Spain wants to tear up the Treaty of Utrecht and take back Gibraltar from Britain

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2013

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.

Best, regards,
[name withheld by Pithocrates to protect writer’s privacy]
Madrid (Spain)

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).

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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.

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Yorktown, North, Rockingham, Shelburne, Franco-Spanish Alliance, Vergennes, Adams, Franklin, Jay and the Treaty of Paris

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 5th, 2012

Politics 101

For the British to Maintain the Balance of Power in Europe an Independent America actually Helped Them

The war wasn’t over with Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.  But his surrender changed everything.  The continuing war was becoming more and more unpopular in Britain.  And costly.  Britain was fighting four wars.   One with the Americans.  One with the French.  One with the Spanish.  And one with the Dutch.  The debt was growing so great that there were discussions about suspending some interest payments.  The British wanted out of these wars.  The opposition blamed Lord North for the latest debacle at Yorktown.  The Prime Minister resigned.  His government fell.  And the opposition took power.

The new Prime Minister, Lord Rockingham, had favored American independence.  His foreign secretary, Charles James Fox, had favored American independence.  In fact, those who had favored American independence filled all cabinet positions.  Except for one.  The Secretary of Colonial Affairs.  Lord Shelburne.  Fox and Shelburne did not much care for each other.  They quarreled.  Each having their own idea of how they should conduct the peace.  Fox sent Thomas Green to France to begin negotiations with the French.  Shelburne sent Richard Oswald to France to begin negotiations with the Americans (Benjamin Franklin was in Paris).

The French had a debt problem of their own.  And they, too, were anxious for the war to end.  But on favorable terms.  They were looking to change the balance of power with their eternal enemy.  The British.  And therefore wanted to negotiate the peace for the Americans.  Get back some of their lost North American territories.  And elsewhere.  Meanwhile the Spanish were laying siege to the British in Gibraltar.  Anxious to retrieve that from the British.  They were greatly interested in blocking American westward expansion.  And they also wanted to keep them off the Mississippi River.  Which flowed to the Gulf of Mexico through their Louisiana Territory.  So the politics were quite complex in negotiating the peace.  For the British to maintain the balance of power they enjoyed an independent America actually helped them.  While an independent America actually harmed the French and the Spanish.

Shelburne negotiated Directly with the Americans to use them to gain Favorable Terms with their European Enemies

The original peace commission in Paris was just John Adams.  Few could be found that were more adamant on American independence than he.  And this was a problem for the French foreign minister.  Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes.  He didn’t like Adams.  Who was not willing to compromise.  Vergennes wanted to end the war.  And stop the financial hemorrhaging.   And he was willing to compromise with the British to make that happen.  Willing to compromise away American independence.  American navigation of the Mississippi River.  American territorial ambitions beyond the Appalachians (leaving Maine, New York City, portions of the Northwest territories, Charleston and Savannah British).  And the American fishing rights off Newfoundland.  He was willing to give all that up to end the war with Britain.  He had only one problem.  John Adams.  Who refused to give up what the Americans were actually fighting for in the first place.

Vergennes instructed the French minister in America, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, to lobby the Continental Congress.  To have them order Adams to be less belligerent.  To be more willing to compromise.  And to accept the wise counsel of the King of France.  The most generous sovereign who made it possible for the Americans to bring the British to the negotiating table.  Luzerne was successful.  Perhaps with a little bribery.  The Congress sent Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and Henry Laurens to join Adams.  With the instructions to follow the advice of the French in the peace negotiations. 

Fox still favored granting American independence.  And he wanted to do it quickly.  To split the allies apart.  And make separate peace treaties to limit the damage.  For the French, Spanish and Dutch could hold out for a grander bargain.  Especially if the fortunes of war turned their way.  As the Spanish were hoping would soon happen at Gibraltar.  So the British warned that their allies could force the Americans to continue the war not for their own interests but that of these Europeans.  He told Green to tell Franklin that Britain was prepared to recognize American independence.  And that it was in America’s best interests to negotiate a separate peace.  Franklin suggested early that Britain may want to throw Canada into the deal.  To help pay for all the damage the British did to American property.  Shelburne wasn’t about to negotiate away Canada.  His answer was to bring up the debt owed to British creditors.  And reimbursing the Loyalists who lost their property in America.  Things that weren’t high on the American list of demands.  Then Rockingham died.  Shelburne became prime minister.  And Fox quit.  Pro-American independence ministers no longer filled the government.  Still, Shelburne continued to negotiate directly with the Americans.  So he could use them to gain favorable terms with their European enemies.

