Countries, Decolonization, Security & Defense

Interview with Sir Graham: Gibraltar, Brexit and Territorial Dispute

Last week, I had the honour of meeting Sir Graham Watson, former MEP, and ask him questions about Gibraltar a few days after the Brexit had been announced. I also had the opportunity to ask him about the dispute with Spain, a territorial disagreement which is far from being resolved. You will find some of what the former leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament shared with me during the interview below, in italic. I have tried to complement his arguments with others found in the press and provide additional background information when deemed necessary.

Sir Graham, former MEP for South England between 1994 and 2014, was appointed in October 2014 by HM Government of Gibraltar to lead “the lobbying activities of the Government in the EU capital which includes advising and guiding the Government in connection with the implementation of strategies for the promotion of Gibraltar’s interests within the European Union.” The Representation Office of Gibraltar to the European Union was opened on 27 May 2015, thus confirming Gibraltar’s eagerness to further participate in the EU decision making.

Gibraltar joined the EU (the EEC at the time) alongside the United Kingdom, of which it is an overseas territory, in 1973.

In Gibraltar, EU treaties apply, as outlined in Article 355(3) of the Consolidated Version of the Treaty On the Functioning of the European Union, but VAT, customs rules and excise rules do not.

Although Gibraltarians are obliged to follow EU directives, they had no say in it until 2004, after which Gibraltar was added to the South West England constituency for European Parliament elections. Gibraltar was considered by the UK to be too small to have its own MEP.

Amidst the results of the EU referendum, Gibraltar has made it back to the headlines. The Rock’s future would be uncertain if it had to leave the EU along with the UK, but Spain insistence on getting the territory back to Spain is increasing tension in the region.

Can the dispute between the UK and Spain about Gibraltar be considered as a frozen conflict?

“It cannot really be considered as being frozen because it is alive. There are daily incursions of Spanish vessels and of the police into Gibraltar territorial waters. Spain justifies this by invoking the preservation and environmental zone whose responsibility was given to them by the European Commission. Of course, no shots are being fired, but there are frictions every day. The issue could then be assessed as frozen conflict, with melting edges.”

Sir Graham was referring to the Estrecho Oriental a 69-square-mile marine conservation area site which englobes “all but one small segment of the British zone –  two square miles in the north-western corner.”

Why is it that Spain has relentlessly tried to regain control of Gibraltar since they lost it and the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713?

The Peace of Utrecht, or the Treaties or Utrecht, were signed in 1713 between France and other European powers, and between Spain and other nations. They marked the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  Spain, among others, lost Gibraltar and Minorca to Britain.

Sir Graham explained that “Spain does not contest the loss of any other lost territories, but a clause in the treaty with Britain has made Spain hope that someday, the Rock will be returned to them.”

Indeed, the Treaty states “And in case it shall hereafter seem meet to the Crown of Great Britain to grant, sell or by any means to alienate therefrom the propriety of the said town of Gibraltar, it is hereby agreed and concluded that the preference of having the sale shall always be given to the Crown of Spain before any others.”

Sir Graham suggested that “this part of the text is the basis of the ongoing dispute, as it seems to be interpreted by Spain as a clause that would essentially mean that the UK could give Gibraltar back to them any time. “

When reading the text, it is difficult to understand it this way, especially when the Treaty starts by stating that “The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.”

Spain’s claims are somewhat reflected in Gibraltar’s constitution (that of 1967 and then used in 2006 again) as it states “Whereas Gibraltar is part of Her Majesty’s dominions and Her Majesty’s Government have given assurances to the people of Gibraltar that Gibraltar will remain part of Her Majesty’s dominions unless and until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and furthermore that Her Majesty’s Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes”. This, of course, solemnly declares that the Rock is a British possession, but also that the door is still open for a change of sovereignty. The only difference between Spain and the UK in that regard is that the former does not seem to have any regards to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar, which makes all the difference.

Why should Gibraltar remain British? 

“Gibraltar is a British territory, by law but also by tradition. It has been under British control since 1704, which has been consecrated by the Treaty of Utrecht. So legally speaking, it is British.

