Leaders: Argentina tests Britain’s resolve
LIKE the rules of political mastery, which have changed little since Machiavelli’s The Prince in 1513, the rules of international diplomacy are still largely the same as they were centuries ago. While the way countries wage war has changed beyond imagining, the way they try to prevent wars and jockey for international advantage has not.
The Ministry of Defence may well say that the sending of HMS Dauntless – one of the Royal Navy’s most modern warships – to the South Atlantic is merely “routine”. But in the context of the impending 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, and increasingly vocal claims on the sovereignty of the islands from the Argentine government, the deployment must be seen as what it most surely is: a classic case of gunboat diplomacy.
That is not to say it is unjustified. It would be unwise to dismiss the intensification of Argentine anger over the Malvinas as just sabre-rattling for internal political purposes. Anniversaries of highly charged moments in history can themselves be highly charged, and therefore unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Argentine accusations that Britain is “militarising” the South Atlantic, and the claim that the nuclear-armed submarine HMS Vanguard is patrolling the area, are a deliberate and calculated challenge to Britain. They are intended – as a classic manoeuvre from the international diplomacy gamebook – as a test of Britain’s resolve.
As former Royal Marine Brigadier Ian Gardiner reminds us in his article in The Week today, a primary purpose of Britain’s determined response to the Argentine invasion in 1982 was to ensure that the Soviet Union would not detect any reluctance on the part of the UK to honour its many military and diplomatic commitments around the globe, often in more politically sensitive areas than the cold waters around Port Stanley.
Thirty years on, it is possible to see similar exploratory prodding going on in some of the most combustible regions around the globe. In the diplomatic manoeuvring around the conflict in Syria, the face-off is not just between President Assad and those who would remove him from office; it is also between the western powers that would like to see a democracy in Syria and the eastern powers of Russia and China who – with leaders in a more belligerent frame of mind than for many years – are flexing their muscles on the world stage. Russia and China are keen to explore how far they can take their current dominance in international affairs. The West is economically stagnant, militarily exhausted by adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and – in the case of the United States – about to be consumed by an election campaign dominated by domestic troubles, not geopolitics.
Here in Britain, it will not have gone unnoticed by the Argentines that unprecedented defence cuts have left the UK with a denuded military capacity and some glaring weaknesses – the most celebrated being the prospect of new aircraft carriers with no planes to put on them for up to nine years. Even more than it has ever been in the past, Britain is militarily dependent on its allies – the undoubted victory in Libya was achieved with help from, among others, the French, the Americans and the Danes. Would Britain need a willing ally in any new military adventure in the South Atlantic? And if so, would it be able to find one? This is one of the questions the Argentine government is attempting to answer.
Welcome to international diplomacy, designed in the 19th century and very much still in fashion.
Tablet hard to swallow
TO THOSE of us educated in an age when new technology in the classroom was represented by the latest model of tawse, calls for every school pupil in the country to be given a tablet computer represent a Tomorrow’s World vision of Scottish education. On the surface it is an appealing prospect, particularly as its proponents argue that it would address the problem of unequal access to technology, which hands an advantage to children whose parents can afford home computers, and disadvantages those without such access.
Like anything bright and shiny, however, it is best to look past the surface appeal and examine the practicalities. The best advantage in individual tablets would be for the pupils to take them home for homework and other usage. But will those who do not have access to the internet at home then be disadvantaged? They come at a considerable cost to tight budgets – is this the best thing for pupils?
Research in America also suggests that hopes of tablet computers being cheaper than textbooks in the long run have proved premature, largely because of the insistence of textbook publishers that digital versions of their works could not be transferred from pupil to pupil as they moved up years, but would have to be paid for anew. The case for this digital revolution is yet to be proven.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
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Wind direction: West