The American Negotiators were being Played by the Best of European Intrigue

In Franklin’s talks with Oswald he made it clear that independence was a prerequisite for peace.  Officially that was a problem for Oswald.  For his original commission from Shelburne directed him to negotiate with a commissioner from the colonies or plantations.  Not a commissioner from the United States of America.  Which, of course, would recognize American independence.  Vergennes urged Franklin and Jay to proceed anyway.  That official recognition could follow in the final peace treaty.  Jay suspected that the French were stalling.  He knew of the siege of Gibraltar.  And didn’t trust the Franco-Spanish alliance.  So he ignored Congress’ order.  And did not listen to the wise French counsel.  Joining Franklin and Adams in stating that independence was a prerequisite for peace.

The American commission had good reason to not trust their European allies.  The French wanted the British to agree to keep the Americans out of the fisheries along Newfoundland.  So they could fish these waters.  A bitter pill for a New Englander like Adams to swallow.  The French were also opposed to the Americans annexing Canada.  What they once called New France.  Before it became British.  While the Spanish were working hard behind the scenes to keep the Mississippi River away from the Americans.  Had they gotten their way the Mississippi south of the Ohio River would have been in Spanish hands.  As well as the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Louisiana. 

The American negotiators were being played by the best of European intrigue.  But thanks to the principled men America sent to negotiate the peace the Americans bested the Europeans at their own game.  John Adams.  Benjamin Franklin.  And John Jay.  For the Americas got their independence.  Territory that stretched to the Mississippi River.  And navigation on the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.  Even their fishing rights off of Newfoundland (though they would revisit that issue later).  It would be America’s greatest achievement in diplomacy.  The Treaty of Paris (1783).  And they made this treaty without consulting the French.  Who were miffed.  But thanks to Franklin America and France remained friends.  So the Americans won the Revolutionary War.  And the peace.  While avoiding any entangling alliances with the old European powers.  Not bad for a brand new nation on the world’s stage.

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Jumonville, Washington, Ohio Country, French and Indian War, California, Louisiana Territory, Gibraltar and League of Armed Neutrality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 12th, 2012

Politics 101

Washington’s Killing of Joseph Coulon de Jumonville Precipitated the Seven Years’ War

In the Revolutionary War the Americans were feeling out the French since hostilities broke out in 1775.  For good reason.  The French lost most of their North American possessions in their last war with Great Britain.  The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763).  Where the French were in Canada and in the great river valleys in the interior of North America.  And the British were in what is now the U.S. east of the Appalachians.  The British and their American colonists won that war.  And took the French possessions.  In fact, the American commander in the Revolutionary War, George Washington, opened hostilities against the French in the French and Indian War (1754–1763).  Which precipitated the subsequent world war.  The Seven Years’ War.

As the French and the British expanded their territories in North America they eventually bumped into each other.  And it was in the Ohio Country that the name George Washington entered our history books.  Then only a major.  Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia sent Washington into the Ohio Country to tell the French to kindly vacate their posts in the area.  The French refused.  Washington returned to Virginia.  Governor Dinwiddie sent him back to the Ohio Country to protect a fort the Ohio Company was building at present day Pittsburg.  Before he got there a French force had chased out the British.  And then began building Fort Duquesne for their own post at present day Pittsburg.