Most importantly, the people of Gibraltar want to remain attached to the United Kingdom. They have declared so loud and clear in two referenda over the past 20 years, the latest having taken place in 2002, and as emphasized in the 2006 Constitution.”

In 1967, 99,64% of Gibraltarians rejected Spanish sovereignty. In 2002, when asked “”Do you approve of the principle that Spain and the United Kingdom should share sovereignty over Gibraltar?” 98.97% of Gibraltarians votes no, thus sending a strong message to Spain despite the absence of legal weight of the voting. In 2006, 60,24% approved the new Constitution.

Last week, Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar spoke to Scotland’s First Minister, NIcola Sturgeon to discuss the possibility for both Gibraltar and Scotland to remain in the EU despite the Brexit. Scotland voted to remain at 62% while 95,9% of Gibraltarians wanted to stay in. What exactly is being discussed?

“Chief Minister Picardo has been in touch with Scotland as both territories agree that they are better off in the EU. Among solutions being discussed is the possibility for them to stay within the EU, while England would leave.

“There is no clear plan on how that could be done, but considering the multiple territorial arrangements that exist within the EU, I am sure a solution could be found. Look at Greenland for example. The Danish overseas territory joined the EU in 1973 alongside the mainland, but decided to withdraw and left the EU in 1985.”

Essentially, Sir Graham suggested that “parts of the UK could remain in the EU while others leave, which would only cause a partial Brexit as well as not threaten the unity of the EU.” This idea has been also used in the press and referred to as “reverse Greenland”. Obviously, many issues arise from this idea: what about the freedom of movement?

Sir Graham recalled “the unique histories of Scotland and Gibraltar and their respective cultures which entitle them to decide on their future, aside from that of the UK as a whole. Despite the results of the referendum, he felt that it had proven that Gibraltar still stood united, and that its people do not wish to give up on their European future.

“In spite of the referendum, I believe there is a good chance that Article 50 will never actually be triggered and that the UK will never withdraw from the EU.”

Judging from the lack of plan Brexiters have and of leadership they have shown after their victory, it surely seems that Sir Graham may be close to what will happen.

What are the consequences of Brexit for Gibraltar, its economy and especially the financial sector?

“It is uncertainty that causes the most harm for business. The risk is that Spain will seek to force Gibraltar into accepting Spanish sovereignty, perhaps through closing the border, which would affect the Rock as well as have consequences for Andalusia with which Gibraltar is very close economically (Gibraltar is the 2nd biggest employer of the Spanish region), but Gibraltar will find a way. Trade with Morocco as well as Malta could be increased. The territory has always proven resourceful, being used to Spain’s pressure.”

Franco had the border closed between Spain and the Rock between 1969 and 1985. The shortage of Spanish labour was then replaced by workers coming from Morocco. According to Sir Graham, “there is no reason the same couldn’t happen again considering the thriving and modern economy the territory enjoys. But it surely would make things more difficult for Gibraltar.“

British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond recently declared to the press that “We will be less able to protect Gibraltar’s interests – not defend Gibraltar’s territory, of course we can do that, but to protect Gibraltar’s interests – if we are not inside the European Union.” What does that mean in practice?

“The Foreign Secretary just stated facts. Gibraltar will be more vulnerable out of the EU as the UK would not have the same bargaining chips as if the country were still in the Union. Especially when it comes to protecting the border with Spain, a UK out of the EU means that it does not benefit from any monitoring  of free movement by the European Commission. The European Commission actually ensures that the border between Gibraltar and Spain remains open. When in 2012-13 Spain unjustifiably restricted the flow at the border with Gibraltar, the EU reacted and ensured that Spain’s actions were stopped and crossing the border was made easy again”.

British residents had indeed filed complaints to the European Commission following the long queues that were forming at the border with Spain in 2012 and 2013. The Commission then proceeded to send recommendations to both parties demanding them to ensure “daily cooperation between the authorities working on each side of the border. The Commission thus encourages all relevant authorities to strengthen their constructive dialogue with their counterparts for this purpose.”

