The state of Spain's military today couldn't be much further
removed from the the days of fascist dictator Francisco Franco.
Where some forty years ago the military was the government,
today's annual defense spending accounts for a single percent of the
country's GDP. Spain's military expenses look to remain small for
the foreseeable future, racked by the country's long-term arms
contracts and ongoing economic crisis. And its military credentials
are still stained by Spain's rapid withdrawals from military
coalitions in Iraq and Kosovo in recent years.
So Spain is falling back on the core of modern US-Spanish
relations, dating back to General Franco's era: offering its
strategic vantage point as gateway to the Mediterranean and Africa
in exchange for the American cooperation it needs to bolster its
Punching below its weight
Since it joined NATO in 1982, Spain has historically been one of
the alliance's smallest military spenders, and the smallest among
the bloc's big countries. Its military expenditure has decreased
since 2007 to around 1 percent of the gross domestic product - far
below the 5 percent average spent in most industrialized nations.
Spain's Defense Minister Pedro Merones described it on Monday as "an
endemically ill-financed defense."
And while Spaniards have criticized that defense spending has
been cut less than other public services, Mr. Merones warned that
"People assume [the armed forces] will always be there, but it's not
"We have been trying for some time to relay the message to
citizens that it's an asset that has to supported and financed,"
The budget of the Defense Ministry has been cut around 30 percent
since 2007, Merones said, although total defense spending cuts are
closer to 12 percent because international troop deployments and
some defense expenditure is paid through other ministries, according
to a study commissioned by the Ministry of Defense about the effects
of spending cuts that was published earlier this year by Fundacion
Alternativas, a Madrid-based think tank.
The report found that military spending is strained as result of
arms contracts that were mostly signed before the crisis. The
contracts, equivalent to more than 20 percent of Spain's annual
budget shortfall, will use up money over the next 15 years that
could otherwise be invested in troop training and combat readiness.
Arms contracts are being renegotiated or delayed to decrease
costs, troop salaries have been cut, and investment into training
and operational readiness is plummeting.
A Spanish launching pad for US forces
That is where the bilateral military deals with the US come in.
Crisis-hit Spain understandably wants to bolster its diplomatic
ties to the US for a myriad of economic and political goals. But
while Europe, and Spain particularly, is becoming irrelevant to
Washington's global broader priorities, it can offer the US easier
access to regions where those priorities do lie.
As part of the most recent deal, 500 US Marines are in the
process of deploying to Moron Air Base in southern Spain as part of
rapid reaction force that will act as the vanguard to protect
American interests in the increasingly volatile North African
region, especially following last year's terrorist attack in
Benghazi, Libya, in which US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three
other Americans died. …