Mark Viales

The UK will never abandon its control over the gateway to the Mediterranean while it remains a considerable world power and allied to the United States.

Although life in Gibraltar seems peaceful and its standing as an impenetrable fortress increasingly obsolete in modern warfare, she still serves as guardian to the Mediterranean. 

Its role has changed somewhat, now operating more as a surveillance post, while still acting as a repair and refuelling station for important military vessels.

Plans to improve Gibraltar's naval base and increase the Rock’s value as a strategic point for the Royal Navy have been under discussion for years, according to military sources.

Last year the 65,000 tonne, £3.1billion HMS Queen Elizabeth was moored outside the naval base because it was too small to cater for a ship of such dimensions.


The plans to enlarge the base would pave the way for a new generation of carriers to enter the port and receive maintenance more easily.

The idea has been supported by the Gibraltar Government, even though the Rock has progressively undergone a process of demilitarisation and return of land to its people.

The imposing limestone monolith’s support for aircraft, submarines and surface vessels en route to and from deployments East of Suez or Africa is not to be underestimated.

The Rock is also a valuable training facility for land, air and sea operations due to its warm Mediterranean climate and geographical composition.


If the Rock would have fallen to the Nazis in World War Two, many military experts agree that they would have controlled the Mediterranean and subsequently would have had more chance of toppling the Allied powers.

But were we to descend into a third world war, despite the substantial demilitarisation on the Rock, she would once again become a chokepoint in the Mediterranean.

The Strait is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, second only to the English Channel, and is a vital artery for Western powers to access the Middle East.

The seizure of the Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, deemed as violating EU sanctions imposed on the emerging nuclear power, demonstrated Gibraltar’s continued geostrategic relevance.

Although it was released and eventually did make its way towards Syria, the world took notice of Gibraltar in a military sense once again.

Nowadays modern jet fighters can make the journey from the UK to Gibraltar with relative ease and urgency, however, surveillance from the Rock would give them a head start.


The bilateral memoranda agreed to by Gibraltar and Madrid during Brexit negotiations sought to improve cooperation between both parties, but that did not stop Spain from being opportunist.

Spain’s intention to gain a foothold in management of the airport was resolutely shot down, but the point was made, the wolves are at the door.

But Gibraltar, and the UK, would not make any concessions on the airport, which is after all under the surveillance of the MOD.

It is extremely unlikely that the UK’s military interests would take second fiddle in order for London to improve relations its relation with Madrid.

The idea was, similar to what was agreed and then abolished in the Cordoba agreement, that Spain would build a terminal on their side, but that never came to fruition.

Instead Gibraltar’s hostile neighbours continue to uphold restrictions on airspace that make things more complicated for the airport to function more efficiently and develop as its size demands.

Would they perhaps concede on joint sovereignty but keep the military base? Well, this would also seem like a non-starter, first and foremost because the UK claims she would not go against the wishes of Gibraltarians, but also because of Spain’s track record of noncooperation.

Madrid’s decision to allow the refuelling of Russian ships in its enclave in Morocco, Ceuta, despite NATO pressure, gives another valid reason for the UK to refuse to give up any sovereignty in Gibraltar.

Considering Madrid’s incessant objections to British sovereignty in Gibraltar, allowing Russians access suggests that the Spanish authorities are more comfortable with the Russian military than with the presence of its former colonial foe.

Over the years Spain has repeatedly come under pressure from its NATO allies to stop allowing Russian warships to refuel in Ceuta. The government of conservative leader Mariano Rajoy caved in and halted the practice in 2016, but it was resumed after the 2018 election victory of socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.


Gibraltar has grown exponentially since the colonial era and is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with its port functioning as a major commercial shipping lane.

Gibraltar is a bustling commercial centre and with approximately 60,000 vessels transiting the Strait of Gibraltar each year, the Rock has developed into a major bunkering port.

It is the largest in the Mediterranean and offers a wide range of other shipping services that will surely grow as the world moves towards LNG fuel, which Gibraltar has already taken steps towards via the installation of the new LNG power plant. The new industry is likely to generate more funds for the Rock that will allow it to further improve its services in the global industry.

Although it may seem that the UK does not take a strong approach against Spain when it comes to the regular incursions into British Territorial Waters, this is merely a game.

The cat and mouse actions of Spanish warships and fishermen being chased away by local authorities and the Royal Navy can be a nuisance, the UK does not really deem it as a threat to sovereignty.

Ultimately it is the British who control the Bay of Gibraltar and its surrounding Strait. This will not change despite Spain’s greatest protests against it on numerous international platforms.

It is furthermore in NATO’s interest that the waters surrounding Gibraltar remain under British control due to the UK’s stronger and much more reliable military might.

There is no messing around in global military politics and with increasing tensions surrounding the Middle East, Russia and China, it is in the interest of the Western world that Gibraltar remains British.