For Sir Graham, “it is still very unlikely that, if Gibraltar were to leave the EU, Spain would close the border with the Rock. Indeed, Spain would have too much to lose.”

Why is Gibraltar still on the United Nations’ list of Non-Self-Governing Territories? The people of Gibraltar have supported their political ties with the UK, but why is that not reflected at the UN?

“That you would need to ask the UN. Gibraltar has applied to the UN for decolonisation every year since 1963 but its application has always been blocked by Spain or its allies. But I can assure you that the people of Gibraltar do not feel colonised as they enjoy a very high degree of independence. As to the non-self-governing qualification, this is a result of the fact that in 1713, there was no talk of “self-determination”, and for Spain, it is not a key principle in the dispute.

“What Gibraltar has always been fighting for, however, is that representatives of the Rock be included in the discussions between London and Madrid when it comes to discussing its future. Depending on which party is in power, Spain has been blocking tripartite negotiations. Gibraltar should always be included in the talks if it is the focus of them”.

The Chief Minister was again “critical of the Special Committee for allowing interested member states such as Spain and Argentina further opportunity to wield their obviously greater power and influence within the UN, and to frustrate the very objectives of the Special Committee and the principles which bind it.” What did he mean by that?

“At the UN, each country has one vote. But of course it is more complicated than that. The UK has a lot of influence at the UN being a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. But Spain (and to a certain extent Argentina) is also a prominent actor which often enjoys the backing of Latin American nations.

“But what Spain really hinges their claim on is the anomaly that Gibraltar is – it is the last colony in Europe and this is what they base their rhetoric on. Of course, it is quite hypocritical of then considering that they possess Ceuta and Melilla just across the Mediterranean, but appealing to the need to resolve the issue of the ‘last colony in Europe’ catches the UN’s attention.” 

So why is the dispute still not resolved?

“The issue is not high enough on either of the UK’s or Spain’s agendas. The dispute over Gibraltar is still there, but the reason why it is not mentioned more often or that the UK is not reacting more forcibly to Spain’s attacks is because the two countries have more pressing issues on their cooperative agendas. Ambassadors are in contact almost every day, but not just to discuss Gibraltar. As members of the EU, there is much more to discuss than the Rock.”

What sets the cases of Gibraltar and the Falklands apart? After all, they are both British Overseas Territories disputed by other nations.

“Again, it is the location of Gibraltar that makes the difference. Its military importance is undeniable, both for the UK and NATO. Gibraltar’s airport was not built by the Rock of the UK, but by the US on behalf of the Allies in 1942 to ease the deployment to North Africa. Spain is also a member of NATO, but it is very unlikely that the Alliance will let the Rock go to Spain.”


Minutes after the results of the European referendum were announced, the Spanish acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, declared that the referendum advanced Spain’s prospect to recuperating the Rock, and suggested that the best solution would be “British-Spanish co-sovereignty for a determined period of time, which after that time has elapsed, will head towards the restitution of Gibraltar to Spanish sovereignty”. This demonstrates Spain eagerness to get Gibraltar back although the UK and Gibraltar have no intention of negotiating the status of the Rock. Like Fabian Picardo said, “The position in Gibraltar has not changed, will not change… Gibraltar will always be British.”

The Brexit has certainly brought the dispute over Gibraltar back to the surface. The competing territorial claim between the UK and Argentina will probably follow suit and re-emerge on the international scene. That case will most probably be used by Spain as a lever to support their fight against the UK.

Although a direct confrontation between Spain and the UK is very unlikely, Britain’s current weak position could be the perfect time to kick then while they are down. The consequences for Gibraltar and European stability would, however, be dramatic.


Security & Defense

Incompatible Needs: Denuclearization vs. Nuclear Deterrence

This article analyses how short term security priorities are forcing NATO to revise its nuclear strategy despite the West’s support for  denuclearization, arms reduction and non-proliferation.

