Gibraltar: Conflict unlikely, holding line imperative
"For our family, like many others in Britain, Gibraltar is a little slice of the UK tucked away in a place as British as the red telephone boxes." And Falklands need to watch it
During the 1970s both my father and his brother served in HM Armed Forces in Gibraltar. My dad was a radar specialist with the RAF, frequently running the gauntlet of often hostile Spanish fighters to land with his Nimrod crew on ‘The Rock’. My Uncle Michael is buried there, having drowned in the swimming pool of the Royal Navy Officers’ Mess whilst serving on HMS Keppel in 1973.
His grave is nestled in the Trafalgar Cemetery, among three centuries of other British sailors. For our family, like many others in Britain, Gibraltar is a little slice of the UK tucked away in a place as British as the red telephone boxes which line its streets. The Rock is in our blood, and our blood is in her soil.
Amid the sunshine of the south of Spain and strategically close to the North of Africa, Gibraltar has been United Kingdom sovereign territory for more than three centuries. Periodically, Spanish leaders with an eye on the electoral polls rather than with true territorial ambitions, rattle their espada in the direction of The Rock.
News of a spat between Spain’s foreign ministry and the UK over the construction of an artificial reef by the Gibraltarians is nothing new and it will go away. A UK Foreign Office spokesman has declared that the UK will ‘continue to use all necessary measures to safeguard British sovereignty’ and this is a phrase often used to hint at military action.
In fact, the risk of all out conflict is very slight indeed. The UK’s (properly) uncompromising stance is more likely a loud aside to Argentina (over the Falklands) than it is a threat to Spain.
Since the Second World War, no two true democracies have ever actually gone to war with one another, where war is defined as a military conflict with more than 1,000 killed in battle in one year. Further, British and Spanish membership of the (loathsome) EU does at least mean that the UK and Spain are so economically interdependent that a war between the two would be catastrophic for both economies, particularly for Spain. It just won't happen; though those of us who remember the past are a tiny bit nervous, nonetheless.
The fact is that the Spanish public coffers are in tatters and the country is only clinging-on with the help of British ex-pat pensioners and seasonal holiday makers.
It is a fact of International Politics that a country in severe economic strife will seek out new, and reinvent old, adversaries to externalise economic woes and give the people something else to focus on. The Argentines did exactly that in 1982. To underline the point, the key difference this time is that both Spain and the UK are members of NATO and the EU and both, unlike the Argentine Junta of 1982, are democracies.
The reality is that this current spat will blow over fairly quickly. Both sides have too much to lose if it doesn't. In the meantime, it is important for the UK to show its robustness on this matter, for no other reason than to make it absolutely clear to Guatemala, Argentina and other states with their eyes on British interests that we are -- as we were in 1982 -- still determined to defend by force our sovereign British interests in far flung corners of the globe.
In this way, this current dispute can positively serve our Foreign Office to act as a deterrent to others who might be genuinely territorially inclined. That's the real issue here.
My uncle rests there in British soil on the rock of Gibraltar in that distant sunny corner of Britain. He would not wish for war to keep Gibraltar British. Of course, it won’t come to that, but Britain has to be tough, as it is being, in order to hold the line worldwide.
Martin Horton-Eddison is an author. His first work ‘First Class Essays in Under 24 hours’ is an Amazon Best Seller. His forthcoming polemic ‘The Facebook Infection’ focuses on the use of Facebook as a tool for Propaganda and is due for release later in August
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