Monday, April 02, 2007

History lessons

There's something ironic about the fact that, as we mark 25 years since the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, we find ourselves once more in a situation where a belligerent and fascistic regime has acted with aggression against us.

In 1982, just as now, there were those who had urged diplomatic caution - appeasement, by another name - rather than risk "upsetting" the aggressors. The result was an all out war involving land, sea and air forces.

People forget that the Falklands War actually began in 1976 - while Britain was under a Labour government - when Argentina invaded and occupied another British territory, Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands. The response of the Labour government - when they eventually found out a month later - was to protest, but rule out sending military forces to retake the island. Instead, a small force was sent to The Falklands to discourage the Argentinians from immediately invading those.

It was this failure to act decisively on the issue of South Thule - sovereign British territory, albeit uninhabited - that was to lead eventually to the Argentinians later invading and occupying South Georgia and The Falklands. By the time they did, as we all know, there had been a change of government and in place of the craven appeasers of the Callaghan government, we were led by a woman of decisive action, Margaret Thatcher. South Thule was retaken 6 days after the Argentinian surrender on The Falklands - and almost 6 years after it had been invaded and occupied.

It is the nature of history that we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past if we refuse to learn from them. Appeasement does not and will not work with certain regimes. Worse still, failure to act decisively usually encourages the aggressor. That was the lesson of the Falklands which all the appeasers forget (conveniently - just as they forget the lesson of WW2).

What is needed is a swift and decisive response that sends a clear message to the aggressors that we will not tolerate this. It should be delivered in the form of an ultimatum with a hard and fast deadline and must be backed up with the capability to enforce that ultimatum. It's no good just stating publicly that so and so must do something immediately - and then repeating it a week later. You have to tell the aggressor - do this by this time or we will take action. If they fail to respond, then you act. And that action should not be just to repeat the same demand, but extend the deadline by another week!

In 2004 - the last time this happened - Britain adopted the appeasement line and claimed "success" for that approach when the soldiers were released after 3 days. The current situation confirms that the appeasement - the diplomatic - approach had actually failed and that, if anything, the aggressors have been even more bold in their contempt for Britain and that their attitudes have hardened rather than been "appeased".

In 2004 it was eight sailors, released after 3 days. This time it is fifteen sailors, their boats and equipment captured and held, so far, for over a week. What will it be next - a frigate and her crew?

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