Tensions In The South Atlantic


 w/e 27th January 2023

Whilst the world’s attention has been focussed on Ukraine there are other simmering tensions elsewhere, no more so in the South Atlantic. There are rumours that China has reached agreement with Argentina to establish a PLA naval base in the city of Ushuaia, in the province of Tierra del Fuego, which in effect would give China access to Antarctica.

If the allegations prove to be correct, this represents the latest iteration of China’s “Belt and Road” policy of strategic expansionism. The base will allow China to have a permanent enclave in the Southern Hemisphere and the ability to intercept all regional military and economic communications in the area as well as being able to monitor all maritime transit through the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Argentina has flirted with Beijing before and others have noted its growing influence in Argentina through trade and finance. There was also a suggestion that the South American country might begin to re-equip its air force with Sino-Pakistani JF-17 fighters back in 2021. This deal fell through because of financing difficulties, but the signs were enough for the USA to offer ex-Danish F-16 jets in their place to mitigate the growing Chinese ascendancy.

But this move has been stymied by the USA’s most loyal ally, Britain, in unforeseen and trying circumstances. Like most military jets manufactured by western nations, the F-16 is equipped with British-manufactured ejection seats designed by the Martin Baker company. Post the Falklands War of 1982, the UK has imposed a ban on arms exports to Argentina, and this includes proposed arms sales by third parties which include British manufactured components.

The reason for this is, of course, that Argentina still claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and is still regarded by the UK as a potential aggressor, no matter how unlikely that would seem to be in today’s international relations scenario.

The result, for the moment anyway, is impasse. The USA cannot sell its fighters to Argentina unless the UK relents on its arms embargo, and it is unlikely to do this without guarantees from the US that British sovereignty over the Falklands is sacrosanct. And, in the meantime, China’s influence continues to spread.

Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available for pre-order now

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