It was thirty years ago on Monday that war erupted between Argentina and Great Britain for control of the tiny Falkland Islands. A lot has changed for both countries since then. As the Financial Times reports, decades of cuts to the defense budget have left Britain’s Royal Navy with about 20 surface combat vessels, a sharp decline from 1982, when it had more than 50:
Crucially, Britain has no aircraft carrier in service and, while two are being built, they will not be operational for another decade.“The ships that the navy has today are considerably more sophisticated than they were three decades ago,” says Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank. “But in many ways, the UK is weaker. There is . . . no way in which today’s much-smaller British fleet could lose ships on the scale it did in 1982 and still go on to win the war.”
Fortunately for the British, the Argentine military has decayed even more rapidly.Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has made a concerted push to reclaim the Falklands, pressing her country’s claim over the islands in a multitude of domestic and foreign tribunals, but as the Wall Street Journal details, Kirchner’s bark is much worse than her bite:
Argentina’s military spending, which had been about 3% of GDP at the time of the Falklands War, has fallen steadily to 0.9% of GDP by 2010, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank. Today, even as Mrs. Kirchner has elevated overall public spending to historic highs, Argentina’s military budget is at a record low both as a percentage of GDP and of the total budget, said political scientist Rosendo Fraga.
Just how toothless has the Argentine tiger become? According to the Journal, the country’s defense ministry refused to put tanks on the street during its bicentennial celebration in 2010 because it was worried they would break down along the parade route. There were no air force flyovers either, since 15 planes have crashed in the last 11 years as a result of old age and lack of maintenance. Even Argentina’s great rival, Chile, has an army that is nearly 1.5 times larger, despite having a population one third that of its neighbor.The British earned a decisive victory in 1982, and the Argentinians are still smarting from their defeat. Much of Kirchner’s saber rattling, therefore, is likely intended only for domestic consumption. Given the parlous state of Argentina’s military, Britain’s war planners are probably not losing much sleep over the Falklands.