Well, we shouldn't -- except for when it comes to what Britain's predicament over the Falkland Islands tells us about ourselves.
The conflict itself is uninteresting. Yet that thirty-years-ago war (and a comparison to the state of the British military and government today) carries a couple of important lessons for Americans in this 21st-century presidential election year.
The contrast between then and now is telling. In 1982, Margaret Thatcher's Britain was able to quickly and handily defeat its enemy by a massive seaborne projection of military power -- specifically, confronted with the successful surprise invasion of a strategic possession 12,000 miles away. The Thatcher government dispatched three aircraft carriers, numerous supporting ships, submarines, and aircraft -- and thousands of troops. That was then.
Today, Her Majesty's Government has sent...well, a fancy 21st-century destroyer called the HMS Dauntless and Kate Middleton's husband. Prince William, according to today's London Telegraph, is beginning a six-week deployment off the Falklands with his RAF Search & Rescue Squadron. The Duchess, meanwhile -- apparently not preggers after all -- will console herself with a new puppy while she does public appearances alone.
That's a cute puppy. So's Wills. And neither will deter the Argentines a bit.
The Argentine government, you see, has twigged to a real problem the British have. Which is this: the Sceptered Isle doesn't really have a significant navy anymore.
In an interview last Sunday in the Telegraph, Sir Michael Jackson said that this time, Britain lacks the punch to retake the Falklands if the Argentines invade again.
"What if an Argentinian force was able to secure the [Falklands] airfield?" said the former chief of the General Staff (he also led Britain's invasion force in Iraq nine years ago). "Then our ability to recover the islands now would be just about impossible. We are not in a position to take air power by sea since the demise of the Harrier force."
What Sir Michael is saying is that the British military now lacks airlift and sealift capacity. Without an aircraft carrier deck to land on, Britain can't engage in force projection around the world. That's what a navy's for.
Britain has chosen to give hers up, rather than abandon her welfare state.
It's a hard lesson. Twice in the last twelve months -- first with the U.N.-sponsored Libyan intervention, and now in the Falklands -- Her Majesty's government has been shown up. That's the effect of the major defense cut-backs initiated by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition after they took power in May 2010. Unless present trends are reversed, the British Lion will soon have few or no teeth.
Here at home, the process which is nearing its end in Great Britain has begun -- just as it did in 1993, when another Democratic president named Bill Clinton took office. After 2001, President Bush stopped that decline in America's military strength. But he did not (except for modest growth in our land forces) reverse it.
And that highlights the other big difference between Great Britain then and the U.K. today.
In 1982, the U.K. was led by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Just as she later did when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the "Iron Lady" refused to acquiesce to aggression. She had a muscular military, maintained it -- and used it. In the United States at the same time, under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the U.S. military -- especially the Navy -- was rebuilt and modernized to a size and capability not seen since the 1950s.
Thirty years later, it's a Conservative-led government which is completing the downsizing (and likely disintegration) of the United Kingdom. And, similarly, here at home, America's position in the world is threatened again -- by its own government.
President Obama and the Democrats have announced that they will downsize the already-too-small American military (not to mention announcing this week another precipitous withdrawal from the Asian mainland -- this time from Afghanistan). The Democrats' objective, quite obviously, is to do over the next decades what successive Labour Governments did to Great Britain beginning a half-century ago: dismantle it, socially, economically and militarily, creating a culture of dependency which consumes the resources needed to maintain America as the world's sole superpower.
So there's a reason to watch the developing Falklands crisis. We may be about to get a most salutary lesson in what happens when superpowers decide to stop being superpowers. This phenomenon is actually something new in human history.
As for the Brits and their little problem in the Falklands: maybe they can borrow an aircraft carrier from the French or the Italians. I hear those guys still have some.
I don't think the Chinese will lend them theirs.
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