This article was originally published by Atlantic Treaty Association here

On May 27th, 2016, United States (US) President Barack Obama used his visit to Hiroshima, Japan, to refocus the world’s attention on denuclearization, a project which has been Obama’s concentration since he took office, and which awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

Obama speaking at a wreath-ceremony with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

President Obama spoke after a wreath-laying ceremony with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday 27 May, 2016. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The speech was deemed hypocritical as the US is currently heavily investing into the modernization of its nuclear arsenal, instead of reducing it, as the denuclearization guidelines would suggest. Washington has also supported the deployment of more nuclear weapons to NATO’s eastern front in response to Russia’s threatening attitude. Of course, some efforts have been made towards nuclear arsenal reduction, notably through the signing of the New START Treaty signed by the United States and Russia, but overall, Obama’s project has been stalling since it was first announced.

The discrepancy between discourse and action is not only visible Continue reading

Countries, History and Culture, Uncategorized

No Chance for Biafra: Africa & Balkanization

Welcome back to!

This time, this topic is inspired by the film “Half a Yellow Sun” which is itself inspired by the book of the same name. The author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a Ted Talk on the “The danger of a single story”, which is also extremely inspiring.

The story is about a young woman, Olanna, who grew up in a wealthy Nigerian family and studied abroad, who decides to take up a position at the University of Nsukka, in the South of Nigeria where her boyfriend works. It is with Olanna’s story that the breaking of the Nigerian civil war, or the Biafran War, erupts in 1967. Olanna and her family are then forced to flee their home and see their loved ones die amidst this conflict.Olanna’s family are Igbos and (or Ibos) wanted to seize independence from the rest of the country after years of oppression.

The Biafran War

Like many African countries, Nigeria is a purely colonial creation which did not exist as a political entity before being colonised by Britain. Organised in tribes and kingdoms, the parts of what constitutes Nigeria today were independent fragments in contact with one another, notably for trade. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the United Kingdom conquered all administrative regions, which were regrouped in Protectorates. In 1914, the Protectorates were merged to form Nigeria.

Nigeria seized independence from the United Kingdom on October 1st, 1960, after decades of ‘struggle for freedom’ and self-determination. The Republic of Nigeria was subsequently divided into three federal regions, then four in 1963. In 1966, the government was toppled and replaced by a succession of military governments, which continued until 1979.

The military governments exacerbated ethnic divisions, of which the Igbos, the ethnicity from the South Eastern region of Nigeria, were at the receiving end. As a consequence, on 30 May, 1967, the Head of the Eastern Region, Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, unilaterally declared the independence of ‘East Nigeria’, renamed ‘Republic of Biafra’. On 15 January 1970, the loyalist army, backed by British, American and Soviet troops, regained control of the Biafran region, seven days after Col. Ojukwu had fled to neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire.


Col. Ojukwu ready to flee while the population of Biafra suffers

Almost three years of civil war where the central Nigerian government tried to regain control of the secessionist region left 1 million civilians dead from fighting and famine. The Biafran war also led to the creation of modern humanitarian interventions.

De facto state and African Unity

Foreign interests played a very important role in the resolution of the Biafran crisis:  first for securing the stability of oil supplies (the Biafra region sits on most of Nigeria’s underground and offshore oil resources, the country’s only natural resource); second, for guaranteeing the unity of Nigeria for stability reasons. Note that those arguments are also applicable to the Nigerian government as well.

On the Biafran side, the strategy was to make the conflict last as long as possible in the hope of gaining international support, and thus armament. This worked to a certain extent as several countries like Gabon, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Zambia formally recognized the newly created state. They also counted on the emotion created by the death toll (referred to as a genocide against the Igbos), the displacement of population and general humanitarian crisis in progress in Biafra to appeal to the international community’s emotion to support the Biafran cause.

For the Nigerian central government, maintaining the Nigerian unity was essential. The African Unity Organization, the ancestor of the African Union and whose principal objective was to “promote the unity and solidarity of African states”, strongly sided with Lagos. It was also in most African countries’ interest to do so as if Biafra would have become an internationally recognized state, it would have created a precedent which would have certainly inspired many secessionist regions to do the same, thus shaking the fragile post-colonial fragility of the continent. Britain and the USSR, surprisingly amidst the Cold War, both supported the territorial integrity option.

