Spain Defense and Foreign Policy

By | January 11, 2021

Foreign policy and defense

Spain is a nation in Southern Europe. Its capital city is Madrid. During the Franco dictatorship 1939–1975, Spain was internationally isolated. The situation changed rapidly during the democratization following Franco’s death in 1975. Spain joined the NATO Alliance in 1982 and four years later in the EC (now the EU). Today, Spain is one of the largest investors in Latin America, and it also protects its cooperation with the Mediterranean, not least North Africa. The membership of the UN is a cornerstone of foreign policy and in 2015-2016, Spain was a member of the UN Security Council.

Since 1999, Spain has been part of the European Monetary Union EMU and Spain has been pushing for deeper cooperation within the EU. In February 2005, Spain was the first country to hold a referendum on the proposal for a new EU constitution. As expected, the result was a clear yes.

At the same time, the economic crisis of 2008 has led to a reduction in EU support for the population. However, all major political parties are positive to membership, although the Left Party Podemos voiced some criticism of the Union. Spain is among the countries that have gained the most from EU membership in the form of various grants, but since 2004 the country has received competition from the member states of Eastern Europe. During the period 2014-2020, almost one third of the money goes from the EU Youth Unemployment Fund to Spain.

Relations with the United States, Latin America and North Africa

During the Socialist Party PSOE’s time in power 2004–2011, Spain approached France and Germany. Former Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero condemned the US-led Iraq war and in 2004 called home the Spanish soldiers that the previous right-wing government had sent to Iraq. However, the government made every effort to maintain good relations with the United States. Even the conservative PP government under Mariano Rajoy, who took office in December 2011, has maintained good relations with the United States and assured that Spain is a reliable ally in the fight against terrorism. The United States was one of Spain’s main trading partners in the mid-2010s and Spain is one of the countries that wants the TTIP free trade agreement between the EU and the US to be implemented.

Spain has strong historical and cultural ties to Latin America. Since the 1990s, economic cooperation has increased and Spain is now one of the largest investors in Latin America. The Zapatero government formed closer ties with the left governments in Brazil and Venezuela, among others.

The Spanish government sees great potential in future economic cooperation with North Africa. The ties to the nearest neighbor in the south, Morocco, are particularly strong for historical and cultural reasons, although there are several conflicts. One is about the exclaves Ceuta and Melilla, which Morocco claims. In 2006, they were visited by Zapatero, the first Spanish Prime Minister since 1981. In 2007, the then King Juan Carlos arrived for the first visit of a monarch of 80 years. The reception was overwhelming among the residents of the exclaves, but Morocco called home its ambassador to Madrid in protest. A sensitive topic is also the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed when Spain left the area in 1975.

Spain and Morocco now have a close cooperation on security issues.

Conflict about Gibraltar

In 2002, a diplomatic conflict arose after Moroccan soldiers landed on the small cliff island Leila / Perejil in Gibraltar strait, which both Spain and Morocco claim. Spanish military expelled Moroccans from the island. Following mediation by the United States, the countries entered into an agreement promising to regard the island as neutral territory. Relations between the two countries improved in 2003 when Morocco was promised a large loan to create jobs and reduce illegal immigration to Spain.

A series of cooperation agreements in the autumn of 2006 between Spain and Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal have reduced the problem of smuggling of African migrants to Spain. The West African countries receive extra assistance in receiving countrymen rejected from Spain.

Gibraltar, which since 1713 is British (see Ancient History), has been a constant dispute between Spain and the United Kingdom but in 2006 a tripartite agreement was signed on the territory. In the UK referendum on EU membership held in June 2016, where a majority of the British voted to leave the Union (“Brexit”), around 98 per cent of Gibraltar residents voted to stay in the EU. Spain then offered the British a joint British-Spanish stewardship over Gibraltar, so that the enclave could continue to be included in the EU, but Britain rejected as expected the offer. When the Spanish king spoke before the UN General Assembly in September 2016, he urged Britain to discuss a solution for Gibraltar with Spain. In the new government that took office in November 2016, however, the Foreign Minister has been replaced and the issue of Gibraltar has been slightly diminished.


Although Spain joined NATO in 1982, the country waited until 1996 to fully integrate into the defense alliance. Since 1989, Spain has participated in some 140,000 troops in over 50 different international operations, including NATO bombings in Yugoslavia in 1999 and in the NATO troops during the US war against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 2001. A Spanish force participated in the 2003 US-led Iraq war, but was withdrawn in 2004.

Spain participated with five aircraft in the prohibition zone over Libya in 2011.

Of the approximately 1,000 soldiers remaining in Afghanistan in 2012, most had been sent home by the end of 2014. Only a few were included in the so-called Resolute Support Mission in July 2016, the purpose of which was to train, advise and otherwise assist Afghan forces.

