New Falklands conflct seen as unlikely

March 9, 2010 at 6:12 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, March 9 (UPI) -- Despite Argentine moves toward military refurbishment and British buildup of air force and naval patrols in the South Atlantic, security analysts are not persuaded the tense stand-off after the oil drilling began will lead to an armed conflict in the Falklands.

Argentina and Britain went to war in 1982 when Argentine forces, under orders from a ruling junta, invaded the islands, only to be beaten back after 74 days of fighting that left about 900 people dead.

Analysts poring over defense data from Argentina and Britain were alerted to security industry monitoring of military events that followed the start of British-backed drilling in the waters of the Falklands basin.

Argentina revised earlier assessments of its military needs and defense procurement industry analysts indicated that rearmament, or at least refurbishment, of some of the Argentine armed forces would be a top priority for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Argentine defense officials were in talks in Europe to seek appropriate inventories for military refurbishments. Offers for military supplies also came from Russia, already a major supplier to Venezuela, after Russian officials visited Latin America last year and offered weapons and equipment on easy credit. No new deals were confirmed, however, but officials remain tight-lipped about what may be in the pipeline or under negotiation.

With tensions between Argentina and Britain running high, the military buildup is under a close watch from the security industries that see Argentina shifting priorities to better equip forces.

The Argentine military has been demanding modernization in key sectors of the defense establishment but has been rebuffed in the past by the government, which has seen its resources dwindle amid economic problems at home and the effect of the global downturn.

The military is also keen not to encourage the notion that a conflict with Britain should be completely ruled out, as that would eliminate its chances of winning government funding for much needed modernization, analysts said.

Government protests over the British exploration for hydrocarbons and tough warnings to shipping companies against becoming involved with the Falklands oil quest were both welcomed by supporters of an urgent modernization of Argentina's military.

Jane's security information provider analyst Robert Munks said a military conflict could be ruled out but intense diplomatic activity would likely continue.

"A further intensive round of diplomatic activity from the Argentines will now concentrate on shoring up regional support for its case from other Latin American countries

and presenting its annual case to the U.N. Decolonization Committee in June," Munks said, in comments reported by MercoPress.

But, he added, "It is nevertheless vital to stress that the current resurgence of interest in the Falklands carries no risk of military conflict between the two countries."

Argentina's return to democracy in 1983 and its pledge to pursue its claim to the islands through peaceful means underline that the military option is no longer viable, Munks said.

He predicted "a period of relative calm for some six to eight months" while the exploratory drilling for oil gained momentum at a range of concessions around the islands.

Munks acknowledged a major discovery of substantial hydrocarbon deposits could still aggravate tension between Argentina and Britain.

But, he added, "Even under this scenario, such tensions would not lead to any prospect of renewed, large-scale military hostilities between the United Kingdom and Argentina."

British analysts have speculated in the media the Argentine diplomatic posturing may be aimed at extracting concessions, even a share of the oil revenues, from Britain and Falklands.

A Falklands war veteran and media commentator, Simon Weston, wrote in The Sun tabloid newspaper, "I don't think that we are looking at another buildup to war."

Citing Argentina's economic difficulties, Weston said the Falklands were better defended than before the war in 1982.

"With the number of our armed forces out there plus our helicopters, the islanders are now far better protected -- plus we can get people in there quickly now. The circumstances in that way are totally different," Weston wrote.

Analysts believe the Argentine perception of a stronger British military presence in the Falkands strengthens the case of the Argentine generals, who want more spent -- and urgently -- on modernizing the country's armed forces.

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