Thursday, 27 May 2010

Falklands War was not expensive

I have published already (see previous post) an abridged version of my 2007 thesis on the costs and benefits of the 1982 Falklands War.  This post contains my full conclusion to that thesis.  It is my belief that this is an original undertaking with important insights into the nature of the conflict, its costs and its consequences.

For a copy of my article in its entirety, with all tables and references, plus further reading, please feel free to contact me.
Nik Darlington, May 2010
            The more outspoken, left-wing, anti-war element of the Labour Party at the time, such as Tony Benn and Tam Dalyell, believed the reaction to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands to be unbalanced and that the ‘cumulative costs, for military personnel, British communities in Argentina and for UK interests in Latin America, far exceeded the damage caused by the invasion.'  My calculations have put the cost of the war itself, the Falklands garrison, replacement equipment and later equipment programmes at a total of £23,280 million (2005-06 prices).  Whilst three of those factors have long since expired, the contribution to the Falklands garrison shall continue at roughly £100 million each year.  However, aside from defence, the Falkland Islands are now entirely self-sufficient, and in 2002 their GDP per capita was amongst the highest in the world at £25,000.
The Falklands War has not been as expensive as it may immediately seem.  I have shown the short-term nature of the war’s costs – the supplementary Falklands budget was subsumed within the overall defence budget after 1990 – and how the cost of replacing and renewing equipment could actually be viewed as a beneficial long-term investment in newer and better materiel, a renewal process that would have had to have taken place at some point anyway.  The cost of maintaining a garrison on the Falkland Islands has also been shown to be a minor consideration in relation to other UK defence initiatives around the world, even when the Falklands garrison was at its most expensive during the mid-1980s.
            Defence expenditure also has its benefits for the national economy in terms of industry and employment.  Defence exports, in particular, provide an important boost to the balance of payments and employment, and official documents have linked the Falklands War to an improvement in the UK’s standing as a defence exporter.  Defence export figures suggest the same.
            Whilst the notion that the Falklands War saved the armed forces (primarily the Royal Navy) from John Nott’s cuts is actually something of a myth, the war indisputably enhanced the domestic and worldwide reputation of the British armed forces, their equipment, and the UK defence industry that supplied them.  Some of the military lessons learnt were also put to worthy use in improving the efficiency and capabilities of the armed forces, such as during Operation Granby, the liberation of Kuwait, in 1991.
            Many of the costs can be interpreted as benefits; yet whilst it has been particularly useful to the United Kingdom to have a strong and admired defence industry and armed forces, it can quite easily be argued that does not atone for the cost of almost a thousand human lives and more than £23 billion over twenty-five years.  In order to accept most of the benefits, one also needs to accept the necessity of strong national defence and a thriving defence industry.  As such, I contend that the war had to be fought, not because of the benefits to the UK defence industry or the balance of payments or even to the military improvements that were made possible.  The war had to be fought because the United Kingdom could not yield to unprovoked Argentine belligerence.  It was imperative to demonstrate that armed aggression against small, defenceless territories could not be allowed to succeed.
Shortly after the war an Argentine woman in Buenos Aires told a New Yorker reporter that ‘Thatcher deserves a statue in white marble here on the Plaza de Mayo.' That woman’s son had disappeared at the hands of the Argentine junta, which itself disappeared as a result of the country’s defeat in the Falkland Islands.  Whilst the cost of almost a thousand servicemen’s lives shall always be lamentable, one must not let that obscure the deaths of thousands (perhaps even tens of thousands) of Argentines from 1976 to 1983.  In that respect, when the Falklands costs are shown to have been short-term and slight when compared to the UK’s total defence costs, and when many of the costs also involved clear advantages, the twin benefits in standing up to Argentine aggression and causing the downfall of that country’s military rule make the Falklands War a price worth paying.

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