Spain had around 400 men in Iraq in August 2017 to train Iraqi military and police. However, the Spanish force does not participate in any air raids against the Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups.

In the mid-2010s, Spain participated with efforts in, among others, Mali and the Central African Republic and against pirates off the coast of Somalia and more. In 2014-2015, Spain accounted for just over five percent of NATO’s budget.

Spain has had a defense agreement with the United States since 1953, which means that the United States has been allowed to station soldiers in the country. Today there are two US military bases in Spain, the Morón air base and the Rota naval base. In the fall of 2011, Spain agreed that in the coming years, the United States would be allowed to station four vessels with weapons for NATO’s missile defense at the naval base.

The military duty was abolished in 2002. Nowadays Spain has a professional army with about 120,760 soldiers, of which 12.5 percent are women (2015). The economic crisis has caused the defense budget to shrink, from 0.8 percent of GDP in 2007 to slightly more than 0.5 percent in 2015.


Army: 70 950 male (2017)

The air Force: 19 250 men (2017)

The fleet: 20 050 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.2 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 3.0 percent (2017)



Mass protests among air traffic controllers against savings packages

The government presents a savings package to reduce public spending. For example, the airports will be partially privatized and the benefits of the extremely high paid air traffic controllers reduced. Air traffic controllers protest through mass sick leave, leading to chaos in air traffic. The government then announces disaster states and forces the air traffic controllers back to work.


The pope faces both tributes and protests

Pope Benedict visits Spain and the pilgrimage site Santiago de Compostela, where he is celebrated by crowds. But when the pope inaugurates the famous church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, ​​he is greeted by gay protests.


Politicians face the right of corruption deals

The trial in Caso Malaya (Malayan Falls), Spain’s largest corruption heritage ever, begins in Malaga. Local politicians and officials in Marbella are suspected of misappropriating municipal funds and receiving bribes to grant building permits in, among other protected areas, given public contracts and more. A total of 95 politicians, officials, entrepreneurs and lawyers are accused of seizing a total of 670 million euros from the municipality’s funds.

The government announces new savings

The government presents the 2011 budget proposal containing 7.9 percent cuts and tax increases for high-income earners with a total of close to EUR 200 million.

ETA announces ceasefire

The ETA Separatist guerrillas declare that they should lay down their weapons and suspend all armed actions in the fight for an independent Basque country. The reaction in Madrid is pending and skeptical, but it is obvious that ETA’s military branch has been weakened by the arrests of senior members in recent years.


Criticism against Spanish police

Reporters Without Borders criticizes Spanish police for attacking at least six journalists and photographers who watched events where police intervened against protesters.


Catalonia prohibits bullfighting

The Catalonia region makes a historic decision to ban bullfighting, a centuries-old and deeply rooted tradition in Spain. It is the first region to introduce such a ban.

No to a can ban

The lower house votes against a proposal to investigate bans on Islamic burqa and niqab, that is, veil for women covering face and hair, in public places. It is conservative PP who want the investigation, but among other things the ruling Socialist Party opposes. Barcelona and some other cities in Catalonia have introduced a ban on canning in municipal buildings.


Labor market reform receives criticism

The Government presents a proposal for major labor market reform, which aims, among other things, to facilitate companies to terminate permanent employees. The plan receives harsh criticism from several directions.


The government presents a new austerity package

The government decides on a new austerity package of EUR 15 billion, including reduced salaries for government employees, frozen state pensions, abolished bonuses for new parents, frozen salaries from 2011 and a special wealth tax. Public servants strike in protest against austerity. Parliament approves the government’s savings package.


Spain’s credit rating is lowered

Spain’s credit rating is lowered as the market expects a long period of weak economic growth in the country. As a result, concerns about Spanish government finances are increasing.


Detention order against ETA members

A Spanish court issues an arrest warrant for a group of members of the Basque terror group ETA and Colombian left-wing guerrilla Farc. They are suspected of planning to murder Colombia’s then-president Alvaro Uribe and his representative Andrés Pastrana, who resides in Spain. The Venezuelan government is suspected to be involved and Spain is requesting a declaration from Venezuela. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez denies meddling and believes it is a dirty campaign from the US, but promises to investigate the matter. ETA and Farc are listed as terrorist groups by both the EU and the US.


The government announces savings packages

With an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent and a budget deficit for the past year of over 11 percent, extraordinary measures are required. The government therefore announces a savings package of EUR 50 billion and plans at the same time to increase VAT. To address the government’s deficit in the long run, it is proposed to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67, which leads to union protests with tens of thousands of participants.