As one wise philosopher noted, always in motion, the future is.
Many wars seemed inevitable at the time. Surely, the system of alliances prior to the First World War created a powder keg in Europe, whose detonation was all-but-certain. Similarly, few could have doubted the likelihood of an even more destructive Second World War. Such predictions permeate even fiction, including works such as James Hilton's fantasy novel, Lost Horizon, the book which introduced us to the mystical land of Shangri-La.
Nevertheless, despite all of our planning, many wars come as a complete shock. Few could have anticipated Saddam Hussein's inexplicable annexation and subsequent invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Similarly, who could have anticipated the strange chain of events which led the British Royal Navy into the Falkland Islands War of 1982?
Explorers first sighted the islands in 1690, with Britain and France both laying claim to the Falklands' icy shores during the 18th Century. At the time, the islands seemed nothing worth fighting over, with one British lieutenant claiming that the Falklands were "the most detestable place I was ever at in all my life"
Thus, the British thus vacated the Falklands, in no small part due to the economic stress caused by the rebellious American colonies. Meanwhile, the French ceded their claim to the islands to their ally, Spain.
While the British government certainly didn't have any real desire for the Falkland Islands, they nevertheless felt the need to lay claim to them out of a sense of national pride. In 1769, the tension between Britain and Spain over the seemingly-insignificant Falklands was such that historian Julius Goebel was to later claim that "the ministry, which had clearly been disposed to an accommodation at the outset of the trouble and might even have gone so far as to acquiesce at the outset of the trouble an arrangement suggested by Spain...now found itself in a situation where only extreme measures would silence popular clamour [for British rule of the Falklands]". Such would be the case two centuries later.
In light of the tension over the Falklands, Lord North proposed a secret agreement with Spain that the British would eventually leave the Falkland Islands in exchange for the temporary political victory.
Thus, all would be peaceful if it weren't for the intervention of a rising global superpower. Then, much like now, this particular global superpower had a penchant for clubbing baby seals.
You guessed it, we're talking about:
America. (Fuck, yeah!)
Spain later ceded authority over the Falklands to the emerging state of Argentina. The islands soon became a hotbed of sealing activity.
Jesus Christ, it's coming right for us!
In 1829, the Argentine governor in the Falklands restricted seal hunting, as the native population of the blubbery mammals was dwindling. Of course, banning seal clubbing out of any sense of humane treatment of animals is really quite ludicrious. Killer whales--the beloved creature children remember from movies such as "Free Willy"--have been known to not only feast on baby seals, but also play racquetball with them.
I am not making this up.
I am not making this up.
The Argentine governor put the captain of an American sealing vessel, the Harriet, on trial for violating the ban on clubbing baby seals. In response, the American ambassador to Argentina asked that the USS Lexington, under the command of Silas Duncan, undertake a punitive raid against the Falklands. Captain Duncan, ever the over-achiever, thoroughly ravaged the Falkland Islands, razing its defenses, and imprisoning most of its inhabitants. This allowed the British a window of opportunity to take the islands, where they have remained distinctly British ever since.
Fast-forward nearly a century and a half later. Britain, then allied with NATO against the Soviet Union, feared a Soviet naval attack through the "G-I-UK" Gap, the Northern Atlantic passageway for the Soviet Battlefleet which passed through the waters among Britain, Iceland, and Greenland. Thus, the Royal Navy predicted, understandably, that in a coming war, aircraft carriers would be useless; ground-based aircraft could provide sufficient air cover. The Royal Navy needed to, instead, focus on anti-submarine capabilities, leaving carrier operations to the United States Navy.
British naval officers protested. Yet, despite their best efforts, the carriers HMS Invincible was sold to Australia, and the HMS Hermes was scheduled to be scrapped. Britain's Labour Defence Secretary Denis Healey argued that aircraft carriers would only be useful during an amphibious operation far beyond the reach of Britain's land-based airstrips. Certainly, this would not be the case in a classic "G-I-UK" scenario.
But it was exactly the case in the unexpected Falklands Islands War of 1982.
Military professionals, think-tanks, and the defense industry will always claim, with a sense of positivism, that the next war "will" entail tanks/insurgents/hybrid war/F-22s/giant robots...you name it. Yet, no one can predict the future. We often base our foreign policy models on theories of rational actors, national interests, and a well-designed national security strategy. But nations--indeed, people--do not always act rationally. The future could entail more counterinsurgency and peacekeeping, or a major conventional war.
Remember that wise sage: always in motion, the future is.