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Not having faced any serious threat to its territorial integrity for more than 150 years, Spain has tended to regard itself as safely removed from conflicts that could arise on the continent of Europe. Spain's remoteness and the physical barriers to mounting a successful attack on its soil appear to justify this view. To the north, the Cordillera Cantabrica and the Pyrenees form natural defenses against invasion (see fig. 5). Attacks from the sea, whether from the Atlantic or the Mediterranean coasts, also would confront rugged terrain. Only by invading from the west, through Portugal, could a hostile army find relatively level terrain, permitting maneuver. The distance between central Spain and the nearest Warsaw Pact airfields is nearly 2,000 kilometers. Hostile aircraft with the necessary range would need to survive NATO air defenses over Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in order to attack Spanish targets.

Spain's success in maintaining a status of nonbelligerency in both World War I and World War II has helped to contribute to its sense of invulnerability. In spite of the strongly anticommunist and anti-Soviet attitude among the Spanish military, there has been little sense of an immediate security threat from the Soviet Union. The reinforcement of the Soviet naval squadron in the Mediterranean Sea, with an aircraft carrier in 1979, and the increased number of Soviet submarines passing through the Strait of Gibraltar have modified this perception to some degree, however, in the late 1980s. Spanish naval planners have been obliged to take account of this new potential risk to the strait and to the Spanish Mediterranean islands and coast.

The conclusion of the 1953 Pact of Madrid with the United States altered Spain's traditional neutrality, making its territory a factor in the defense of the West. The Spanish military leadership began to recognize that Spain had acquired strategic importance as a result of the presence of United States bases and that it had become a potential target in the event of conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. If the West suffered a military setback, particularly on NATO's vulnerable southern flank, Spain's security and territorial integrity would be directly threatened.

Spain's adherence to NATO in 1982 necessitated the recasting of Spain's traditional strategic doctrine to accept the concept of collective security in partnership with other nations of the West. The public's endorsement of Spanish membership in NATO, in a 1986 referendum, demonstrated recognition that, under the conditions of modern warfare, a threat to Central Europe represented a threat to Spain as well. Nevertheless, in the debate over the advantages of Spanish membership, opponents pointed out that Spain would face a higher level of risk, including exposure to bombardment from the air and nuclear attack.

Prior to accepting NATO commitments, much of Spain's strategic planning had been dominated by the potential threat from North Africa. The immediate objects of any belligerency had been expected to be the port enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Surrounded on the landward side by Moroccan territory and claimed by Morocco, these remnants of Spain's protectorate century were vulnerable both economically and militarily. Both were fortified towns defended by relatively strong garrisons. Since the fifteenth century, they had formed a line of defense against the Islamic threat to the Iberian Peninsula. In modern times, however, their strategic importance was that, together with Gibraltar, they ensured that control of the strait linking the western Mediterranean with the Atlantic was in Western hands.

If it had chosen to do so, Morocco probably could have imposed a damaging economic blockade on the two cities. Observers regarded the likelihood of such an action as small, however, because of the losses that would be inflicted on people living in adjacent Moroccan areas dependent on sales of their products and on smuggling operations in the enclaves. Militarily, Morocco probably would not have been strong enough to drive the Spanish out, and it had generally avoided actions that would inflame the issue. The success of the Spanish military in cultivating their Moroccan counterparts had also helped to keep tensions at a minimum. Nevertheless, for a time the short-lived 1984 treaty of union between Libya and Morocco created anxiety in Spain because the military potential of the two countries combined with the belligerency of the Libyan ruler, Muammar al Qadhafi, accentuated its sense of vulnerability.

A number of Spanish observers criticized the failure of the Spanish government to secure recognition from NATO of Ceuta and Melilla as falling within the geographical sphere of the treaty, thereby requiring a response from the alliance if they were attacked. Others concluded that Spain's NATO ties would, at a minimum, act as a brake against action by Morocco because Spain could avail itself of the consultative provisions of the treaty if it regarded its territorial integrity, political independence, or security as coming under threat. Realistically, however, other NATO countries viewed the enclaves as remnants of the European colonial past in Africa, and they could not be counted on for assistance.

Data as of December 1988

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