Counterfactual: Assessment of Risks to the American Reunification Referendum by the Confederate States of America’s Counterinsurgency Campaign in Cuba

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Hal Wilson lives in the United Kingdom, where he works in the aerospace industry. A member of the Military Writers Guild, Hal uses narrative to explore future conflict.  He has been published by the Small Wars Journal, and has written finalist entries for fiction contests with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project.  Hal graduated with first-class honours in War Studies and History from King’s College, London, and is studying an MA on the First World War.  He tweets at @HalWilson_.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Assessment of Risks to the American Reunification Referendum by the Confederate States of America’s Counterinsurgency Campaign in Cuba

Date Originally Written:  March 6, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  June 13, 2019. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article presumes the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a Confederate victory in the U.S. Civil War. Now, in the counterfactual year 1965, the Confederate States of America (CSA) are pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign in their conquered island colony of Cuba. The United States of America (USA) are meanwhile on the cusp of reunifying with the CSA through an historic referendum, but must prevent an escalation in Cuba that could derail the reunification process.  The audience for this Assessment Paper is the National Security Advisor to the President of the USA.

Summary:  The historic opportunity of the American Reunification Referendum (ARR) is directly challenged by the ongoing CSA counterinsurgency campaign in Cuba. Unless the USA applies diplomatic pressure to the CSA to achieve CSA-de-escalation in Cuba, the ARR is at risk.

Text:  The ARR, which was delayed this year due to CSA intransigence over Cuba, represents the culmination of a literal generation of effort. Decades of trans-American outreach have overcome cultural obstacles and built positive relations between the USA and the CSA. Following the 1963 Gettysburg Presidential Summit two years ago, commemorating 100 years since General Robert E. Lee’s narrow victory, Presidents Barnes and Nixon redoubled long-established policies of cross-border cooperation. These policies included a transnational committee to oversee the final dismantling of the former Mason-Dixon Demilitarised Zone. The underlying drivers of this trend – including robust cross-border trade and persistent financial crisis within the CSA – are unlikely to change. However, the CSA’s violent counterinsurgency in Cuba may provoke third-party intervention and thereby derail the ARR.

Cuba remains an emotionally charged topic within the CSA, reflecting as it does the ‘high-water-mark of the Confederacy’: the victorious Spanish War of 1898, which saw Spanish Caribbean possessions ceded to Richmond. We assess that CSA determination over Cuba is nevertheless fragile. Proposals for increased trans-American trade liberalisation could be used to entice short-term, de-escalatory moves from the CSA. Likewise, discrete offers to use our good offices for bilateral mediation could lessen tension while earning mutual goodwill. We also possess a remarkable asset in the shape of personal friendship between Presidents Barnes and Nixon, which may expedite top-down progress.

Our efforts will also benefit from the growing human cost of the CSA’s occupation. Last month’s destruction of two battalions of the 113th Florida Light Infantry near Holguin underlined the increasingly formidable abilities of the Cuban revolutionaries. Our efforts on Cuba should avoid antagonise the rebels, who have aligned around increasing desires for autonomy from Richmond. Notably, in an effort to enhance their credibility in any negotiated peace, the rebels have eliminated extremists from their own ranks such as the rogue Argentine, Che Guevara, who advocated the radical ideas of an obscure Russian writer, V.I. Lenin. Our efforts on Cuba should also not directly assist the rebels: should USA activity result in the death of even a single CSA serviceman, the ARR will be permanently compromised. 

By leveraging support from the Deutsches Kaiserreich, which offers German military and financial aid for preferential oil contracts in the Gulf of Mexico, Richmond has sustained military pressure against the Cuban rebels. In particular, the CSA’s Cuban Command (CUBACOM) numbers over 100,000 personnel and, following last month’s visit to Richmond by Kronprinz Maximilian von Thunn, boasts the latest ‘Gotha’ jet-bomber models. The USA faces no direct military threat from these developments. Indeed, CUBACOM represents a CSA military ‘best effort’, achieved only by hollowing-out mainland formations. 

While London remains focused on combating Islamist terrorism against the British Raj, organised and conducted from the German client-state of Afghanistan, London has demonstrated mounting displeasure over CSA conduct in Cuba. Last week’s wayward airstrike by CSA jets, for example, killed twenty Cuban civilians and drew further condemnation from the British Empire. The revived Wilberforce Act, first used by the British Empire to strong-arm the cessation of CSA slave-trading in 1880, once again prevents the carriage of CSA goods on British or Imperial merchant marine. Combined with wider sanctions, the British Empire has driven growing inflation within the CSA, not least by forcing Richmond to take the CSA Dollar off the gold standard. Recent evidence of illicit British support to Cuban rebels underlines London’s willingness to punish a perceived German client, and we assess a mounting risk of military escalation by the British Empire against the CSA.

