Week in Review
8/14/2013 CORRECTION: There were factual errors/omissions in this piece. We apologize for them. And we apologize to the good people of Spain if we have offended them. But it should be noted that some of the corrections are from quotes pulled from the sourced Mirror article. A British newspaper.
The point of the piece is a recurring theme in history. There are rarely any innocents when it comes to international disputes. That was the point of the French and the Spanish helping the Americans during the Revolutionary War. They did this not for American interests but for their own interests.
We also will note that the world’s power center shifted from the Mediterranean to the great sea powers of Europe. Because these great European powers advanced seafaring to the point that they were first to conquer the oceans. Also, the man that discovered America (Christopher Columbus) was sailing for Spain. During the time of the Age of Discovery. Where Spain dominated that discovery. And Spain was home to the School of Salamanca. Where the seeds of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were sown. And they would bear their greatest fruit in the late 18th century. Thanks to America’s Founding Fathers being students of the Enlightenment. So Spain has a formidable place in world history. One that we admire and greatly respect.
A reader from Madrid sent in a well-written and very respectful criticism. We include it here in its entirety.
Dear Pithocrates, I have read your paper on Gibraltar which is rather accurate but there are some missing points which are very relevant to understand the roots of the issue. These points are as follows:
a) It is true that the Spanish captured Gibraltar from the moors in 1462, but you shouldn´t omit that the moors captured it previously from the visigotic kingdom of Spain in 711.
b) You state that “Gibraltar was captured in turn by the Royal Navy in 1704”, but you omit that it was in the context of a Spanish dynastic sucesion war and this capture was in the name of one of aspirants to the Spanish crown, supported by British and Dutchs.
c) The Treaty of Utrecht didn´t handed over the surrounding waters and the istmus where the airstrip lies. The istmus was a neutral zone wich was taken by the British in XIX century by asking quarantine land due an epidemy in Gibraltar. It doesn´t seem fair play. This is the key point for Spain since Gibraltar has no waters to drop blocks in and the airport is out of Gibraltar territory.
I fully agree that we can´t go back to the first wrong but your statement that Spain wants to tear up the treaty is far from reality. In essence Spain wants the British to meet the treaty in full since is not an acceptable behave to throw concrete blocks in non British waters nor contaminate them with chopy bunkering practice,. If you study the history of Spain, you will learn that some part of it was outstanding, glorious and brilliant and some not, but ALWAYS we have been people of honour and we honoured the treaties we signed off.
Finally I believe that in XXI the gunboat policy is out of place, but in any case it is clear that Spain was not the first to put the navy in this conflict.
I would be very grateful if you share these lines with your readers in order to clarify the situation. Spaniards and British have had a long common history. We have been rivals for centuries and in the past we fought very often each other and sometimes were allies. We have in Gibraltar a common “heritage” and we should be intelligent enough not to make it a wedge but a hinge between us.
[name withheld by Pithocrates to protect writer’s privacy]
PD: In addition there is a little geographical mistake in your text: none of the sides of Gibraltar is on the Atlantic ocean, both are in the Med (Mediterranean sea is considered eastward Tarifa).
Do you know what you will find at the southern tip of Spain? Britain. That’s right. Gibraltar belongs to Britain. Something Spain isn’t all that happy about. Kind of how Argentina isn’t all that happy about Britain being in the Falkland Islands. And both Argentina and Spain try to make life difficult for the British living in these British possessions (see Gibraltar: Britain to send Navy warships to Mediterranean in show of force to Spain by James Lyons posted 8/9/2013 on the Mirror).
Britain is sending warships to Gibraltar after David Cameron failed in his attempt to end the diplomatic row with Spain…
The 10-vessel Med visit follows weeks of rising diplomatic tension as the Madrid government holds up traffic at the border in retaliation for Gibraltar’s efforts to stop Spanish trawlers plundering fish stocks…
The PM, in a phone call to his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy, issued a coded warning of legal action over the border checks and the threat to impose a £43 crossing fee.
But the checks still happened today and the Spanish hit back by criticising the Gibraltar government for making an artificial reef to protect fish stocks.
