[Ed. – Heritage is right. This is a long-term problem, and portends a future standoff on whether the Mediterranean is a free-access area, or a sea that Russia tries to act as gatekeeper for.]
Russia’s access to Ceuta is of particular concern considering Ceuta’s close proximity to the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. From America’s first overseas military intervention in 1801 against the Barbary States to the most recent military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. has often relied on Gibraltar’s military facilities.
This is especially true for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines. Gibraltar is the best place in the Mediterranean Sea to repair and resupply U.S. submarines. Strong U.S.–U.K. military cooperation assists the U.S. in keeping its submarine assets integrated into the European theater. Yet the real threat of Russian submarine activity in the region endangers all of those operations. As the former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, once pointed out, “These [submarine] capabilities are increasingly important as the Russian Federation Navy increases the pace, scope, and sophistication of its submarine fleet.”
All maritime vessels entering or leaving the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean must pass through the Strait of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is one of the U.K.’s Permanent Joint Operating Bases and serves as an important forward operating base for the British military, which affords a supply location for aircraft and ships destined for Africa and the Middle East for the U.K. and her allies. The deepwater Port of Gibraltar provides a secure docking area as well as vast amounts of safe anchorage for nuclear-powered submarines. The topography of Gibraltar makes intelligence gathering a core function. Having Russian submarines resupply mere miles away presents a potential intelligence and security problem for the U.S. and its allies.