The weekend politics shows, and Sunday newspapers have been full of indignant Tories telling us that they stand “like a rock” behind Gibraltar, and sending out ominous threats to the EU, reminding them that thirty-five years ago, another woman Prime Minister sent out thousands of British troops to die over a god-forsaken piece of rock in the South Atlantic. It comes on top of the other threats that Britain has sent out to Europe, in the last few days, about withdrawing its co-operation over defence and security. But all this noise, is simply the effect of an empty vessel. The sound and fury comes from the fact that the Brexiters are having to come to terms with the reality that the theoretical “sovereignty” they promised, actually amounts to a complete powerlessness in reality, even over minor issues such as Gibraltar.
In its pronouncements over the weekend, Britain has tried to couch the dispute in terms of one between Britain and Spain, but, of course, it is not, which is why it was the EU that raised the issue, in its response to Britain's Article 50 letter. Spain is a part of the EU, and Britain is now withdrawing from it, and all of the muscle that the EU, with its $18 trillion economy, and 500 million people can mobilise. However much the Tories, and other Brexiters, might want to bury their head in the sand, and pretend that they only have an argument with Spain, the reality is that they have an argument with the whole of the EU, and ultimately it is an argument that Britain cannot win, for the simple reason that it is a minor power compared to the EU. It is only the first example of a fact that will keep hitting Britain over the head, in the years to come.
What those who hark back to Thatcher's military adventure in the Falklands forget to mention is that, despite the fact that Britain was confronting a third rate power in Argentina, it very nearly lost. Britain was very close to running out of ammunition on the islands, which would have caused it to have had to surrender. But the EU, most certainly is not Argentina. Britain may want to fool itself about its military might, but the reality is that the EU, which is the home for some of the most advanced military production, on which British companies, such as BAe Systems etc. depend for orders, could ramp up military production overnight to way in excess of anything that Britain could achieve. Moreover, all previous wars show that it is not the weapons that are used at the start that determine the outcome, but those developed during the war.
The reality is that latest reports show that Britain and its declining economy has a £10 billion hole in its defence budget. Britain has built aircraft carriers that it does not even have aircraft to put on them. If Britain came to fight even the Falklands War again today, it could not, because it does not have the ships, or the capability to do so, let alone to fight a war against the advanced economies of the EU!
And, experience also shows that Britain does not have the capacity to fight prolonged guerilla type wars either. In the 1970's, Britain could not even defeat tiny Iceland over fishing rights in the North Sea, during the Cod Wars. Having to send out large numbers of naval vessels on policing missions, means you need to have large numbers of those vessels to begin with, and the sailors to crew them. But, such actions are inefficient and very expensive. Britain never defeated the IRA in the North of Ireland, though the IRA did not defeat Britain either. The solution to that conflict was actually provided by the framework that the EU provided, and Britain in destroying that framework may find itself involved in that conflict again, and if it is particularly obstructive, might find itself involved in similar conflict with Scotland. For example, in the 1970's when there was hostility to English people owning second homes in Wales, that pushed up Welsh house prices beyond what locals could afford, it led to the Sons of Glendower burning homes in Wales, and other such actions.
The Tories could find that its not even 60 million British people fighting 500 million Europeans, but 50 million English people fighting 500 million Europeans, as well as fighting rebellions by 7 million Scots, disenchanted Irish Republicans, and Welsh nationalists.
Its time that someone told the 19th century colonialists that have seized control of the Tory Party that time has moved on, and Britannia no longer rules the waves. In fact, as Trotsky pointed out, in the 1920's, when it looked like the next war would be between a heavily arming US, and Britain, the very fact of Britain being an island was a grave weakness in the industrial age. Britain only survives by trade, which brings in food, fuel and raw materials. As Trotsky warned those that proposed building “Socialism In One Country”, in Britain, it could be easily cut off from that trade and those vital resources, starving it into submission. Indeed, Hitler nearly accomplished that.
For all the Tories hollow rhetoric, the fact is that Britain will not go to war with the EU over Gibraltar, because it knows it will lose. Even making life difficult for Gibraltar will place an impossible burden on Britain to try to overcome. A more fitting example that the Gibraltarians should bear in mind, rather than the Falklands, is Britain's attitude to the Chagos Islanders. Britain did not bat an eye when it came to throwing them under the bus, so that the US could establish a military base on Diego Garcia. Britain forgot all about its commitments to self-determination and human rights, and sent the inhabitants of the islands packing, to make way for the US military machine.
There is no credible basis on which Britain will go to war with Europe over Gibraltar, and even if there were, socialists would certainly oppose it. Of course, the people of Gibraltar have a bourgeois-democratic right to self-determination, as did the people of the Falklands, but that right cannot trump our commitment, as socialists, to secure the greatest possible unity of workers on a wider basis across borders. There is no basis upon which socialists could support millions of British workers, and European workers dying in yet another European War, simply over the bourgeois democratic rights of a few thousands Gibraltarians. Too many millions of European workers lives were lost in the last century over such conflicts, and it was in part to avoid such conflicts that the EU was set up in the first place.