Spain's Atlantic Option

Spain's Atlantic Option

Mini Teaser: Spain's recent election has altered Madrid's foreign policy strategy. The transatlantic window is closing. Can it be re-opened?

by Author(s): Valenti Puig

The unexpected victory of the Spanish socialists in the general elections last March, just a few days after the bombing attack in Madrid, has changed the face and direction of Spanish politics. Its most obvious and immediate impact has been on the U.S.-led War on Terror, and in particular on Spain's participation in the coalition of the willing. Rodri­guez Zapatero, Spain's new prime minister, had diametrically opposed the U.S. intervention against Saddam Hussein, and since the election he has fulfilled his electoral promise to withdraw the 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq. By doing so, however, he will almost certainly make it impossible for Spain to form prudential alliances for global security and so be compelled to take refuge in dreams of a "moralpolitik."

Yet as subsequent events have proved, it would be a catastrophic error to think that Al-Qaeda will switch its attention from Spain merely because a general election has changed the government. Osama bin Laden had proposed the "reconquest" of Spain long before the Iraq War. Indeed his express purpose is to revive the Caliphate, the golden dream of Islam, and to restore the Moorish rule of Al-Andalus that ended with the fall of Granada. His terrorist ideology stems from an extreme pathology of anti-Westernism coupled with the desire for revenge against a world that, in Bin Laden's eyes, has been corrupted by freedom and hedonism. In the end, this reality of a terrorism that cannot be appeased by gestures of nonbelligerence will inevitably shape Spain's foreign policy--as it had done under the government of conservative prime minister, José María Aznar.

After September 11, Aznar had firmly aligned Spain with the United States with a policy of considered and resolute Atlanticism. That alignment had triggered tensions with the Paris-Berlin axis in the European Union; it was also opposed by a socialist opposition that thought warmer relations with Washington conflicted with Spain's commitment to the European Union. Aznar's realignment was without doubt a substantial adjustment of Spanish foreign policy in both positioning and influence. But it was rooted soundly in Spanish national interests.

For some time, the main problem for Spanish society has been Basque terrorism. A closer relationship with George W. Bush encouraged the United States to help in the Madrid government's fight against it. The United States also helped smooth the sometimes ominous relations between Spain and neighboring Morocco--ominous because the Spanish-Moroccan border is where the European Union meets North Africa, and where illegal immigrants start their journey across the continent. These were immediate and pressing reasons why Spain collaborated with the global strategy of the United States against terrorism. eta (the Basque terrorist group) wishes to destroy Spain, and the Al-Qaeda attack on Madrid on March 11, 2004, was the start of a campaign to Lebanonize Europe--to hold it hostage and punish it for being the land of cathedrals and the Enlightenment. These were sufficient reasons for Aznar's Atlantic strategy.

Even before September 11, however, Aznar had been working towards this shift in foreign policy. His premise was that, in order to grow both economically and politically, Spain's engagement with the rest of world needed to be wider and bolder. He wanted to confront Spanish society's traditional fear of commitments abroad. He believed that this fear gave no weight to the costs of isolation. As the early 20th-century statesman, Count Alvaro de Romanones, warned: "Being everyone's friend means not having any friend at all at a time of danger or need." And that dictated closer relations, political and economic, with Spain's former colonies and the United States across the Atlantic.

It must be said that many factors in Spanish society worked against this re-orientation: the reluctance of Spanish public opinion to face the realities of foreign policy, the systematic anti-Americanism of the Left, and the public's low opinion of Bush. Even so, Aznar's conservative government opted firmly for a wider Euro-Atlanticism rather than a narrow Europeanism, a warmer and more direct relationship with Washington, and a willingness to embark on collective security with the United States in the face of terrorism. September 11 merely strengthened the case for this change of direction.

The first fruits of that policy were seen in Latin American policy where Aznar aligned Spain clearly alongside the United States. Even before September 11, he had already reshaped Spain's Latin America policy in regard to counter-terrorism. Previously, Madrid had tacitly asked Latin American governments to "accept" fleeing ETA terrorists, if only to keep them away from Spain. Now the Madrid government began asking for their extradition. Spain also increased its help for Colombia in its own war against terror. And when the Iraqi crisis hit, Aznar threw his full weight behind the United States--even though that brought Spain into conflict with some Latin American countries at the United Nations.

