Against a Rock of Gibraltar

You may not have noticed -- hardly surprising, really -- that there's currently another fracas over Gibraltar. If Gibraltar has so far escaped your attention, then I should tell you that it's a British colony located at the southern tip of Spain, which Spain would dearly like have back. The problem is that the denizens of Gibraltar -- 18,440 of them -- are not at all interested in becoming Spanish. They want to go on, for better or worse, being (sort-of) Brits.

This rejection is extremely frustrating for the Spanish government, whose cries of "territorial integrity," "Spain for the Spanish," etc. play very well indeed at home. So it refuses to let the matter rest. And it has now produced a new demarche, a so-called "avenue for reflection," which -- though it has been denounced by the Gibraltarians as once more totally ignoring their right to self-determination -- nevertheless, in the soothing words of Spain's Ambassador to Britain, "will lead in the future to the safeguard [sic] of the security, stability and prosperity of [its] inhabitants."

Now this strikes me as being essentially the same attitude being struck by the Americans and a number of their allies over the expansion of NATO. What they're saying is: "We won, your old colonies are now part of the West, and -- the West being for Westerners -- they'll have to join the Western alliance."

As for poor old Mother Russia, the old center of the Pact, "Don't worry," they say, "it'll be perfectly all right on the night. Just trust us. For it will" -- yes -- "lead in the end to the safeguard [sic] of the security, stability and prosperity of [Russia's] inhabitants. Why," they go on, "we're even prepared to set up a brand new talking-shop called the NATO Russian Council. What? What did you say? Will Russia actually be given equal partnership and a vote on it? Well, gosh, we don't know, ahem, ahem... We'll just have to wait and see."

I know the analogy is not exact. But this, it seems to me, is exactly the same sort of oleaginous talk that's denounced as disguised saber-rattling and self-interest when it comes from the Spanish. And as in the case of Gibraltar, it has exactly the opposite effect from the one intended on the people at whom it is aimed. Every time the Spanish pursue this line, the Gibraltarians just dig in deeper. (They know a raw deal when they see one.) And now the Russians -- quite properly, in my view -- are doing exactly the same.

What the West completely forgets in its triumphalist posturing is the degree to which Russian survival -- indeed the development of the entire Russian state -- has been historically dependent on the security of its borders. As it developed from its embryonic core in Muscovy, Russia had no natural geographical boundaries, except perhaps to the north. If it wanted to protect itself against the enemies which constantly threatened it from every direction from the Mongols onwards, it had to neutralize them and constantly push outward, to the Black Sea, into the Baltics and what we call Europe, and across the Urals to the Far East and the Pacific Ocean.

The word "Ukraine," after all, simply means "frontier." And the securing of this frontier -- against huge odds and with enormous losses -- is what has given the Russian state the political and social features it retains today.

Part of its legacy, too, is extreme -- and often justified -- suspicion of foreigners: a xenophobia which the historian Natan Eidelman once described to me, along with obsessive egalitarianism and totalitarianism, as one of the three malign children of its history. So given all this, what does the West do now? It first eats away at Russia's Western borders and undermines once and for all its sense of security, and it then has the gall to suggest that this is in Russia's ultimate interest, proving once again that foreigners are people who habitually carry poisoned gifts.

It's no wonder that Ivan Rybkin, the Secretary of Russia's Security Council, has now announced that Russia should under the circumstances give up its commitment to "no first use" of nuclear weapons, a commitment which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as it happens, has never itself made.

For the truth is that NATO, in its wilful ignorance, is doing just what the Spanish government is doing to the Gibraltarians, creating an opposition which it claims to be trying to placate. To this extent -- as Karl Kraus once said of psychoanalysis -- it is the disease of which it purports to be the cure. As that wily old American, George Kennan, said recently -- and he should know -- it's the biggest mistake made by Western foreign policy in 50 years.