• Spain's news in English

Gibraltar still strategic asset for Britain: analysts

AFP · 18 Aug 2013, 10:43

Published: 18 Aug 2013 10:43 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 following a military struggle but has since the 1960s fought to have the territory returned to Spanish sovereignty.

Tensions between Britain and Spain over the tiny territory have resurfaced over a concrete artificial reef built by Gibraltar in July. Madrid has said it is considering raising the dispute over its sovereignty with global bodies such as the United Nations.

But Britain is determined to keep Gibraltar for communications and intelligence reasons and to monitor traffic in the Strait of Gibraltar which separates Europe from Africa, said Alejandro del Valle, an international law professor at Spain's Cadiz University.

"You can't forget that much of the territory is occupied by a military airbase, a naval base that is essential for stopovers and as a place to repair nuclear submarines as well as an intelligence base," he said.

Military facilities are located at Gibraltar's airport, at the end of the runway which visitors to the British outpost must cross either by foot or by car to enter the tiny city.

The self-governing British overseas territory, measuring just 6.8 square kilometres, is home to about 30,000 people, and overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean.

During World War II, Britain's military based in Gibraltar controlled virtually all naval traffic in and out of the Mediterranean Sea.

Its location is still strategic given its proximity to Africa's Sahel belt, where Islamist extremism is on the rise, and the fact that a large amount of Middle Eastern oil and gas that is consumed in Europe crosses the Mediterranean, said Del Valle.

A British naval base in Gibraltar, once the mainstay of the territory's economy, is now home to fewer than 200 marines but it remains a popular stopping point for ships heading to the Mediterranean.

"It is a permanent port of call throughout the year for frigates as well as nuclear submarines from Britain as well as from the United States on their way to and from patrols in the Mediterranean," said Luis Romero, a Spanish security expert and the former editor of Europa Sur, a daily newspaper published in Algeciras near Gibraltar.

"A British military commander in Gibraltar said several years ago: 'If Gibraltar did not exist we would have to invent it, because here we are one thousand miles closer to the threat'," he added.

British warships have embarked on a routine naval exercise that will see a frigate, the HMS Westminster, dock in Gibraltar on Monday.

The stop comes amid an escalating diplomatic row between London and Madrid over stringent car searches by Spanish guards at the Gibraltar border.

Gibraltar is more important now for shipping than for its military role, said Chris Grocott, a lecturer in economic history at the University of Leicester who specialises in Gibraltar.

"Historically it was an incredibly important military base. It is less so now. When you look at the kinds of military operations Gibraltar was involved in the past, like World War II, these were clearly enormous military operations of a scale that does not happen anymore," he said.

Story continues below…

"In terms of its position I think it is more important for its place on the shipping lane, as a refuelling stop."

Britain also values the key role Gibraltar plays in its electronic surveillance operations, said Romero.

The Rock of Gibraltar, a massive limestone block whose white cliffs rise up to more than 400 metres above the sea, "is a very interesting watchtower for the British, who exploit it for their own benefit as for that of its closest ally, the United States," he said.

Gibraltar's strategic importance to Britain was underscored during London and Madrid's failed talks on joint British-Spanish sovereignty in the early 2000s, said Del Valle.

"The British of course did not want co-sovereignty for the bases or that they be for joint use," he said.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Spain's Rajoy says king has tasked him with forming govt
Photo: AFP

Spain's king on Tuesday tasked Mariano Rajoy with forming a government, taking the acting conservative prime minister a step closer to power again after a 10-month political deadlock.

Two imams arrested in Ibiza resort over 'Isis support'
The men were arrested in the resort of Sant Antoni de Portmany. Photo: Jose A / Flickr

Two Moroccan imams at a mosque on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of backing the Islamic State group and inciting jihad.

Balearic Islands choose to keep summertime forever
The islands will have longer evenings during winter. Photo: AFP

The Balearic Islands want to keep summertime when the rest of Spain turns the clocks back on Sunday.

  Brazilian had 'uncontrollable desire to kill': Spain police
Francois Patrick Nogueira Gouveia has been charged with murdering his uncle, his wife and their two children. Photo: Guardia Civil.

A Brazilian teenager accused of dismembering his uncle and aunt and killing their two young sons in a grisly crime that shocked Spain had an "uncontrollable desire to kill", police said on Monday.

Man rescued from bin after climbing in to find old clothes
Photo: Policía Local Murcia

Police were called after passersby reported hearing a man calling for help from within a rubbish bin in the Vistabella neighbourhood of Murcia, southern Spain.

Spain faces crucial week as conservatives re-take power
Mariano Rajoy hopes to form a government this week. Photo: AFP

Spain entered a crucial week as acting conservative PM Mariano Rajoy prepared to re-take power, ending ten rollercoaster months without government marked by hope and disillusion.

Eight very creepy Halloween costumes ideas from Spain
Photo: Pan's Labyrinth

Forget flamenco dancers and bullfighters, The Local counts down the freakiest alternative costume ideas to dress up in this Halloween.

Man attacked by racist thug in UK street for talking Spanish

Tomas Gil, 27, from Valencia in eastern Spain was talking to his girlfriend in their native language after a night out in the British seaside town of Poole when he was set upon by a racist thug.

Malaga: Police probe bizarre 'sex death' of homeless Brit
The man was found near Malaga airport. Photo: Dennis Howlett / Flickr

A British homeless man was found dead tied to a bench near Malaga airport with his trousers down and his genitals in a can of tuna.

Clock ticking as Spain races to avoid third elections
Third elections could now be avoided. Photo: AFP

Spain's Socialists voted on Sunday to allow the conservatives to take power, likely averting a third election for Spaniards tired of going to the polls.

Analysis & Opinion
Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
jobs available