Seven countries in Latin America supported President Bush; another seven "regretted" America's hard line; and three opted for diplomatic ambiguity. Of course, there was no more cohesion in the European Union either. But the diplomatic rift between the Spanish-speaking countries underlined an important lesson: it would take time and diplomatic effort to reach agreement and rapprochement in the Hispano-Atlantic world. That had created a problem for Aznar's Atlantic diplomacy. But he was helped by the fact that political and economic realities were pushing Spain, Latin America and the United States together.

The Hispanosphere and Atlanticism

In recent years Spain has greatly expanded its links in Latin America in several fields simultaneously. Spain began to restore its political presence there when it carried out a democratic transition that served as a model for the later democratic transformation of Central and South America. At that time, the Spanish monarchy renewed its prestige all over the Spanish-speaking world because it symbolized change without trauma. Madrid's example of "national conciliation" inspired successive agreements designed to avoid civil war and retribution there.

The Moncloa Pacts were another Spanish "demonstration effect." These were economic stabilization measures agreed to by the major democratic parties in response to the IMF's warning that the country's fragile economy needed a period of stability, including social peace. By demonstrating a commitment to democracy on all sides, these measures helped stabilize the nation in the run-up to the referendum on a new democratic constitution.

Spain subsequently met all the requirements of fiscal orthodoxy for the introduction of the euro. In the process, it achieved economic growth that outpaced the European average and became an investing country, reaching a zero deficit and creating over 4 million jobs. The success of the Spanish economic model as applied by Aznar's governments between 1993 and 2004 prompted several Latin American governments to strive (not always successfully) for macroeconomic stability as a means of underpinning political stability.

The net effect of all these economic and political changes over thirty years has been to transform the image of Spain in Latin American eyes from a stagnant and repressive society to a dynamic and democratic one. That in turn has made Spain better able to cultivate its Atlantic ties--and Latin America more willing to be wooed--in a context that is now being called the Hispanosphere.

This is, so to speak, the Hispanic complement of what James C. Bennett, writing in the Winter 2003/04 issue of The National Interest, has called the Anglosphere, which brings together the oceanic civilization of the English-speaking world. In this view, new technology, the Internet, satellite television and cheap air travel strengthen links between communities separated by geography but united by language, culture, history and legal and political tradition. In the Hispanosphere hypothesis, the large Spanish-speaking global community, with its historical origins, moral values, legal traditions and core literary convergence, abolishes the Atlantic's "tyranny of distance" through these multiplying communication networks. Indeed, they restore an older concept of the Atlantic as a link in a maritime civilization.

A crucial determining factor is the presence of the Spanish language on the Internet. This unites a total of 400 million people who speak Spanish--the fourth most widely spoken language on the planet after Chinese, English and Hindi and, according to Global Reach, the fourth most widely used language among Internet users. What we have here is a "tele-proximity" that nourishes the Hispanosphere--and not only because of a linguistic presence on the Internet, but also of the growing global market of television in Spanish. These are forming new "network communities" of people in different countries (and indeed continents) who nonetheless watch the same television programs, read the same newspapers, and communicate with each other over the same cheap systems of communications. Such communities are beginning to restore linguistic, cultural and historical ties that had been in decline. And as they do so, they are encouraging and facilitating economic ties between countries in the same cultural spheres.

Spain today is the largest EU investor in Latin America, nearly surpassing the United States. In just one decade--between 1990 and 2000--over â'¬100 billion of Spanish capital was invested in the sub-continent. Despite all the economic risks of Latin America, Spanish firms saw the chance to achieve clearly dominant positions in the market--something less feasible for them in Europe. According to a February 2004 report from the Real Instituto Elcano, Spain was the leading investor in Argentina and Chile, the second in Brazil and Colombia, the fifth in Peru, and the seventh in Mexico.

Essay Types: Essay