Direct British intervention over Cuba would fatally compromise the likelihood of a successful ARR. USA public opinion will not tolerate overt support for CSA dominion over Cuba, and any direct conflict with London risks repeating our loss in the War of 1812. Conversely, our failure to offer tangible aid would poison CSA goodwill on the ARR. As such, any British military escalation should be forestalled by inducing a CSA climb-down.  

CSA persistence with their ‘small’ war likely demands that the USA exerts diplomatic pressure against Richmond. This is for the preservation of Cuban life and the USA’s interests: namely, to avert the risk of British military escalation against the CSA, and thereby assure a successful ARR.  

Our diplomatic pressure against the CSA would likely result in the establishment of a Cuban ‘Home Rule’ model, as pioneered by the British Empire in Ireland at the start of this century. Increased Cuban civil rights will undercut the revolutionary casus belli, and diminish the violence which offers the British Empire a pretext to intervene. Simultaneously, the CSA will be able to claim a victory by retaining its Cuban possessions – and the door can be reopened to a successfully completed ARR. 

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Hal Wilson Small Wars Journal Writing Contest United States

Alternative Futures: Argentina Attempts a Second Annexation of the Falkland Islands

Hal Wilson lives in the United Kingdom, where he works in the aerospace industry. A member of the Military Writers Guild, Hal uses narrative to explore future conflict.  He has been published by the Small Wars Journal, and has written finalist entries for fiction contests with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project.  Hal graduated with first-class honours in War Studies and History from King’s College, London, and is studying an MA on the First World War.  He tweets at @HalWilson_.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  In an alternative future, the Republic of Argentina is attempting a second annexation of the Falkland Islands in the year 2030.

Date Originally Written:  August 27, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  October 15, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Security Adviser personally briefing 10, Downing Street on potential responses to Argentina’s action.

Background:  Inconceivable even only two decades ago, we now have positive confirmation that Argentine naval and military forces are conducting long-range precision fire against RAF MOUNT PLEASANT, the Royal Air Force station in the Falkland Islands.

Anglo-Argentine relations have long soured against their high-point around 2017, when favourable Argentine politics dovetailed with our joint operations to rescue the missing Argentine submarine ARA SAN JUAN[1].  These favourable politics were quickly reversed by domestic Argentine authoritarianism of a sort unseen since Argentina’s so-called ‘Dirty War’ of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.  This authoritarianism built amid economic slowdown in Argentina and overwhelming Venezuelan refugee inflows escaping the totalitarian rule of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro[2].  This refugee influx has only worsened after the 2025 collapse of the Maduro regime and ongoing Venezuelan Civil War, which has also left Argentina as the largest Chinese creditor in Latin America[3].

UK institutional bandwidth remains highly constrained with the fallout of the Russian attack against the Baltic nations in 2028[4].  As such, we have again been surprised by the Argentine leadership’s depth of feeling – and risk-tolerance – in this bid to offset domestic discord with foreign adventure.  We assess this annexation is at least partly driven by the need to service increasingly onerous Chinese debts with Falkland oil revenues[5].  Finally, British Forces Falkland Islands (BFFI) stands at token levels.  Initially justified by Anglo-Argentine détente, this was sustained even while historic Argentine military weaknesses[6] were resolved through years of Chinese financing.

Significance:  With our focus on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Eastern Flank, BFFI is under-strength and at risk of being cut-off.  RAF MOUNT PLEASANT constitutes the lynchpin of our position on the Falkland Islands; its neutralisation will leave our forces vulnerable to a follow-on amphibious assault.  The Argentine goal will be to damage or seize the airbase to cut off our ‘air-bridge’ of rapid reinforcement and present the annexation as a fait accompli.

Option #1:  Assemble a Task Group at once to defend, or retake, the Islands.

Risk:  This option is not without risk; we cannot expect a repeat of 1982.  Geography is against us in every sense, with 3,000 miles of ocean separating us from the islands.  Moreover, the Argentine Navy now operates a large inventory of ex-Chinese drone-submarines capable of operating farther north than their forbears could reach in 1982.  Safe anchorage at Ascension Island is not guaranteed.