The fear of Balkanization

The case of Nigeria in the late 60s is not an isolated case as several ethnicities, notably in Africa, have been fighting for fair political representation and equal rights with other groups within their own countries. No need to look too far back to find examples: think Syria, Iraq, and even Turkey.

The issue that is often brought up to explain why Africa is so conflict-ridden since the end of colonialism in the 60s is that states are colonial constructions that have been arbitrarily drawn (also see the Sykes Picot agreement which redrawn the Middle East).  Before Europeans arrived in Africa, borders were formed by natural obstacles – rivers, mountains, etc. – and each ethnicity had its more or less defined own territory. To ease their ruling over the newly conquered lands, European settlers regrouped several regions under the same jurisdictions; this inevitably caused friction as the different people composing those administrative districts had never had to work together as part of the same entity, be it political, economic or cultural.

It is thus without surprise that ethnic tension and independence movements have been emerging in Africa, causing civil wars and sometimes genocide. Some regions would potentially be viable as independent states: Somaliland, on the southern shore of the Gulf of Aden, possesses all the attributes of a sovereign state (currency, stable government, army and police force, etc.), much more than Somalia itself which is considered a failed state. Despite this, Somaliland is not recognized as an independent state by the international community. Among all the African regions claiming independence, only two managed to get international recognition since decolonisation: South Sudan which officially seized independence in 2011, and Eritrea which seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. Other than that, the colonial map has not changed since the independence waves.

Does the secession of a country solely depend on international support? It appears that South Sudan was able to access to full statehood because of the strong support the independence movement received from the international community, notably in the US. Is it then still down to international powers to decide? One could invoke the argument of genocide of ongoing civil war which helped the case of South Sudan; but this argument still did not allow countries like Rwanda (or Nigeria if you consider the Biafran war as a genocide) to be divided.

In general, the international community fears the “Balkanization” of Africa, whereby countries were to be divided into several smaller one (think Yugoslavia which is now divided into 7 independent countries). Dealing with one government is easier than with multiple; organizing a territorial partition is never an easy task, especially when natural resources are involved. Supporting the independence movements in Africa would come to question the inheritance of the colonial era. In the international community’s mind, and especially in that of the former colonial powers involved in Africa – France and Great Britain – more African members of the United Nations would potentially mean mmore voices to oppose the old colonial order. It would also have probably meant more members of the Non-Aligned Movement to question the West’s superiority.

Going back to the case of Nigeria, the independence of Biafra was not feasible as the project was carried by a single self-interested man who did not hesitate to leave the ship when he saw it was going to sink. National and international interests were also strongly opposing this option, making the project of an independent state totally unlikely.

The case of Biafra is an interesting one because it was the first case which raised the international community’s interest due to the extent of the humanitarian crisis. It, however, was not sufficient to push for the division of Nigeria. Today, Nigeria is the fastest economically growing country in Africa thanks, in parts, to the oil reserves. The destiny of Nigeria would probably have been very different if Biafra had become independent, leaving with most natural reserves.

Further thoughts

This fear of the balkanization of Africa is not only applicable to this continent. The remodelling of borders is dreaded by all nations, including Western ones. It is widely accepted that current states are in their final forms. But the independence movements such as in Scotland, Britany, Catalonia and others, tend to think otherwise. The redrawing of borders has been a constant in history, and there seems to be an urge to continue to do so in certain regions. There is, however, a strong tendency to maintain the status quo even if it leaves many discontent.


Security & Defense

Abomination in the Central African Republic: Sexual abuse by international troops

What do we really know about has been happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) for the past few years? Well, not much, and definitely not enough. What usually comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Sangaris’, or the name of the French stabilisation operation which was launched in December 2013 in CAR, is the rape allegations that were made against French soldiers.

