The international ostracism of Spain by democratic states after WWII meant that Spain was not included in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when it was established in 1949. Though Franco himself was favourable to membership, Britain and France were opposed, as was US President Truman. Opposition in the US was soon eroded, however, by the interest of the military establishment in having a reliable ally against the threat of Soviet expansion during the Cold War. As early as 1948, the State Department broached the question of establishing a military presence in Spain, and by 1953 the American bases agreement had been signed. This bilateral arrangement was the only feasible one, given the continued hostility to the Franco regime of most of the European members of NATO, and the issue of membership did not become active again until 1981.
   It was internal politics, rather than global strategic considerations, which prompted the centre-right UCD government under Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo to speed up the negotiations for NATO membership. The attempted military coup of February 1981, known as the Tejerazo, had convinced the government of the need to provide the armed forces with improved equipment, resources, career opportunities, and, above all, to foster greater professionalism and a sense of purpose, which would diminish the temptation to engage in political conspiracy. Spain's entry was formally ratified in 1982, though Spain remained outside the military command structure of NATO.
   NATO membership was, however, deeply unpopular, especially among leftist political groupings, partly because of their tradition of antimilitarism, partly also because external military alliances were seen as characteristic of the Franco regime. The resounding victory of the socialist PSOE in the general election of 1982 was in no small measure due to its promise to hold a referendum to seek approval for leaving the alliance. Once in office, however, it became clear that leaving NATO would be costly, not least because it would jeopardize the negotiations currently in train over membership of the European Community. The issue was shelved until 1986. when the approach of the next elections made it necessary to carry out the undertaking to hold a referendum. By now, however, with Spain a member of the EC, the PSOE government was vigorously campaigning in favour of remaining in the alliance. Though the result was a decision to remain in NATO, the margin was only 12.7 percent, and the abstention rate was 40 percent. In the ensuing general election, PSOE's share of the vote fell significantly. What is important about the government's referendum campaign was the lack of attention given to security implications, though NATO staff officers continued to regard Spain as strategically significant until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Government rhetoric concentrated on the economic and political costs of leaving the alliance, and emphasized the notion of European solidarity, almost as if NATO were an exclusively European organization, rather than one led and dominated by the US. At the same time, however, the new security context provided by NATO made it possible to reduce the dependence on direct American military presence in the peninsula. From 1987, the US air force was required to begin a phased withdrawal of its F-16 fighters from bases in Spain.
   The European dimension continues to dominate discussion of NATO in Spain. In April 1996, King Juan Carlos I visited NATO headquarters, and made a carefully worded speech in which, while recognizing the role of the US, he chose to dwell on the importance to European integration of an autonomous defence system, and, most significantly of all, hinted that the European members of NATO could engage in military operations without the participation of the U S. The ultimate significance of NATO to Spain, however, has less to do with military issues than with the stimulus which membership provides to defence-related industrial activity within Spain, and with economic and political relations with the rest of Europe. Despite the presence of a Spaniard, the former Foreign Minister Javier Solana, in the post of Secretary-General of NATO since 1995, Spanish politicians have been reluctant to endorse full integration into the military command structure of the organization, insisting that even in an emergency overall military command of Spanish forces must remain with Spanish officers.
   Further reading
   - Heywood, P. (1995) The Government and Politics of Spain, London: Macmillan (pp. 264–70 give a very lucid account of the significance of NATO membership in the context of Spanish policy towards Europe).
   - Preston, P. and Smyth, D. (1984) Spain, the EEC and NATO, London: Royal Institute of International Affairs (a thorough account of the issues as they were perceived in the early 1980s; includes consideration of the strategic aspects).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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