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Military intervention in politics has been a recurring theme in Spain since the end of the Napoleonic wars. From 1814 to 1936, Spain experienced no fewer than fifty-four attempts by the army or by groups of officers to intervene against the civilian authority. Twelve of these succeeded in overthrowing the existing regime or in abrogating its constitution. The form each of these interventions took was that of a pronunciamiento (pl., pronunciamientos), whereby a group of rebelling officers would "pronounce" what it wanted the civilian leaders to do (see Rule by Pronunciamiento , ch. 1; Historical Role of the Armed Forces , ch. 5).

The support of the armed forces was an essential factor in maintaining Franco's forty-year dictatorship. Franco was always aware of the importance of this support, and he managed to foster the belief that the army's interests would be served best by the continuation of his rule. Franco restored to the army its role of guarantor of the nation's values. At the same time, Franco was aware of the dangers of a politicized army. He retained firm control of the military establishment and prevented any individual officer from gaining a power base. If a military leader became too popular or began to question Franco's policies, he was quickly removed from any position of influence.

Following the death of Franco, King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Suarez were able to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy by proceeding with extreme caution and consulting with the military leadership throughout the process. Thus, the military leaders retained the belief that they had the right to be consulted on matters of national importance. The democratic leftists were also aware of the ever-present possibility that reformist measures could alienate the military and could provoke a coup attempt, which led them to accept many compromises throughout the transition period.

The role of King Juan Carlos was vital in gaining the army's acceptance of the new democratic regime. He had been trained in military academies, and he understood the viewpoint of the officer corps. He made a point of establishing close ties with the armed forces after Franco's death in order to gain their loyalty to him as Franco's chosen successor. At the same time, he was able to keep the government informed as to how far it could go in the reform process without provoking a military reaction.

Although many officers did not care for the political reform program set forth by Suarez, the military leaders did not express open opposition to the democratization process until the legalization of the PCE in the spring of 1977 (see Transition to Democracy , ch. 1). They felt betrayed by Suarez, who had promised not to take such a step, and although there was no coup, they protested vehemently.

The independence with which the army leaders had expressed their revulsion at the government's decision highlighted the possibility that a powerful military organization could limit popular sovereignty. Subsequently, measures were taken to affirm the supremacy of civilian control. At the same time, the government took steps to assuage military opinion by allocating funds for the modernization of military equipment and for raising military salaries. Efforts also were made to rationalize the military career structure and to eliminate bottlenecks in the promotion process.

In succeeding months, the armed forces and the civilian government coexisted uneasily. Intermittent rumblings were heard from reactionary army leaders, who retained an antidemocratic mentality and who could not come to terms with their new position in society. The armed forces seethed with plots for military takeovers, and the government's leniency toward conspirators, rather than mollifying the military leaders, encouraged the plotters to more daring acts. This unstable situation was exacerbated by the escalation of terrorist violence. Army dissidents perceived the government as allowing the country to descend into anarchy, and military unrest culminated in the dramatic coup attempt of February 23, 1981. This attempted takeover was thwarted by the decisive intervention of King Juan Carlos, but conspiracies continued to be uncovered.

When the Socialists came to power in 1982, the deterrent power of the armed forces was still a factor to be considered. The PSOE government continued to be cautious in dealing with issues affecting the military, although it took a firmer stance than did its predecessors. As rumors of impending coups quieted, and as extreme right-wing parties failed to gain popular support, the government undertook stronger legal measures to bring the armed forces under the political control of the prime minister as well as to modernize and to streamline the military organization (see The Military in National Life; Jurisdiction Over National Defense , ch. 5).

A significant aspect of the military reorganization was the emphasis on the armed forces' role in defending the state from external, not internal, enemies. This was reinforced by Spain's entrance into NATO (see Spain and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization , this ch.). This new outward focus, combined with the general stability and conservatism of the government, helped to make military intervention in the political realm both impractical and unlikely.

Data as of December 1988

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