While on the march to what was now going to be Fort Duquesne Washington’s Indian allies discovered a small French force led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville.  Which the Americans and their Indian allies ambushed.  The facts are a little hazy about what exactly happened but Jumonville ended up dead.  And the French blamed Washington.  Said that he killed a diplomat who was doing exactly what Washington had done earlier.  Trying to reach a foreign power with a diplomatic message about the Ohio Country.  Only the French didn’t kill Washington.  As Washington (or someone under his command) had killed Jumonville.  Both sides debated the truth for a long time to come.  But the French response was to attack the nearby Fort Necessity that Washington built to keep an eye on Fort Duquesne.  Captured Washington and his men.  But then let them go.  And shortly thereafter France and Great Britain declared war on each other.  To settle the Ohio Country question.  As well as other outstanding issues between the two great powers.  Which precipitated the Seven Years’ War.  That didn’t end well for the French.

The French hoped to Dictate the Terms of Peace once the Americans won the Revolutionary War

Flash forward some twenty years and here were the Americans feeling out the French to help them in their cause.  So they could gain their independence from Great Britain.  So they could control the Ohio Country.  And other parts of North America.  Whose military was led by the guy that killed Joseph Coulon de Jumonville.  And started the war that lost France her North American possessions.  Which created a very interesting political picture. 

The French hated the British.  That goes without saying.  For they gave the French a humiliating defeat.  But the British had help from their British North American colonists to win that fight.  Who also helped to take away not only the Ohio Country but New France itself.  All of Quebec.  And the Surrounding areas of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.  So would they enter into another costly war with Great Britain?  To help someone obtain their independence from Britain’s constitutional monarchy?  Would the French, an absolute monarchy, help the Americans?  Of course they would.  If the Americans could just impress them enough that they might win this thing.  So the French wouldn’t risk losing anything more to the British.

Well the French were impressed with the American win at Saratoga.  And they joined the Americans.  Made some treaties with them that were favorable to the French.  And hoped that once they won that it would be the French who would dictate the terms of the peace.  For one of their conditions of joining the Americans was that there would be no separate peace between the Americans and the British.  No.  That peace would involve the French.  As the French were already going into great debt helping the Americans in every way short of fighting alongside of them, they were going to make sure they got a favorable return on their investment when taking that last step. 

When Aid came it was not to Support the Americans but to Gain Something from their Common Enemy, the British Empire

After negotiating this treaty the French turned to the Spanish.  Another longtime foe of Great Britain.  And who still had sizeable possessions in the New World.  From South America all the way up the Pacific coast to California.  And up through Mexico all the way through the Mississippi River and surrounding areas.  That big chunk of North America between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains we called the Louisiana Territory.  And parts of southern Florida they ceded to Great Britain in the last war that they wanted back.  So unlike the French the Spanish worried more about the Americans than the British.  Especially their southern and western boundaries.  But the French made their case anyway. 

France’s foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, said the Spanish had much to lose if the Americans lost.  For a strong British presence in North America would eventually threaten California.  And her other possessions.  Great Britain was the threat.  Not the Americans.  Who had no Army, Navy or manufacturing base that could threaten Spain’s North American possessions.  At least, not in the immediate future.  Whereas the British did.  So it was in Spanish interests to help the Americans.  And weaken the British Empire.

Well, the Spanish were all for weakening the British Empire.  But they didn’t trust the ambition of the Americans.  They still saw them as the immediate threat to Spanish territory in North America.  Besides, the whole idea about rebelling against sovereign authority didn’t sit well with them.  Sovereigns had sacred rights to their territory.  They may not have liked the British but they believed in those sacred rights.  Especially when they were holding a lot of territory in the New World.  And the idea about supporting a people in their rebellion against their sovereign was risky business.  It just might give their own people ideas.  They would enter the war.  But not in an American alliance.  They made a treaty with the French.  Offered little to the Americans in blood or treasure.  Then declared war on Great Britain.  Her immediate goal being Gibraltar.  The southern tip of the Spanish peninsula.  That the British had taken in a previous war.

As the Americans approached other European nations the result was pretty much the same.  When aid came it was not so much to support the Americans.  But to gain something from their common enemy.  The British Empire.  Most European nations stayed out of the war.  At most joining in the League of Armed Neutrality to protect their commercial trade.  To protect their ships from the Royal Navy trying to prevent arms and supplies reaching America.  Though this didn’t help the Americans in the short run.  It did make the war far more costly for the British.  Which helped the Americans in the long run.

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