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.