A new Convention with the United States

One of the main consequences of the Atlantist turn of Felipe González was to renegotiate agreements with the United States. The 1953 agreements had been renewed periodically, not without some difficulty. In 1976 a Treaty was signed for the first time: until then, it had not reached such legal category. In 1982 a Convention was established; the Treaty ceased to be bilateral and became to be subordinated to the North Atlantic Treaty. In 1983 a protocol was introduced to clarify that the Convention did not involve the entry of Spain into the military structure of NATO. Then, a new Convention Spain-USA was signed in 1988. As it was emphasized in the preamble, it was compared to the bilateral relationship that characterized the text of 1953; it is wielding the Atlantic connection. The negotiations focused on two points: 1) The presence of US troops in Spain and 2) the authorizations for use and transit. The great “battlefield” was the introduction and retention of nuclear weapons in the Spanish soil, which was one of the commitments of the 1986 referendum, not the traffic, since Spain promised not to inspect ships of the United States. The Reagan Administration resisted because it feared that Felipe González would not keep his word. An agreement was reached whereby the installation, storage or introduction into Spanish soil of nuclear weapons or their components unconventional, would be subjected to the permission of Spain. In return, Washington got from Madrid to commit in writing not to inspect the cargo of American ships in Spanish ports, thus indirectly allowing the transport of nuclear weapons by sea. For the air transportation, the permission by the Government of Spain was necessary.

Spain in the Western European Union

The entry of Spain into the West European Union was the “fourth column” of the new security and defense policy after CSCE, NATO and the Convention with the USA. This organization does not exist nowadays, because it was integrated in the European Policy of Security and Defense.

Felipe González had promised in 1984 the integration into the WEU. That did not cause him major political problems because it was a little bit more popular: it was a “European” organization and the USA did not belong to it, unlike NATO. However, the Article 4 of the Brussels Treaty of 1948 was even more rigid in collective security that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: it obliged all member states of the WEU to provide help and assistance automatically “by all means at their disposal: military and other” to the ally attacked.

Negotiations started in April 1988. The talks were focused on: the remaining vulnerability in both Canary and Balearic Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, as the Brussels Treaty only protected mainland Europe; the denuclearization of Europe; the assumption by Madrid of The Hague European Security Platform (finding the revival of WEU as the European component of NATO); and Gibraltar. Finally, Spain joined the WEU, along with Portugal, on 14 November 1988. With this, Spain showed its intention to contribute to the growth and consolidation of a common European defense.

Greater international integration and civilian control of the Spanish Armed Forces

What did it bring to Armed Forces? First of all, a greater collaboration with other allied armies when necessary, mutual participation in exercises and instructions, normalization of the forces doctrines and Rules of Engagements, adoption of NATO, establishing missions and liaison between national headquarters and the allies.

The Spanish Armed Forces were not under any control of the Atlantic Alliance because the country was not integrated into the NATO military structure. It was decided to carry out “Coordination Agreements”, similar to those which NATO had with France. Madrid would “control” directly its troops, but could also delegate on the NATO command. In 1989, the Spanish Army had its first outing abroad in peacekeeping under the United Nations flag, in Nicaragua. In 1997, Spain integrated into the NATO military structure, with the consensus of PP and PSOE, the two major parties of Spain today.

This also brought a legal change. The Royal Ordinances of King Juan Carlos I (which replaced the existing at the time of Carlos III) were approved in 1978 and supposed the definitive loyalty and subordination of the military to the Constitution, giving supremacy to the civil power, which was one of the main purposes of the new democratic regime; these were the first Royal Ordinances approved by a Spanish Parliament. Then, the Constitutional Laws 6/1980 and 1/1984 regulated the basic criteria of national defense and military organization. Finally, in 1985 the Spanish Parliament approved the new Military Penal Code.


A new and democratic foreign policy for Spain brought also a new security and defense policy after Franco’s death, which confirmed previous trends and also drew new lines. Firstly, it took the comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach to security adopted by the Helsinki Final Act and all the process of the CSCE. Then, the main goal of the new democratic regime was to improve the national security of Spain. Given that this country did not have enough means to have a strong military for self-defense itself, Madrid decided that the best way to ensure its national security was to join NATO; this was a very controversial decision, but which also had other causes such as to accelerate negotiations to enter the European Community and to get more favorable military ties with the USA for the national interest of Spain. Spanish Governments also forged this new security and defense policy to internationalize and democratize their Armed Forces, giving supremacy to the civil power. Finally, with its membership in the WEU, Spain completed the goal that marked its entry into NATO: to achieve a greater commitment with the Western defense system, combining it with its support for a security and defense policy, which was pretended to be specifically European.

Francisco José Rodrigo Luelmo