Rape is a commonly used war tactic. Sexual assault has been used throughout history to disgrace and punish the enemy. In CAR, the parties to the sectarian conflict used this method to punish the women and girls “suspected of interacting with people on the other side of the sectarian divide.” The UN Secretary General Report of March 2015 outlined that “2,527 cases of conflict-related sexual violence were documented in the Central African Republic” between the end of 2012 and the publication of the report.

The fact that rape is commonly used in conflicts does not, however, make the practice acceptable as it strongly goes against human rights. The fact that soldiers, who were third parties in a conflict and were deployed to protect the local populations would take part in Continue reading

Security & Defense

France & NATO – pt.4

[Click here to read part 1]

[Click here to read part 2]

[Click here to read part 3]

France, NATO and the EU

Throughout France’s 2013 White Paper on NATO, the EU is omnipresent. Even though it is clearly stated that “NATO and the European Union are not in competition” common sense would suggest otherwise. First, a strong NATO cannot happen without a strong EU. Second, it is stated that NATO should take into account European defence industry to develop smart defence. It is common knowledge that France has always been a strong supporter of a Europe de la Défence project, which is often thought that Paris would be eager to let it replace the Alliance. Indeed, “France will continue to support the European initiative aimed at sharing and pooling military capabilities.” The creation of the Weimar initiative with Poland and Germany confirms France’s determination to increase the EU’s military dimension, a project in which Paris is deeply involved.

The EU and NATO, two organizations serving complimentary purposes

However, the White Paper suggests the complementary posture of the two organizations, emphasizing their diverging scopes, interdependence in terms of operation and crisis resolution and values. France intends to reinforce the European pillar within NATO to shift the responsibilities from North America to the Old Continent when it comes to Europe’s security concerns. Capitalizing on its strong positions in both organizations, France Continue reading

Security & Defense

France & NATO – pt.3

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[Click here to read part 2]

The French Government’s Vision of NATO

In order to determine the current importance of NATO for the French government, it is important to analyse the latest White Paper on Defense and National Security, which was published by Francois Hollande’s government in 2013. The issues covered are the new political landscape France has to evolve in, the strategic priorities, France role in NATO and the EU, how and with which tools to realize those goals.

French White Paper - Defence and National Security, 2013

French White Paper – Defence and National Security, 2013

The White Paper clearly states that France acknowledges the importance of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance as both sides of the Ocean are linked by history and common values. NATO thus gathers Europe and North America around common objectives, including collective defense on which France also depends on for its defence and security.  The official stance on the reintegration into the Integrated Military Structures explains the importance of the gesture which was a natural one. France has, according to the White Paper, retrieved its “rightful place” in the Alliance. As a founding member and one the biggest contributors, France now holds the power it deserves considering these two elements.

France and International Organizations

The French government sees its engagement in both NATO and the EU as indispensable in order to attain its strategic goals and ensure its security. Three possible alternatives are Continue reading

Security & Defense

France & NATO – pt.2

[Click here to read pt.1]

A Divergent Approach to the Alliance

France reintegration into the NATO Integrated Military Structures in 2009 did not come as a total surprise as France had been moving closer to the IMSs for decades. François Mitterrand, followed by former Jacques Chirac, had previously attempted to fully reintegrate NATO, without success as the circumstances did not seem right at the time. The reintegration, announced by Nicolas Sarkozy

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy announces in Paris that France would rejoin NATO's integrated military command on March 11, 2009

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy announces in Paris that France would rejoin NATO’s integrated military command on March 11, 2009, more than 40 years after his predecessor Charles de Gaulle pulled out of the alliance’s inner circle. (Photo: AFP PHOTO POOL / Philippe Wojazer)

therefore did not mark a break in French relations with the Alliance, it only acted as a natural result to the process in place. However, the reintegration did not mean that France would submit itself to all of NATO’s demands, and what Paris had established as his exceptions would remain. These include: “(1) France’s nuclear weapons would remain under national control; (2) France would maintain control over the deployment of French troops in any military operations; (3) France would not put its troops under NATO control in peacetime”. Beyond those three elements that were excluded from the negotiations all along the “creeping reintegration” Continue reading