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British ‘monitor Argentine military revamp’

President Cristina Fernandez offers an envelope titled "UN Resolution, Malvinas" to British Prime Minister David Cameron, during the G20 Summit of World leaders in Los Cabos, Mexico, on June 19, 2012.
By Francisco Aldaya
Herald staff

English daily The Sunday Express plays up armed forces budget hike as threat to Malvinas

British newspaper The Sunday Express claimed yesterday that “British military chiefs were last night (Saturday) ‘carefully monitoring’ developments after Argentina announced a 3 billion pounds sterling (39.2 billion peso) revamp of its armed forces.”

The Herald called The Express’ newsdesk to request the source of the figures mentioned in the piece, but was told to contact its author, Marco Giannangeli, on Tuesday.

According to the 2014 Budget, submitted to Congress back in September, the government has allocated 11.346 billion pesos to updating and acquiring military equipment for the next five years, about 866 million pounds.

The sum includes the purchase of sixteen 30-year-old “French Mirage fighter jets from Spain” to which the article refers, along with building radars, modernizing Hercules transport aircrafts and the continuation of the construction of the nuclear-propelled Santa Fe submarine, which began in the 1980s and interrupted in the 1990s.

The Express’ claim that defence spending will increase by “33.4 percent this year, the biggest rise in its history,” actually clocks in at a 26.7 percent hike the funds assigned to the sector in the 2013 Budget. Although most of the spending will go toward the acquisition of second-hand equipment — Spain’s 30-year old Mirage jets can only be used for another 10 years, arriving only to replace their 40-year old predecessors — the article’s claim that that “a range of high-tec capabilites for the army and the formation of new commando and special forces units,” without any sources cited.

The piece claims that such developments would grant Argentina the “ability to attack Port Stanley (Puerto Argentino) airfield with laser guided bombs,” and that “Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has refused to confirm that Britain would retake the Falklands if they were overrun by enemy forces.”

This tone of paranoid seems particularly over-the top-when taking into account the Argentine government’s only-by-diplomatic-means approach to the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom over the islands, also assumed by late former presidents Néstor Kirchner, Carlos Menem and Raúl Alfonsín.

The notion that Argentina would threaten Britain’s established military prowess with the former assigning, proportionally, the budget for the armed forces in all of South America is not infrequent in British media and certain politicians’ rhetoric.

Argentina spent about 0.8 percent of GDP on the military last year, according to the Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayoría consultancy. The World Bank reports spending of 0.9 percent of GDP as an average for the 2009-2013 period, compared to Brazil’s 1.5, Chile’s 2.0, Uruguay’s 1.9, Peru’s 1.3, Colombia’s 3.3 and Ecuador’s 2.8.

Yesterday evening, Defence Minister Agustín Rossi referred to the article: “Argentina is a country whose Defence does not work with a hypothesis of conflict... We request dialogue.”

Regarding the inflated sum reportedly invested, Rossi said, “I wish,” confirming that “since 2003, investment in Defence has been between 0.8 and one percent of GDP.”

When oil is involved

According to the Express (Daily Express from Monday to Saturday), the perceived escalation by Argentina hinges on oil and gas exploration in the South Atlantic archipelago. President Fernández “de Kirchner’s new Malvinas Secretary Daniel Filmus sent over 200 letters to oil firms threatening fines of up to US$1.5billion and 15-year-jail terms if they drilled without consent,” the article read, without specifying that a bill ratifying such punishment for exploration activities was passed by parliament.

Such exploration activities suddenly seem bleak, however, with The Sunday Times recently writing that “the Falklands (Malvinas) oil boom is about to end in nightmare.”

The only companies that seemingly have the technology to conduct exploration works in Malvinas “are BP and Shell,” but they are reluctant to do so to avoid “being excluded from exploration at (the) Vaca Muerta” shale oil and gas formation in Neuquén and Mendoza on the continent, for now leaving companies like Premier Oil stranded on the islands while the amount of fuel actually recoverable is yet unconfirmed.

The territory is considered an integral part of Argentina, and the government has applied economic pressure in coherence with this premise, with no avenue for negotiation surfacing in the near future as Britain refuses to sit down to talk without the presence of the Malvinas government.

For now, the flying allegations between Fernández de Kirchner and the David Cameron administrations, the latter leader of whom recently said “Argentina will never succeed” in its claim,” are still regularly employed as smoke screens to veil domestic affairs or as fodder for sensationalist weekend stories.

@franma1990

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