Francisco J. Rodrigo writes his second article about the security and defense policy for Spain between 1975 and 1988. In this case he is going to talk about the Spanish entry into NATO, finally occurred in 1982.

Despite Franco’s death in 1975, Spanish Government was having serious difficulties in the integration within the European Community. Pending the admission in the EEC, Spain wanted to open other doors: with the consolidation of its participation in the process born in Helsinki, Madrid launched its own European integration in two organizations of security and defense: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Euroatlantic) and the Western European Union.

The Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) Cabinets, led by Adolfo Suarez and Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, took the initiative and formally requested Spain’s entry into NATO. They did it with three main goals. Firstly, there were geopolitical reasons: Madrid wanted to avoid military vulnerability, to ensure the territorial integrity of Spain, to reinforce safety or well-shaft Balearic Islands to Gibraltar Strait, protecting it from foreign expansionism, first from Morocco; this was due to the fact that the Spanish government feared possible offensive attitudes by two other North African countries, Algeria and Libya, which were in the Soviet orbit. Secondly, there were political-legal reasons: Spain was linked to the Western defense system by its agreements with the United States; now they wanted to confirm it de iure. Thirdly, Madrid believed that with the entry into NATO, negotiations to join the European Economic Community would advance, as many political and diplomatic actors in the Transition period witness.

There was an unclear position within the UCD’s Government: Prime Minister Suárez tended to be more in favour of the neutrality of Spain, in contrast to Foreign Minister, Marcelino Oreja, who was an outspoken proponent of Atlantism. In June 1980, Mr. Oreja published an article in El País announcing that Spain would begin the process to join NATO the following year; he was dismissed only a few weeks later.

This issue caused an intense and unprecedented debate in Spain, only comparable to the controversy prompted by Spain’s support to the war in Iraq in 2003. There was a radical opposition by parliamentary left (PSOE and PCE). In fact, Socialists, leaded by Felipe González had as main slogan “OTAN de entrada no”, demanding a referendum to ask Spanish people about whether it was appropriate or not the signature of the Treaty of Washington. The disagreement did not only come from the main forces of the political left. There was also a strong popular opposition, while opinion polls had indicated that NATO was identified with democracy at the beginning of the Transition. That was due to a number of factors: 1- A growing anti-Americanism in the Spanish society; 2. Important disinterest in international affairs; 3- People did not perceive the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries as potential threats to their security; 4- And the progressive complication of the international context, prompting the rise of neutralism and pacifism in Spain.

The highlight of the debate on Spain’s entry into NATO was waged in the early 80’s. The country was suffering from several internal convulsions and a deep economic crisis: the terrorism (especially the Basque group ETA) was causing more and more fatalities, Premier Suarez resigned on January 1981, etc. But above all, Spain suffered a failed military putsch on 23rd February 1981. This incident could support the determination of the new Prime Minister, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, to ask for NATO membership with the aim, among others, of the civilian control of the military; but we already know that the decision had been taken before, even in the throes of the Suarez Cabinet.

Finally, parliamentary debates were celebrated in October 1981. UCD, Alianza Popular (the Conservative party and, currently called Partido Popular) and Basque and Catalan nationalists voted for Spain’s entry into NATO; the left voted against. On the 30th May 1982, Spain became a full member of NATO.

The Socialist Party, as mentioned above, arrived at the Government of Spain in December 1982. Once saved the challenge of the CSCE and negotiations with the EEC received a new impulse, the other major challenge for Gonzalez was his promise to hold a referendum on NATO. Some historians, politicians and diplomats argue that the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had promised Felipe González to help Spain to enter the EEC if Madrid decided to stay in NATO. The Spanish Premier took a first step in May 1983, after his meeting with Kohl, when he supported the deployment of “Euromissiles” in Western Europe against the Soviet SS-20 missiles. The following month, the European Council met in Stuttgart: Federal Republic of Germany asked there the enlargement of the Community to Spain and Portugal.

Then, Gonzalez presented the so-called “Decalogue on peace and security policy” at the Debate on the State of the Nation, held in October 1984. In this plan, the Head of the Spanish Government posed an equitable solution. The ten points were:

  1. Continuity of Spain in NATO.

  2. No integration of Spain into the military structure of NATO.

  3. Reduction of the US presence in Spain.

  4. No nuclearization of Spanish soil.

  5. No exclusion of signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

  6. Integration in the Western European Union.

  7. Promise of recovering Gibraltar.

  8. Candidacy to Committee on Disarmament of United Nations.

  9. Development of bilateral defense cooperation with other countries of Western Europe.

  10. Joint Strategic Plan.

And Gonzalez said that he would keep his campaign promise to hold a referendum to decide the permanence of Spain in NATO. However, that was more and more delayed. After having changed its position, the Socialist Government feared not to win the referendum and was concerned about the possible loss of credibility of Spain faced from its Western allies if Madrid left NATO.

Finally, the Spanish Government announced the referendum for 12th March 1986. PSOE, the Democratic and Social Center (or CDS, the new party of the former Prime Minister Suárez) and Basque and Catalan nationalists voted in favour of NATO; the Communist Party voted against it; and the big surprise was the abstention of Alianza Popular, who branded the referendum as an “unnecessary” maneuver by the Socialist government, giving to it an internal reading. The question posed to the Spanish people was: “Do you consider advisable for Spain to stay in the Atlantic Alliance on the terms agreed by the Government of the Nation?” The conditions established by the socialist government in the own ballot were:

  1. Not to join the NATO military structure

  2. Banning on installing, storing or introducing nuclear weapons in the Spanish soil.

  3. Progressive reduction of the U.S. military presence in Spain.

Finally, despite polls that indicated otherwise, and with a turnout of 59.42% of the census, the “Yes” won with 52.5% of the vote, (a 39.8% voted “No”); the blank vote achieved 6.5%, and the null vote reached 1.2%. With that, Spain confirmed its permanence in NATO and Felipe Gonzalez saved his own government: the Socialist Party won clearly the legislative elections only a few months later.

Francisco José Rodrigo Luelmo