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Membership in NATO had not been a practical alternative during Franco's lifetime because of the opprobrium with which the dictatorship was viewed by other West European states. Moreover, Franco displayed little interest in a Spanish contribution to West European security, regarding the Spanish military primarily as an instrument to protect the internal stability of the country. Only after his death was Spain able to contemplate the possibility of participation in the alliance. With the support of the political parties of the right and of the then-dominant Union of the Democratic Center (Union de Centro Democratico--UCD), membership terms were successfully negotiated and approved by the Cortes in October 1981, in spite of opposition by the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE) and the Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de Espana--PCE). Although most European members were less enthusiastic over Spain's membership than was the United States, the agreement was quickly ratified, and Spain's formal entry as the sixteenth member--the first new member since West Germany, twenty-seven years earlier--took place in May 1982.

Spanish participation was to be accomplished in stages: first by membership in the political committees and eventually by integration into alliance military activities. A few months after entry, however, in October 1982, a new PSOE government took office under Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, who had campaigned against Spanish adherence to the pact. Gonzalez suspended further Spanish involvement in NATO military operations, pending a national referendum on Spain's continued membership. A strong anti-NATO movement had been growing among the Spanish people. In the eyes of many, NATO membership was linked to the issue of United States bases and to the likelihood of an increased military budget. Spanish opposition became part of the movement then gaining ground elsewhere in Europe to resist the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles on the continent. Nevertheless, a delay in calling the referendum until March 1986 was accompanied by a reevaluation in the PSOE attitude. By this time, Gonzalez was openly supporting Spain's continued adherence, arguing that if Spain wished to benefit from membership in the European Community (EC), it would have to accept the responsibilities of membership in NATO as well (see Spain and the European Community; Spain and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization , ch. 4).

The referendum took the form of asking the electorate to agree that it was in the national interest for Spain to remain in the alliance subject to three principles affirmed by the Gonzalez government: that Spain would not be incorporated into the integrated military structure; that the ban on the installation, the storage, and the introduction of nuclear weapons on Spanish territory would be maintained; and that there would be an effort toward a progressive reduction in the United States military presence in Spain. Contrary to opinion polls predicting continued heavy opposition to Spanish membership, the government's proposal was approved by 52.6 percent to 39.8 percent.

The actual conditions of Spain's participation--as subsequently negotiated--were that Spain would remain a full member of the North Atlantic Council and its subordinate organs, that Spain would be present as an observer on the Nuclear Planning Group, that it would continue to be a member of the Defense Planning Committee and the Military Committee, and that it would appoint military representatives for liaison with the NATO military commands. Spain would continue to participate in logistical coordination, development of common equipment and materiel, and civil protection measures, reserving its position on participation in the integrated communication system. Spain would be permitted to nominate candidates for the NATO Secretariat and the International Military Staff. Observers later reported that Spain had offered to coordinate its national military missions with those of NATO, especially control of the sea between the Balearic Islands and the Canaries. Spanish forces were to be commanded only by Spanish officers, however, and no troops were to be deployed outside of Spain on a sustained basis. The Spanish air defense system, which was compatible with the NATO system, was to be linked also to the French and the Italian air defense systems.

In spite of the formal limitations on Spain's participation in NATO, the coordinated strategic planning envisaged by Spain was intended to make it possible for Spanish forces to operate in conjunction with NATO in an emergency. NATO planners viewed Spain's relatively secure landmass as a potentially major strategic asset, forming a marshaling area and a redoubt from which air and sea attacks could be launched against Warsaw Pact forces. In a crisis, it would be highly valuable as a transit center and a supply depot for reinforcement from the United States. The Spanish navy and air force, operating from bases located in the Balearic Islands and southern Spain, afforded NATO a stronger position in the western Mediterranean. The Canary Islands bases would be important for safeguarding shipping lanes, particularly for oil tankers bound for the North Atlantic and the North Sea. Moreover, the addition of a new and important West European country imparted a useful psychological boost to NATO, helping to demonstrate the restored vitality of the alliance.

Politically, the United States and other NATO countries believed that, by establishing a closer association through NATO, Spain's new democratic course would be strengthened. They hoped that membership would offer the Spanish armed services a well- defined military mission and would distract them from involvement in domestic politics. A greater professionalism of the Spanish military was expected to result, as well as efforts to modernize and to improve the armed forces through collaboration with NATO, perhaps at a lower cost than with otherwise be the case.

The conditions limiting Spain's membership restricted the participation of Spanish ground forces in NATO exercises, although Spain conducted exercises with other NATO countries on a bilateral basis. In 1987 Spanish ships engaged in NATO air-naval maneuvers between the Bay of Biscay and the Canary Islands, an area of the Atlantic Ocean that Spain regarded as of strategic importance. Spanish officers were not eligible to hold allied command and staff positions, thereby denying them valuable broadening experience and exposure to modern doctrinal and tactical concepts. NATO funds were not available for infrastructure projects in Spain. Particularly in light of the deficiencies and the obsolescence of much of the army's equipment, Spain needed to increase its military budget considerably to bring its forces within reach of minimum NATO standards. Some Spanish critics argued that Spain had gained little advantage from its membership because it had failed to secure any commitment regarding the eventual cession of Gibraltar, and it had failed to obtain security guarantees covering Ceuta and Melilla, which remained outside NATO's area of collective defense.

Prime Minister Gonzalez justified in part Spain's failure to accept the integrated military structure by pointing out that Spain had joined the alliance many years after its formation, when the command structure was already well established. A complex readjustment of existing commands would have been necessary, said Gonzalez, which would have created conflict with other members. For example, Spain's maritime role in the Atlantic would appropriately fall under the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT). Under the system prevailing when Spain entered NATO, a command subordinate to SACLANT, the Iberian Atlantic Command (IBERLANT), headquartered at Lisbon under a Portuguese admiral, was responsible for surveillance and control of large ocean areas west of Portugal and south to the Tropic of Cancer. Spain would appropriately have an important role in IBERLANT, but Portugal made it plain that it would be unwilling to cede command responsibilities to Spain, even on an alternating basis. Similarly, for fully effective defense of the strait, Spanish cooperation with British forces on Gibraltar would be indispensable. Spanish sensitivities on this issue, however, made it hardly imaginable for Spanish officers to be part of a combined NATO command, or to engage in area cooperation with British officers on Gibraltar, so long as Britain refused to negotiate seriously on the future of the stronghold.

In 1987 Spain changed its status from observer to full member on NATO's Nuclear Planning Group. It continued, however, to adhere to the policy, approved virtually unanimously during the parliamentary debate on NATO, that it would remain a nonnuclear power and that it would not agree to stockpile or to install nuclear weapons of NATO forces on its territory. In this respect, its position was similar to two other NATO members, Norway and Denmark. Spain had initially rejected adherence to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), asserting that the treaty was unbalanced in favor of the nuclear signatories. But in 1987, after finding that its nonadherence was complicating its nuclear fuel supply relationships in the EC and with other countries as well, Spain reversed its position and acceded to the treaty.

The issue of nuclear weapons had been politically charged since three thermonuclear bombs were spilled over Spanish territory and one dropped into Spanish coastal waters in 1966, following an air collision between a United States B-52 bomber and a KC-135 refueling plane. Although all the bombs eventually were recovered, subsequent agreements expressly committed the United States to refrain from storing nuclear devices or components on Spanish soil. The last American units with nuclear armaments were submarines equipped with Poseidon missiles that were based at the Rota naval complex until they were shifted to Holy Loch, Scotland.

Data as of December 1988

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