Quotulatiousness

August 11, 2013

Debunking the “Cameron’s gunboat diplomacy” meme

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:22

Sir Humphrey points out that the British media’s collective gasp about Royal Navy ships being sent to Gibraltar merely highlights what a slow news month it is:

It’s an amusing irony that the recent row in Gibraltar has suddenly given the Royal Navy more publicity about its forthcoming COUGAR deployment in one evening, than it may have got in several months of deployment. The news that the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) is deploying to the Med has been seen as a clear example of gunboat diplomacy by Fleet Street’s finest, many of whom seem terribly keen on starting a war in order to fill column inches during a slow news month…

Its perhaps worth noting that this deployment is extremely long standing — the sort of planning which goes into deploying a major Task Force will usually commence at around 12 months prior to the event, when the rough outline of a plan is put together on the objectives of the deployment, likely ports, aims and intended outcomes and so on. While maritime power is about flexibility, it’s often forgotten that most RN deployments these days are the end product of months of well co-ordinated planning and staffing to ensure that the UK gets the best possible value from its naval assets.

[...]

What we can perhaps draw from this is that firstly the RN has enjoyed an unexpected boon of coverage, tapping into the nation’s subliminal psyche which holds that sending a grey hull is a key means of solving a crisis, no matter what or where the crisis is. There is perhaps work for some analysts to understand why, almost alone among all major powers, the cries of ‘send a gunboat’ seem to resonate most strongly in the UK (albeit to a lesser extent the same applies with the ‘send a carrier’ debate in the US). While deployments of warships can be seen as a useful indicator of interest in situations, it appears to be held most strongly in the UK — there is, at times, a fervent belief that deploying vessels is akin to the legend of waving the ancient banner three times in order for Arthur and his knights to appear — it makes little practical sense, but is somehow strangely comforting to the people.

August 7, 2013

Gibraltar as this year’s “shark story” filler

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Sir Humphrey thinks there’s rather less than meets the eye in the media’s coverage of the Spanish government’s recent series of escalations over Gibraltar:

Its August, the sun is shining, the politicians are on holiday and the media are desperately searching around for some kind of story to fill the news. Suddenly, the perfect story has emerged — those dreadful Spanish are doing all manner of dubious things to threaten Gibraltar and simultaneously the Falkland Islands. Is there reason for panic, or is it a case of just summer bluster in order to distract attention from other problems? The UK has always had a challenging relationship with the Spanish over Gibraltar — no matter how much the UK wishes to move the relationship forward (and in many areas it remains an extremely strong and positive relationship), this feels as if it is an issue which cannot easily be resolved.

The current situation owes much to the Spanish ratcheting up tensions after claims that Gibraltar was laying concrete blocks into local waters, in turn threatening traditional fishing grounds. It is hard to work out whether this is a genuine grievance, or merely a convenient pretext in order to gain some traction on putting pressure on the territory. Following a previous weekend where long traffic jams occurred with checks on all cars transiting the border, the Spanish are now reportedly considering imposing an entrance / exit tax of 50 Euros on anyone transiting their side of the border. While such taxes may be deeply unpleasant, they are perhaps not necessarily new (many countries impose similar entrance taxes around the world). The question is to what extent would this damage the local economy? It is worth considering that many Gibraltarians work in southern Spain, so any tax would probably make it difficult to get to work and damage the livelihood of many small businesses – perhaps appealing in a nation where youth unemployment is ever higher, but in the interim it could easily cause more long term economic damage to both the Spanish and Gibraltarian economies.

So what is the tie-in to the Falkland Islands? A media report on Spain selling Mirage fighter jets to Argentina:

It is not clear whether this is actually news, or whether it’s the case that the Tabloid press have been looking on Wikipedia and turned what is a one line entry on future Spanish Mirage jet prospects into an article designed to raise tensions. In reality this site has long made the point that the Argentine Armed Forces are in a parlous state, and that they are desperately short of spares, training and operational experience.

They’ve also taken various fleets of aircraft out of service in recent years, so its entirely reasonable to expect some form of replacement at some point. In the case of the Mirage jets, they entered service in 1975 and are extremely old and not necessarily front line fast jet material any longer. Acquisition of a small number of 1970s vintage jets which have been worked hard for nearly 40 years is not really going to change the balance of power in the South Atlantic. Indeed, its worth noting that right now (if you believe Wikipedia) the entire Argentine Mirage fleet is grounded anyway due to spares and safety issues. At best this acquisition may try and restore some limited capability. So, its fair to say that the Falkland Islands are hardly at risk of collapse — if the acquisition of a small number of ancient fighter aircraft materially changes the balance of power, then something has gone very badly wrong in UK defence planning circles.

