Falklands 'feels safe' despite cuts
The government of the Falkland Islands has said it is "satisfied" that defence cuts were not leaving it vulnerable to an invasion by Argentina.
A group of former Royal Navy chiefs had cited the risk to the South Atlantic islands in a public call on the coalition not to scrap the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the fleet of Harrier jets.
In a letter to the Times, the commanders said the move would leave the oil-rich territory open to a fresh Argentinian attack "from which British prestige...might never recover". One, Lord West, said that if they were captured "we have absolutely no way whatsoever of recovering them unless we have got carrier air."
The fate of the islands has been a major issue in criticism of the cuts but their government said it had received assurances that the UK would maintain an effective deterrent.
"The Falkland Islands government is satisfied by, and grateful for, the level of defence on the islands which the British Government has assured us is suitable to maintain an effective deterrent," it said in a statement responding to the latest claims.
Buenos Aires has revived its demands for the islands it calls the Malvinas since oil firms began explorations for possible reserves in Falklands waters earlier this year.
The senior retired commanders, who also included former Admiral of the Fleet Sir Julian Oswald, Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Vice-Admiral John McAnally and Major-General Julian Thompson, said the Harrier decision was "strategically and financially perverse".
"In respect of the newly valuable Falklands and their oilfields, because of these and other cuts, for the next 10 years at least, Argentina is practically invited to attempt to inflict on us a national humiliation on the scale of the loss of Singapore. One from which British prestige, let alone the administration in power at the time, might never recover," they wrote in the letter. And they concluded: "We believe that these decisions should be rescinded in the over-riding national interest, before it is too late."
Defence Secretary Liam Fox defended the changes and said: "It is simply not the case that decommissioning the Harrier would impact upon our ability to defend territories in the South Atlantic. We maintain a wide range of assets, not least a well-defended airfield to ensure the defence of the Falkland Islands.
"The Harrier force has made an impressive contribution to our nation's security over the decades but difficult decisions had to be made... and I'm clear that rationalising our fast jet fleet makes both operational and economic common sense."