In recent months Argentina has stepped up its claim to the Falkland Islands and has persuaded the members of Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, to close their ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has accused Britain of increasing its military presence in the South Atlantic.
Argentina claims that the posting of Prince William to the Falklands is provocative, but Britain argues that it is a normal part of his duties as an RAF air sea rescue pilot. The Argentinians made a formal complaint to the UN after Britain sent HMS Dauntless, its most modern destroyer, to the South Atlantic. Britain points out that this is a routine deployment of one of its warships, and that it always has a guardship in the Falklands. Dauntless is a far more powerful and sophisticated ship than those that have been assigned to that duty in the past, but the declining size of the Royal Navy means that Britain has few ships available to send.
Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has now claimed that Britain has sent a Vanguard class nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic. Vanguard’s Trident nuclear missiles are capable of destroying a city such as Buenos Aires. Its presence in the South Atlantic would contravene the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. The movements of such boats are exceedingly secret and it is unlikely that Britain would send one to the South Atlantic. It is more likely that Britain has sent a nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarine to the South Atlantic. Such a boat would not threaten Argentina’s cities, but would be able to sink an invasion fleet.
It is unlikely that there will be an invasion. There’s been a lot of comment in the UK that Britain could not retake the Falklands as it did in 1982 since it no longer has aircraft carriers. In fact, this has probably been the case since 2006, when the Sea Harrier interceptors were taken out of service, leaving the RN with only Harrier GR9 ground attack aircraft, now also taken out of service. The Harrier GR9 could carry air to air missiles, but did not have the right type of radar to be a successful interceptor. What British commentators often ignore is that Argentina’s air force is obsolete and its navy is not capable of launching an amphibious assault against a garrison that is much larger than in 1982. There are only 4 Typhoon Eurofighters on the Falklands, but it is a far more modern aircraft than any possessed by Argentina.
A recent article in The Sunday Times (no link as it is behind a paywall) admitted that Argentina could not invade the Falklands by sea but postulated that Argentinian special forces could arrive in an airliner and seize Mount Pleasant airfield. It argued that this could succeed because most of the British garrison are not infantry, but it seems unlikely that such a venture could succeed when there are 500 British troops at Mount Pleasant.
Tensions have risen since oil has been found in the South Atlantic. Perhaps Argentina should remember that the safest way to make money from mineral prospectors is to supply prospectors rather than to prospect yourself.