Clausewitz and the Falkland Islands Air War

By Pereyra, Rodolfo | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Clausewitz and the Falkland Islands Air War

Pereyra, Rodolfo, Air & Space Power Journal

Editorial Abstract:

Major Pereyra applies Carl von Clausewitz's classic ideas about warfare to analyze aerial operations in the Falklands/Malvinas War of 1982. The author's status as an officer in the Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya (Uruguayan air force) affords him a unique perspective of that unfortunate clash between Argentina and Great Britain. Readers may profit from his examination of basic concepts such as center of gravity, friction, and the relationship between politics and military operations.

THE FALKLAND ISLANDS WAR of 1982 remains fresh in our memory, particularly in the minds of air force personnel from Latin American countries. One can attribute this fact to several factors, such as the major role of one of these countries in the conflict, Latin America's geographical proximity to the area where the war occurred, and the ability to gather information from veterans. From a professional perspective, studying the war is attractive because of the dominant role of aerial combat in defining the islands' destiny. Specifically, interest focuses on how the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) (Argentinian air force) and Navy air component managed to frighten the prestigious British Royal Navy, which enjoyed superiority in weapons and technology. Thus, this article uses the Argentinian air component as the center of gravity, without overlooking the series of events leading to armed conflict, for the purpose of making connections between the evolving events and the philosophical concepts in Carl von Clausewitz's On War. The interpretative complexity of this book is well known, but the article seeks to highlight certain events to help us think about and track down the facts in a different way. This approach will also let us determine if the concepts outlined in On War, dating from as far back as 1831, still apply because history has proven that military leaders base their decisions on the counsel of various thinkers, including the Prussian military strategist.

Political Aspects and Objectives

In 1982 the political destiny of the Republic of Argentina lay in the hands of a military government (imposed after Maria Estela Martinez de Peron fell from power in 1976), with Gen Leopoldo Fortunate Galtieri acting as president and army chief of staff. During the previous year, Galtieri had replaced Gen Roberto Viola, and because of his professional background, everybody thought that his mandate would be moderate, transitional towards democracy, and contrary to Argentina's integration with the nonaligned countries, thus negating any risk of a military campaign in the South Atlantic. However, the deteriorating economy inherited from the previous government infused in General Galtieri the idea of recovering the Falkland Islands, a British colonial bastion since 1833, to reverse his government's fortunes and cover up economic difficulties.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative Party representative, led Great Britain in 1982. Despite the fact that she had won a second term by a large margin, in March of that year her popularity declined because of high unemployment (affecting more than two million persons) and economic problems; indeed, her government appeared destined to become the worst in British history. But the possibility of winning an armed conflict such as the one in the Falkland Islands would give her government an opportunity to overcome the crisis and restore British pride. According to Clausewitz, "War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means."1 This definition applied to both governments because the war confronting them would settle their diplomatic differences by other means and produce a political instrument to overcome each country's difficult internal situation.

On 2 January 1833, Capt John Onslow, commanding the corvette Clio, took possession of the Falkland Islands on behalf of Great Britain. …

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