Imagine, for a moment, the Admiralty’s nightmare scenario: in the not-too-distant future, a nearly bankrupt Argentine government invades the oil-rich Falkland Islands. For the second time in half a century, Las Malvinas—the islands of Latin America regarded as a stolen piece of Argentina—spark a war meant to divert public attention from the Argentine government’s economic failings.
With twenty-first century budget cuts biting hard, Britain has no aircraft carrier. Argentina retired its own carrier in the late 1960s. Yet, unlike 1982, when Margaret Thatcher dispatched a flotilla to retake the islands, this time the South Atlantic is anything but empty. It’s home to a Brazilian carrier, the São Paulo, along with a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines being built in partnership with Argentina.
In effect, these weapons give Brazil the ability to impose an updated version of the Monroe Doctrine on regional waters. Call it the “Lula Doctrine.”
With its new confidence and military ambition, Brazil is a vocal advocate of Argentina’s claim on Las Malvinas. While few can imagine Britain and Brazil ever coming to blows, signs of a very different reality for Britain are starting to take shape.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may seem an unlikely champion of a military buildup. Four decades ago, the Brazilian military dictatorship tortured her when she was a young guerrilla fighting their rule.
Yet, starting under Lula and slowly accelerating, Brazil has significantly expanded its military power—particularly its naval power, and Rousseff has kept the pace. This will change the dynamics of the southern Atlantic significantly, creating a true Brazilian “zone of exclusion” extending deep into the ocean above the oil riches recently discovered there.
But it also means that, for the United States and Europe, accustomed to dictating events on the high seas—particularly in the Atlantic—some important facts will change, especially with regard to the long-running Falklands/Malvinas dispute.
Brazil’s 2009 decision to build a fleet of five nuclear attack subs took Western military experts by surprise. Expected to start entering service in 2016, the submarines promise to dramatically alter the balance of power in the South Atlantic.
Lula, who led the push for the nuclear sub program, said before leaving office…