Falklands warning: Britain told DON’T take any chances and risk Argentina invasion
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Lord West, who was Chief of the Naval Staff from 2002 to 2006, served during 1982’s Falklands War as the commander of HMS Ardent, and was the last to leave the vessel after it was sunk in Falkland Sound on May 21. His gallantry earned him the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of his leadership. Argentina’s former military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion on April 2.
Then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded by sending a task force to the South Atlantic, which recaptured the islands after three months of fighting.
However, Baron West believes the conflict – which claimed almost 1,000 lives – was triggered by cost-cutting measures, which he said should serve as a lesson to the Government, currently in the midst of an integrated defence review which Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser, is believed to be overseeing.
Lord West told Express.co.uk: “There is no doubt – and we know this from the intelligence post-war is that the decision that was made to pay off the patrol ship HMS Endurance, which was the only presence that we had down in the South Atlantic, was an indicator which Galtieri thought and Argentina thought showed the UK was not taking the situation seriously.
“That was the final thing which made them think ‘Let’s go for it and capture it because they are not going to be bothered to try and get it back’.
“So that was one of the key things which led to the invasion, and that’s accepted now.”
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The lesson that was learned from the Falklands is that if you cut your defence forces they think there is an opportunity
Baron West of Spithead
The savings which were going to be accrued over a ten-year period from getting rid of Endurance were in the region of £16millon, Baron West said, in comparison with the £3.5billion cost of recapturing the British overseas territory.
He added: “The lesson here is not so much in the Falklands itself as it is more general.
“If you give the wrong message to people then instead of stopping things and stability it creates wars.
“I think this is very pertinent today because there is an integrated defence review going on and I have no doubt at all that they will cut defence.
“There’s not enough in the budget for the MoD to do all the procurement necessary and there is no doubt this review will cut it even more.”
Baron West warned: “The lesson that was learned from the Falklands is that if you cut your defence forces they think there is an opportunity.
“I don’t think the Argentinians are going to launch an attack on the Falklands but if we lower our guard, if we removed our forces from the Falklands, I think it is quite a possibility that at some stage an Argentinian government would come into power that thought ‘well hang on a minute, let’s have another bash at this’.
“You have 14 dependencies around the world and you can always get some incident by one of them if the people don’t think they are being looked after.
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“If you look at the tensions in the far east, the Australians have just lifted their defence budget by 40 percent because they have said China is threat.
“The Japanese have just increased their defence budget to 52.5 trillion yen.
“These countries are clearly aware that you need to have a military capability.
“Yet somehow we seem to miss the point in this country until it is too late almost.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk last year, Gavin Short, news editor of Falklands Radio, said the invasion continued to cast a long shadow over the islands almost 40 years later.
He added: “I have often said to folk that before we lost it, I would have been hard-pressed to describe what ‘liberty’ was but by golly you knew what it was when it was taken away from you. It was a horrible experience.
“Compared to what folk are still experiencing in Afghanistan, Syria and bits of Africa, our experience would probably be seen as a walk in the park but it was truly awful to not have a future.
“To be surrounded by gun-toting foreigners with whom we shared nothing in common apart from the fact we both walked on our hind legs.”
Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez, who was elected last year, has made it clear he wants to put the question of sovereignty firmly back on the agenda as a “matter of state” – although there is no suggestion he would back military action.
The Ministry of Defence’s website states: “Forces are based in the Falklands to demonstrate the government’s continued commitment to the security of UK overseas territories in the south Atlantic.
“They include air defence assets, maritime patrol capability and infantry forces.
“There are also regular naval deployments to the region and temporary deployments for routine exercises.
“The exact force levels are kept under constant review and are structured and maintained at a level consistent with this policy.”
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