Today is the 25th anniversary of Argentina's invasion of the Falklands. The recapture of the Falklands became the defining event of the Thatcher years. A nation that had been in decline since WWII found a new confidence. As Robin Harris wrote in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, the Falklands campaign restored Britain's status in the world and provided Margaret Thatcher with the authority she needed for her domestic reform programme and for her to become Ronald Reagan's leading ally during the Cold War. A quarter of a century later the role of aggressor is being played by the much more deadly Iran. On this morning's television screens, for the fourth successive day, we watch kidnapped British sailors being humilated by their Iranian captors. Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind is surely right to say that more should be done to put pressure on the regime in Tehran. His suggestion of a suspension of EU nations' export credits to Iran seems an immediate and minimum necessary response. For the longer-term, however, what this current crisis exposes is the decline of Britain as a serious power. In these early years of the war on terror, Tim Montgomerie, Editor of BritainAndAmerica.com, lists ten key factors that have contributed to Britain's vulnerability in 2007.
An overstretched and under-resourced military: Britain's armed forces - although made up of brilliant individual servicemen - are small in number and under-resourced. Recruitment rates are down and 'quit rates' are up. As Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox has noted: "This year we will spend only 2.2% of our GDP on defence. This is the smallest proportion of our national wealth that we have spent on defending our country since 1930." If Argentina reinvaded the Falklands today the Royal Navy would be unable to send a task force to free them.
The Iraq war. Although this blog was and is a supporter of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein it cannot defend the subsequent campaign. Britain and America attempted to prevail 'on the cheap'. This might have been forgivable at first but when it was obvious that Rumsfeld's light footprint doctrine was failing there should have been a change in strategy. US Senators McCain and Lieberman were calling for extra troops in early 2004 but their calls fell on deaf (and stubborn) ears. President Bush's troops surge is a belated attempt to re-establish American authority. Britain's withdrawal from southern Iraq only reinforces the view of our enemies that we lack either equipment or resolution to prevail.
Appeasement of Iran. Tehran has watched Britain and America consistently fail to respond to its militancy. Its subversive agents have - until recently - been unchallenged in Iraq. It bore no cost for its material support of Hezbollah during last summer's Lebanon conflict. There appears to be no limit to the EU nations' commitment to a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions. While the talk goes on and on Iran could be less than a year away from realising its dream of becoming a nuclear power.
Appeasement of internal threats. The 7/7 bombings showed that within the home-grown population there were people who hated Britain so much that they were willing to kill themselves and their fellow countrymen in suicide bomb attacks. Although the situation is beginning to improve from the darkest days of 'Londonistan', the British authorities have for many years tended to encourage extremism by only dealing with the more extremist 'representatives' of Britain's Muslims. As Michael Gove MP has written, this effective cold-shouldering of moderate voices is a repeat of the way Tony Blair promoted Sinn Fein's status at the expense of the SDLP during the Northern Ireland peace process.
The weakness of the transatlantic relationship. The special relationship between Britain and America has been historically central to Britain's national interests but is now in danger. Washington sees Tony Blair - rightly - as a staunch ally but he will soon leave Downing Street and his successor will inherit the leadership of a country that is overwhelmingly hostile to the Iraq war - a war that many see as a war of choice and chosen by George W Bush and America. Tony Blair has found it difficult to combine support for America with necessary criticism of US policy failures. The British people want now to see a reassertion of Britain's national interests and the challenge for Britain's next government is to persuade voters that US and UK interests are closely connected.
Decline of NATO. Membership of NATO was once a pillar of Britain's defence strategy but NATO is a shadow of its former self. Many of its member states have been unable or unwilling to make any serious contribution to peacemaking operations in Afghanistan.
Unfounded faith in the United Nations: Large sections of the British public - led by the BBC - have come to see the imprimatur of the United Nations as necessary for any military action to be legitimate. The people of Rwanda and Darfur know that waiting for the UN to arrive at a resolution is a very dangeous thing to do. Last week's UN statement on the Iranian kidnapping fell well short of London's hopes and we should not have been surprised. Three of the Security Council's permanent members - China, France and Russia - have a track record of putting commercial interests and relationships with unsavoury regimes before the high principles of the UN's founders. Conservatives who are rightly sceptical about the multilateralist EU are too willing to give a benefit of the doubt to the UN.
The BBC. Although the BBC has given extensive coverage to the hostage crisis it has not reflected the breadth of opinion in many of Britain's newspapers where there has been much impatience with the Blair Government's weak response to the Iranian situation. The BBC has certainly been a leading contributor to public opposition to the war in Iraq. There has been a relentless focus on the failings of the Iraq campaign but next to no analysis of how coalition forces might ensure that their mission succeeds. Coverage of the campaign's failures cannot be questioned but the lack of a balance is a failure of its public service mandate. This is one of the constant weaknesses of the British landscape. The BBC's sympathetic treatment of the Argentinians' claim to the 'Malvinas' was a great source of controversy in 1982.
Little strategic thinking. There are very few thinkers in Britain who are preparing for future threats. There is, for example, no appreciation of the likelihood of nuclear proliferation and the need for missile defence as our only likely protection.
A distracted Opposition. These weaknesses that Tony Blair will bequeath to his successors are an enormous burden. The Party of Margaret Thatcher has every chance of winning the next election and has decided that discussion of public services and climate change is much more likely to win that election. That is understandable but is not likely to steel the British public for the sacrifices that future stages of the war on terror will undoubtedly demand. It is also unclear if many British Tories have the strategic clarity that Tony Blair has shown since 9/11. A clarity that was never, sadly, translated into effective applications.
Related link: Watch 18DoughtyStreet.com's interview with John Nott, Margaret Thatcher's Defence Secretary during the Falklands War.