This Falklands sortie is just petty British William-waving | Marina Hyde

Britain's military is depleted by cuts – so childish insults and occasional royal dispatches will have to suffice as foreign policy

The technical military term for the decision to deploy the second in line to the throne to the Falkland Islands is William-waving. If dispatching a fancy new warship to the archipelago on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the conflict with Argentina sends a message, then dispatching Prince William makes a hand gesture.

Of course, the Duke of Cambridge is not in the South Atlantic in his capacity as the male lead from the latest, successful instalment of the hit-and-miss Windsor Wedding franchise. His other day job is as an RAF search and rescue pilot, which is genuinely commendable – but need he really have been sent to the Falklands this week in a posting described by William Hague as "entirely routine"? If the foreign secretary truly wishes to claim that the deployment of Prince William is a business as perfunctory as deciding whether to serve tea or coffee at a meeting, then that is a matter for him. But many of us will find our disbelief simply impossible to suspend in this case, and will nurse a deep suspicion that such things are discussed at prime ministerial level.

In which case – and I don't want to lapse too far into impenetrable diplomatese – why are we being such plonkers? The Foreign Office can parp on about routine all they like, but against a backdrop of simmering tensions in the region, it appears to be a PR exercise of staggering pettiness, given that no one remotely credible thinks Argentina poses a serious threat to Falkland Island sovereignty. It is flag-planting where a flag is already planted.

Prince William is the British forces' most high-profile officer (we'll come to his brother later), so dispatching him to the islands in this anniversary year was bound to be read as an elaborately pointless attempt to wind up the already wound-up Argentina – and it has predictably succeeded. Along with the decision to send HMS Dauntless, it gave combative President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner a gesture she could seize upon, and she has duly fumed about the deployment of "the royal heir who we would have liked to see in civilian clothes and not in military uniform". On Friday, her foreign minister arrived in New York to have a doomed whinge about it to the UN, shortly after the Penguin News, the Falkland Island newspaper, uploaded a photo of the president with the file name "bitch". Outrage has predictably ensued.

If my mother were in the business of geopolitical conflict resolution, let me tell you right now that NONE OF THEM would be playing with the Falkland Islands after the way they've all behaved. Each of them would be having a long hard think in their rooms about whether it was honestly worth being that babyish. Unfortunately, my mother has yet to receive the call-up to this kind of floating international role, and the episode offers a glimpse of a world where childish cheap tricks have to provide the illusion of a foreign policy.

After all, it was only this week that the defence committee warned that the impending cuts could make it impossible for Britain to mount future missions even on the relatively small scale of Libya. So perhaps the strategists have already turned their thoughts to war by other, less pricey means, and stumbled upon this most modern of uses for the royal family. The Falklands non-mission is a test drive. Very possibly, this is what Britain's wars of the future will look like. Expensive land-air assaults will be replaced by insouciant fisherman-rescuing by Prince William, while imbecilic insults buried in computer file names will take the place of special forces sorties.

Much of Her Majesty's press wouldn't notice the difference, which is what makes the strategy so attractive. Do recall the breathless "William to the rescue" headlines that lauded his "selfless effort" in the "heroic" rescue of some Russian sailors in the Irish Sea last November, when a more sensitive take on the story might have foregrounded the fact that five crewmen were still missing, presumed lost, while two had been saved.

And so to Wales Minor, whose potential return to Afghanistan is already being described as a "PR dream" for the military, which is a marginally more seemly way of saying a wet dream for the press. Prince Harry has just passed out top of his Apache helicopter training programme – or "been named Top Gun", in the media's version of these things. He even did a stint at El Centro, the Californian naval air base where Top Gun was filmed, so it's now imperative to imagine him doing the helicopter equivalent of unauthorised flybys of control towers, and creating almost unbearable sexual tension with whoever was the Iceman in his class. A Kenny Loggins soundtrack comes as standard.

As for comparisons between the princely helicopters, I'm afraid William's Sea King sports dreary things like nightvision goggles and a rescue hoist, while Harry's hardware includes Hellfire missiles and rockets and everything. It's basically Budgie v Airwolf. Still, I like to think they have an explicit one-in, one-out arrangement, so for every person Prince Harry eliminates, his brother has to save one. Tread lightly on this earth, young Waleses! And thanks for being our foreign policy.


Marina Hyde

The GuardianTramp

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