Britain and Argentina are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, and it's worth reflecting on the contemporary relevance of this conflict from an Asian perspective. Some initial thoughts:

  • Factors such as prestige and the saving of face will drive countries to war over pieces of territory which, from an economic perspective, are not worthy of the trouble and expense.
  • Smaller states are not always deterred from using force against a more powerful foe, even if the more powerful country possesses nuclear weapons. But nuclear weapons possibly do deter smaller states from broadening a conflict with a nuclear-armed power beyond a local event.
  • American allies in the Pacific who may find themselves in a scrap with a local rival should recall that Britain's 'special relationship' with the US did not bring with it unstinting support in the fight with Argentina. American interventions were hesitant and fairly neutral.
  • Some argue that the sinking of the Belgrano (above) showed that the era of the major surface combatant was over and that the future belonged to the submarine, while others say Britain's aircraft carriers played a decisive role in the conflict. This debate is still being played out today among Pacific maritime strategists.
  • The role of anti-ship missiles remains controversial in maritime warfare. Today, China's so-called 'carrier-killer' is seen as a potentially decisive weapon. Thirty years ago, Argentina's Exocets played havoc with the British fleet. Nevertheless, the Brits managed to get their troops ashore, and maritime strategists are still debating what that means: was the missile threat overhyped, or did the Argentines merely run out of Exocets?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.