Reconsiderations: The War of the Falkland Islands, 1982

The Argentine destroyer ARA Santísima.

The War of the Falkland Islands began with a successful invasion by Argentine forces on April 2, 1982, and ended with their surrender to British forces ten weeks later. It was a textbook example of a limited war-limited in time, in location, in objectives and in means. Care was taken when it came to the treatment of civilians and prisoners and only in the later stages did noncombatants get caught in the fighting. The military casualties were severe-800 to 1,000 Argentine and 250 British dead-but still only a small proportion of the forces committed.

In the character of the military operations, the clarity of the issues at stake and the unambiguous outcome, it was a curiously old-fashioned war. We have become used to wars of political complexity and strategic confusion. Such modern dramas were underway in the Middle East and Central America in 1982, compared with which the Falklands War came and went like something from the Victorian stage: a simple plot, a small but well-defined cast of characters, a story in three acts with a clear beginning, middle and end, and a straightforward conclusion that everybody could understand.

The limited and old-fashioned nature of the war should caution against trying to draw too much of wider significance out of the experience. Nevertheless, in an age of rapid technological development without regular opportunities to assess the current state of the military art, the details of any war will be picked over by those anxious for guidance on how to prepare for future conflicts. Professional observers expected much from this conflict: two belligerents capable of using advanced military technology properly and, there was reason to believe, the first major sea battles since 1945.

The search is therefore already underway for the lessons of the war. This article is concerned with that search, largely with the objective of encouraging a move away from a narrow preoccupation with the performance of individual items of hardware. My argument is that if there are lessons to be learned, they lie in recognizing

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