Falklands rhetoric – calm down, folks.

So, 2013 has started with a decades-old spat between the UK and Argentina over the ownership of the Falkland Islands flaring up again, with strong rhetoric coming from both Buenos Aires and London within the last few weeks.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, prime minister David Cameron said the UK would maintain its strong defence of the disputed territory, which includes the continuous deployment of ground troops and Eurofighter Typhoon interceptors. This prompted jingoistic headlines here about how the UK would send a new task force to fight any repeat of Argentina’s 1982 invasion. But is it really likely to come to that?

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Armchair generals and bathtub admirals delight in warning how the UK’s armed forces could not mount a repeat of the famous campaign down south with today’s resources. No Harriers means no fixed-wing assets for the Royal Navy’s now lone aircraft carrier, and the Royal Air Force can no longer pull an Avro Vulcan bomber from retirement to conduct long-range psychological strikes.

But what these discussions fail to address is the state of Argentina’s own military, which has seen only limited equipment investment in the last 30 years. According to our recently-compiled World Air Forces directory, its air force only has a combined 76 aged combat aircraft, including A-4 Skyhawks, IA-58 Pampas, Mirage III/Vs and Neshers. Supporting those is just one KC-130H tanker and two Hercules transports; hardly the make-up of a future invasion force.

In a referendum later this year, the Falkland islanders will score their desire to keep living in a British overseas territory, so this argument is not going to go away. Argentina and its supporters in Latin America will continue to make life difficult for them, but we thankfully won’t see a repeat of the events of 1982.
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