Unlike 1982, our fleet is also not concentrated for rapid reaction into the South Atlantic.  Whereas the nucleus of the previous Task Group was concentrated at Gibraltar for Exercise SPRING TRAIN 82, our carriers and major surface escorts are dispersed to Singapore (HMS PRINCE OF WALES) and the North Sea (HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH).  Redeploying these assets to the South Atlantic will take time, and compromise our obligations to NATO among others; we must hope our allies can meet these shortfalls.

We nevertheless have the advantage that the Argentine military, despite their investments, suffer from limited amphibious and airlift capabilities.  These will limit their scope to capture and garrison the Islands, should BFFI be overrun.  Effective targeting of these assets will be key to crippling the Argentine position.

Gain:  Britain can decisively restore the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, should we succeed. There is a high risk of casualties, including the loss of high-value warships, although we will deter future threats.

Option #2:  Pursue non-kinetic operations against the Argentine mainland.

Risk:  Cyber operations against targets in Argentina itself, coupled with targeted influence operations on social media, may destabilise the Argentine leadership.  Expanded operational scope could also incur meaningful economic difficulties; even simply revoking shipping insurance from leading British firms[7] might disrupt vital exports from the fragile Argentine economy.  We must nevertheless beware the public relations impact of too broad a target set.

We must also calibrate these operations for the greatest and quickest effect possible, as the BFFI garrison will not survive indefinitely.  The garrison’s most effective component includes a pair of Typhoon F2 fighters, reduced from the historic complement of four.  While some of our oldest airframes, they can match the second-hand Chinese models operating with the Argentine Air Force. But their effectiveness is not assured amid precision-fire threats to the MOUNT PLEASANT runway.

Gain:  Non-kinetic operations against the Argentine mainland might provoke the collapse of the Argentine leadership, while avoiding the risk of sending a full Task Group into the South Atlantic.  This may shorten the conflict and prevent a larger British casualty list.

Option #3:  Appeal to the United Nations (UN) for a return to the previously existing state of affairs.

Risk:  The United States, Canada and Australia will certainly support an appeal in the General Assembly.  However, our French and German counterparts have failed to support us on national security issues at the UN in the past[8].  The Chinese will also exert great influence among their client states to protect their creditor.

We cannot expect a resolution in our favour, but even a successful outcome may see our conduct thereafter bound by UN guidance.  The Argentine leadership likely shall not observe any rulings, and simply use the time spent to defeat the BFFI then consolidate their position on the Islands.

Gain:  A successful appeal through the UN will frame global perception as one of legality against Chinese-driven opportunism.  It will also leverage diplomatic legitimacy and economic tools in our favour, with potential for appeal among the Argentine domestic opposition, for a longer struggle.

Other Comments:  The Falkland Islanders have repeatedly affirmed their status as fellow Britons.  We must not fail them.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Savetheroyalnavy.org (2017, Nov. 29) Reflecting on the sad loss of the ARA San Juan https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/reflecting-on-the-sad-loss-of-argentine-submarine-ara-san-juan/ (Accessed 29.08.18)

[2] Phillips, D. (2018, Aug. 6) Brazil: judge shuts border to Venezuelan migrants fleeting hunger and hardship https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/06/brazil-shuts-border-venezuelan-migrants (Accessed 28.08.18)

[3] Wheatley, J. (2018, Jun. 5) Argentina woos China in hunt for support package
https://www.ft.com/content/2e0cf612-68b0-11e8-b6eb-4acfcfb08c11 (Accessed 28.08.18)

[4] Shlapak, D. & Johnson, M. (2016) Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html (Accessed 28.08.18)

[5] Yeomans, John. (2016, Jan 11.) Rockhopper shares bounce after Falkland oil discovery  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/12092516/Rockhopper-shares-bounce-after-Falkland-oil-well-discovery.html (Accessed 28.08.18)

[6] Wilson, H. (2016, Feb. 17) Whence the threat? Lessons from Argentina’s Air-Naval Arsenal in 2015 http://cimsec.org/21667-2/21667 (Accessed 28.08.18)

[7] The Telegraph (2012, Jun. 19) Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9339933/Britain-stops-Russian-ship-carrying-attack-helicopters-for-Syria.html (Accessed 28.08.18)

[8] Harding, A. (2018, Aug. 27) Chagos Islands dispute: UK ‘threatened’ Mauritius.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-45300739 (Accessed 29.08.18)

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Argentina Falkland Islands Hal Wilson Option Papers