Case 307 - One Rock, Two Principles: The Gibraltar Problem
Kempton, Daniel R. and Michael Killoran
This case study, intended for an introductory international relations course, is designed to help students understand the choices states must make between acting on their ideals (as suggested by the liberal idealist school) and acting in their self-interests (the realist school). It focuses on an issue that British Secretary of State Jack Straw considered in November 2002: whether to alter the status of Gibraltar, which had been a British colony for nearly three centuries. Straw’s decision was unlikely to dramatically affect Great Britain's fate or even significantly alter its security, given that the peninsula’s area is just 6.25 square miles, and its population was about 30,000. Nonetheless, the issue pitted two basic principles of British foreign policy against each other. The realist tradition suggested Britain ought to cede at least partial control over Gibraltar to Spain. On the other hand, British liberal tradition suggested Britain should allow the Gibraltarians self-determination, which would lead either to independence or to continued British sovereignty.