Naval Diplomacy

April 2012


The dispatch of HMS Dauntless (D33) to the Falkland Islands is likely to put a virtual stop to suggestions and speculation Argentina might attempt a military campaign as part of the recent tensions surrounding the islands. While it is possible to suggest that the presence of Prince William as one of the helicopter pilots gave the Falkland Islands issue more visibility to the tensions surrounding the oil and Argentina with the British public, it is ultimately the presence of a single Royal Navy warship and the rumor of an associated submarine protecting the islands that gives both the local population and commentating analysts confidence that the islands are safe from adventurism – whether that adventurism from Argentina is real or imagined.

In a recent Guardian interview, part of the larger coverage on the Falkland Islands war that occurred 20 years ago, Rear Admiral Sir John Forster Woodward offered his tactical perspective on events in the Falklands today.

If the Falklands are ever captured by Argentina it will be impossible to win them back, says Woodward. “We could not retake the Falklands. We could not send a task force or even an aircraft carrier. If we had been in this state in 1982, the Falklands would be the Malvinas. We rely on sending reinforcements by air, but that would be impossible if we lost control of the airfield at Mount Pleasant.”

He is not, however, as despairing as that sounds. “The problem doesn’t arise, because they won’t be taking it,” he says, rapping his knuckles on the kitchen table for luck. “I hope I’m right.”

His hope is based on the recent arrival of the destroyer HMS Dauntless. “We need her surface-to-air missiles. The Argentines might hope to overcome the four Typhoon jets at Mount Pleasant with a dozen Mirages and then bomb the airfield out of action, but while she’s there with her missiles they won’t try that. I’m not sure the Government understands how important she is.”

Argentina believes Britain has also sent a nuclear-powered attack submarine, or SSN, which the MoD neither confirms nor denies. As an expert submariner, Woodward sees the use. “If they want to invade, it will have to be by sea and an SSN will chop them up. They know that.”

If you haven’t read the article, it is worth reading in its entirety. Also worth reading is this article from Chris Parry in the Daily Mail.

The inherent capability of seapower to dissuade aggression is often taken for granted, until it is plainly obvious. It is highly questionable whether HMS Dauntless (D33) is actually preventing a new war in the Falklands, as it is highly questionable whether Argentina would ever try to take the islands by force again, but it is very clear that the presence of credible naval power will cease the tension that comes from speculating about military action.

What the presence of HMS Dauntless (D33) around the Falkland Islands does is clarify the costs to Argentina of military adventurism, specifically forcing Argentina to adjust any calculations potentially made undertaking a military option to retake the Falkland Islands. In any scenario where two sides face off against each other in diplomatic disputes, the addition of military power by either side forces adjustments to the cost calculations of the other side.

With that said, the Royal Navy is the smallest it has been in centuries, and today is too small to sustain deployments of Type 45 destroyers or nuclear attack submarines for the protection of the Falkland Islands indefinitely. When HMS Dauntless (D33) leaves the region, should a similar replacement not show up – it is a safe bet that the political rhetoric and tension will return to the Falkland Islands.

One final thought. It is still remarkable – to say the least – that a single warship in the 21st century can still carry with it so much political influence and virtually cease the potential for tension through the forward deployed presence of credible naval power alone. In a nation with a large Navy like the US Navy, the value of a single ship is often taken for granted by the political leaders and the people of the United States who enjoy the benefits that come from being a large naval power, but in a small Navy like the Royal Navy, the influence of naval power stands evident today to one and all.

Posted by galrahn in Maritime Security, Navy

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  • Byron

    If anything convinces Argentina not to try it, it’s the rumor that a Brit SSN is patrolling the area. The RN destroyer is, as they say, a nice bit of kit, but it’s just a destroyer with finite magazines and it’s only one destroyer.

  • TheMightyQ

    I hope that Undersecretary Work gets to read this, especially in light of the most recent DON 2013 Long Range Shipbuilding Plan Report to Congress. PRESENCE MATTERS. A BAMS UAV or a P-8 may be able to view a situation, but under no circumstances will one deter another entity from taking actions against US interests. For reasons to numerous to write here, we have allowed our ship numbers to dwindle to levels not seen since before World War I.

    If we wish to have global interests, then we must maintain a global navy. If we do not wish to prioritize naval shipbuilding, then we must admit that there will be interests that we cannot protect. It is just that simple. Increased deployment lengths and periodicity are not a long term solution. They will only wear out the fleet faster. It is not a difficult concept to understand.

  • Still the Dauntless is very weak in ASuW and if the SSN were not there, the Argentine Navy really would not have much trouble taking it out.

  • Tom

    Admiral Woodward is rather optimistic to assume that the Dauntless is carrying any surface-to-air missiles.

  • Matt C.

    Falklands = 30 years ago (2012 – 1982 = 30).

    The Might Q – reconaissance can actually do a heck of a lot to deter an adversary, particulary when one knows they are being watched.