War is an appalling business – not just because of the death and serious injury to service personnel and civilians but also because of the psychological trauma for those who took part (in the case of the Falklands conflict, more British ex-service personnel have subsequently committed suicide than died in the conflict itself).
Yet, sometimes, it is a necessary evil.
And, 30 years on, the operation mounted by Britain to liberate the Falkland Islands still remains the right thing to have done. A war of self-defence, unarguably legal, unlike the war in Iraq and with a clear aim, unlike the war in Afghanistan. And morally the right course. Not in pursuit of territory or economic interests (there was no thought that oil might be found in the territorial waters of the Falkland Islands at that time). But because of Britain’s moral obligation to assert the right of the Falkland Islanders to remain British. Britain would have had no basis for arguing that the war was one of self-defence if the Falkland Islanders had not wanted to remain British.
But the Falklands conflict also teaches us a powerful lesson. The best type of war is the one which it is never necessary to fight. As the Romans used to say, “si vis pacem, para bellum” (if you want peace, prepare for war). A lesson which Europe learned in the Cold War and Britain nearly forgot by - almost - lacking the strength to retake the Falkland Islands and, through negotiations, sending signals to Argentina in 1981-2 that Britain didn’t really care about the Falkland Islands.
Which brings me - again - to European defence, and the ability and willingness of Europe to defend itself.
Set aside the morality of a rich continent like Europe de facto relying on another country (the United States) to provide its defence shield via NATO. The first duty of government is to defend its territory, an assertion whose affordability was questioned by one of my German associate recently, who was a bit shocked by my answer that no entity can afford not to defend itself, and be ready to do so in a dangerous world with diverse threats. Another German correspondent suggested that the EU should rely on the UN to defend itself.
These German voices are not untypical – reflecting a deeply ingrained pacifism and anti-militarism in German society. In a historical perspective it is understandable but, in my view, the fact that many Germans want their country never again to be responsible for initiating a war is not a reason for being able to prevent one by having in place the preparations to ensure that it never has to be fought.
And it is a real challenge for EU security and defence policy, which cannot be a credible contribution to the future defence of Europe if it is not properly resourced and based on willingness to act in self-defence and needs a military dimension as well as that of diplomatic capability, peace keeping and post-conflict reconstruction.