Under the seas surrounding the Falkland Islands are oil and gas deposits. In the waters around Gibraltar it’s fish stocks. So there are economic reasons. But what really irks Spain is that unlike the cold and windy Falkland Islands Gibraltar is a sunny vacation paradise. And you don’t need a boat or a plane to get there from Spain. All you have to do is drive there. And cross an active runway. Yes, the road through Gibraltar actually crosses an active runway. Why, you may ask, doesn’t the road go around the runway? Well, the thing is, Gibraltar is so narrow that one end of the runway ends at the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. While the other ends at the water of the Mediterranean Sea.
Gibraltar is an outpost of Britishness at the mouth of the Mediterranean, and has been for 300 years.
The 2.3 square miles land mass, dominated by the 1,300-foot limestone Rock of Gibraltar, is one of the last remaining parts of the empire…
The 30,000 inhabitants of the British Overseas Territory cling to their UK roots.
Sterling currency, red post boxes, familiar British shops and banks and the use of the English language are all legacies of the Rock’s long association with Britain…
The results of several referendums in Gibraltar over the years, the most recent in 2002, have been overwhelmingly in favour of remaining linked to Britain.
So it’s only a small sliver of land. And the people who live there are British. And want to remain British. As it is in the Falklands. Referendum after referendum is always the same. These British people want to remain British. It makes one wonder what would happen to them if Spain and Argentina got their way. Would they deport them? Segregate them? Or simply make them stop being British?
So how did it come to this? How did a tip of Spain become British?
Captured from the Moors by the Spanish in 1462, Gibraltar was captured in turn by the Royal Navy in 1704.
Nine years later it was officially handed over to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht, and it has remained in British hands ever since.
It is this treaty which is at the heart of Spain’s claim to the land.
The Rock was ceded to Britain “to be held and enjoyed absolutely, with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever”.
But successive Spanish governments have argued that this is an anachronism and that Spain’s territorial integrity justifies the return of Gibraltar to Spanish control.
Critics of Spain’s attitude towards Gibraltar have pointed out that it has its own city enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, on the north African coast, bordering Morocco.
Despite repeated demands by Morocco that the cities should be returned to its territory, Spain refuses to do so.
Interestingly, the Spanish took the land from someone else. The Moors. So the British didn’t do anything the Spanish didn’t do. They got the land by military conquest. Then made it permanent by treaty. A treaty they say now is silly to maintain. Because Gibraltar is attached to the Spanish mainland and logically belongs to them. While they themselves are holding on to lands that by their logic belong to Morocco.
The Spanish Empire once stretched throughout the world. But it was overtaken by the British Empire. Whose representative government and capitalism vaulted the British into the number one world power. While the Spanish Empire declined the British Empire only grew stronger. France, too, lost bits of her empire to the British. Which is why the French aided the Americans in the American Revolutionary War. And why the Spanish joined that conflict by allying themselves with the French against the British. Neither of them cared about helping the Americans. They went to war against the British when they were preoccupied with the Americans to reclaim their lost pieces of empire. And hoped to limit the Americans’ expansion into North America by the treaty that would end the war. A treaty that would undo the Treaty of Utrecht. And allow further expansion of France and Spain into North America.
How far back do you go to right past wrongs? Should Spain return their land to the Moors? Should they take back Mexico and return it to the Aztecs? Do you go back to the first wrong? Which would be difficult without a historical record going back to the first wrong. So do you go back just far enough? And if so who determines how far that is?
No. You can’t do this. All you can do is honor the treaties you have now. Treaties that were signed willingly by all parties concerned. Yes, some parties were negotiating from a position of weakness. But that’s war. In hindsight Napoleon would much rather have signed a treaty before losing at Waterloo. Just as Hitler would have, in hindsight, preferred to sign peace treaties with all combatants before his invasion of the Soviet Union. But when you wage war and lose you have little choice but to negotiate from a position of weakness. And because the British bested the Spanish in battle Gibraltar belongs to Britain. Just as the Spanish would be holding on to Cornwall in England if the roles were reversed.