July 29, 2013

Spanish border guards stage virtual blockade of Gibraltar

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:18

The Spanish claim to Gibraltar is being pursued by other means, it would seem:

Spanish police stopped every one of 10,000 vehicles leaving Gibraltar for the mainland yesterday, causing six-hour traffic jams in the latest escalation in the standoff over the Rock.

Officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police were forced to impose diversions and create beachside holding areas as Spanish authorities ‘choked’ the border, causing massive tailbacks in 30C heat.

It was the second day that border guards had blocked links to the mainland, in a move that seemed calculated to bring Gibraltar to a standstill.

[...]

Most recently Spanish fishermen sparked a stand-off with the Royal Navy as they attempted to disrupt the creation of an artificial reef in the Bay of Gibraltar last week.

The fishermen used fast boats to weave in between British vessels involved in the reef-laying operation in a bid to create large waves to disrupt the work, the Sunday Express reported.

Intervention by a Royal Navy patrol boat brought an end to the protests. A Gibraltar government spokesman has accused Spain of launching the ‘draconian’ border checks which continued yesterday in ‘retaliation’.

He said the decision to lay the reef, which consists of large concrete blocks sunk to the bottom of the bay, had been taken on environmental grounds.

However, he added, it had infuriated Spanish fishermen since it would also foil any attempts by their vessels to carry out illegal trawling of the bottom of the Bay of Gibraltar.

Criticising the Spanish government’s response, the spokesman added to the Sunday Express: ‘Not only are these measures affecting thousands of innocent Spanish workers who make their living on Gibraltar, but we are extremely concerned about pensioners and families with young children being forced to suffer in this way just because they want to visit the mainland.’

February 18, 2013

Did you know … that Wikipedia has an obsession over Gibraltar?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

I’d noticed one or two of these “Did you know…” entries on the Wikipedia site, but I didn’t realize just how much of a fixation the online encyclopedia has for “The Rock”:

Last October Wikipedia‘s supreme leader Jimmy Wales called for a “strong moratorium” on the online project’s strange obsession with promoting Gibraltar — even suggesting a five-year ban on Gibraltar-loving Did You Know… posts on Wikipedia‘s front page.

“I think it is clear that there should be a strong moratorium on any Gibraltar-related DYKs on the front page of Wikipedia. I would recommend a total ban on them for five years, but that might be too extreme. I support that we get wider community attention on the issue,” he wrote in October last year.

The moratorium was opposed by Wiki editors but they did agree on certain guidelines. Every Gibraltar DYK has to be reviewed by two reviewers to check for conflict-of-interest issues or promotionalism, and no more than one Gibraltarpedia hook is allowed in one a day. Also, Bamkin (user name Victuallers) is not allowed to create or nominate Gibraltar-related articles to DYK.

Jimmy Wales speaks, and Wikipedia leaps into action. In December, they restricted themselves to a mere nine Gibraltar DYK entries. January saw 12 Gibraltarpedia links. As of today, there have been six Gibraltar-related posts in February.

November 11, 2012

Royal Navy patrol sees off Spanish corvette

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:25

Gibraltar. Scenic and historic port at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. Oh, and ongoing point of friction between the UK and Spain:

A Royal Navy patrol boat has confronted a Spanish warship off the coast of Gibraltar in the latest and most serious clash over Britain’s territorial waters.

The Government has accused Spain of an ‘unlawful incursion’ after the Vencedora, a 288ft-long naval corvette, came within three miles of Gibraltar’s coast, apparently heading towards its port.

The Vencedora, which means ‘winner’, was equipped with Harpoon anti-ship missiles, multiple guns and torpedoes when it entered Gibraltar’s territorial waters on Wednesday afternoon.

The Spanish ship ignored radio warnings to leave the area, and HMS Scimitar, a seven-man patrol boat, was scrambled to intercept.

Gibraltar has been British territory since the early 1700′s, but the current Spanish government would like to change that. As the Wikipedia article points out, the inhabitants strongly prefer staying as British citizens to becoming Spanish:

In the 1950s, Franco renewed Spain’s claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar and restricted movement between Gibraltar and Spain. Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain under British sovereignty in the Gibraltar sovereignty referendum, 1967, which led to the passing of the Gibraltar Constitution Order in 1969. In response, Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar and severed all communication links. The border with Spain was partially reopened in 1982, and fully reopened in 1985 prior to Spain’s accession to the European Community.

In a referendum held in 2002, Gibraltarians rejected by an overwhelming majority (99%) a proposal of shared sovereignty on which Spain and Britain were said to have reached “broad agreement”. The British government has committed itself to respecting the Gibraltarians’ wishes. A new Constitution Order was approved in referendum in 2006. A process of tripartite negotiations started in 2006 between Spain, Gibraltar and the UK, ending some restrictions and dealing with disputes in some specific areas such as air movements, customs procedures, telecommunications, pensions and cultural exchange.

Update, 13 November: And here they come again:

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