By James Cable (auth.)

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The precedent of British passivity in the face of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus had surely encouraged quite different expectations in Buenos Aires. Error, unfortunately, is as endemic among politicians as admirals, as common in nominal peace as in outright war. If the ability to command success constituted an essential attribute of power, everybody could be reckoned impotent. Maritime power is no more than a plausible capability to employ force at sea for purposes regarded as nationally important.

In 1968, for instance, the purposeful use of limited force ensured the resumption by Czechoslovakia of her obedient role as a Soviet satellite. A clear success, even if it had lasted only five years instead of over fifteen. On the other hand, greater use of the same expedient has not so far reinforced Soviet ascendancy in Afghanistan. After nearly five years, a clear failure, even if it were to succeed in ten. It is highly improbable that the Soviet Union ever contemplated so long and arduous a struggle in 1979- any more than the United States on their first, limited, intervention in Vietnam.

Unfortunately this form of escalation is inherently unstable. A superior fleet inevitably includes ships of high value which may be vulnerable to a single-minded opponent prepared to take the initiative in raising the level of violence. Both sides thus have cause to be quick on the trigger, as was shown in August 1981, when two Libyan aircraft were shot down by patrols from the USS NIMITZ. Whatever the method adopted, therefore, the risk always exists that raising the level of conflict will also mean raising the level of violence.

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