Monday, September 2, 2013
How Peru-Chile Clash Might Play itself Out
Chile and Peru could be days away from a decision over their disputed maritime border. Assuming the losing side accepts the verdict of the International Court of Justice, there would be domestic trouble for the losers, but no war. However, if the losing country defies the ruling, fighting could erupt in the region for the first time since the 1880s. The first hostile act probably would be warships of the losing country sailing into the disputed waters to assert their authority. That would provoke a response by the other country, setting the stage for a naval battle. As far as surface ships go, Peru is at a disadvantage. Its flagship, the cruiser Grau, and Lupo-class frigates are vulnerable to air strikes. Their air defenses don't have the range to defend against Chile's F-16s and their JDAMs, which have a standoff range of more than 40 miles. Chile's L Class air-defense frigates are armed with the Sea Sparrow and SM-1 missile, whose 20-mile range would afford protection against air attack. That doesn't mean Peru would be helpless at sea. Its six German-built Type 209 submarines could be an equalizing force. Indeed, much of the naval battle could consist of Chile hunting Peruvian subs, while using its own Scorpene and Type 209 subs to control the seas. Either country could escalate the conflict by launching air and land attacks. But a land campaign into enemy territory would be costly. Neither army has much to get through the normal attrition of combat. Air strikes on key military targets would be more likely to occur, but this too would have big risks. Chile and Peru have adequate air defenses, and the loss of aircraft would be sure to happen. Chile's land forces and air forces have a technological advantage, but Peru has been upgrading its equipment and should not be viewed as much of an underdog. In the end, the leaders of both countries probably realize that the economic and social cost of waging war would be too high, and a face-saving alternative would be the better option. Update: The International Court has put off a ruling until January.