Step backward in defense
The new National Defense Directive exudes disinterest in the EU and in multilateralism
In spite of the vagueness with which it is written, the Rajoy government’s new National Defense Directive constitutes a step backward in defense policy, toward a set of “risks of our own” which, in its view, are now more serious.
It mentions the need to counter certain “unshared threats.” These, though not specified, refer to North Africa, especially Ceuta and Melilla, which are not covered by the Atlantic Alliance umbrella. The Rajoy government underlines the instability caused by the political changes on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, the situation in the Sahel, and the “endemic ills” that emanate from sub-Saharan Africa, in apparent reference to the drug trade and people trafficking. But it does not explain the armed forces model that must cope with these security problems.
It has recently been confirmed that the Spanish army is keeping “mothballed” some 50 percent of its combat vehicles, and that one of the most modern ships in our navy is on loan to Australia. At the same time we learn of a plan to dispense with some 20,000 operatives, to be taken from the ranks of both soldiers and civilian defense employees, over the next 13 years. It would make a great deal of sense to try to share defense costs with other EU countries, but the directive in question barely mentions Europe, other than to demand that it streamline its decision-making processes.
The directive omits everything that might remotely be interpreted as a step toward a united European defense plan, though without this it is highly unlikely that a credible dissuasive capacity can exist, at a time when the United States is shifting forces from European territory toward the Pacific, and when both Russia and China are increasing their military expenditures. Only once does the directive mention the United Nations, which does not seem much for a country that has taken an active part in UN-sponsored missions.
The tendency toward isolation in defense matters is not exactly compatible with due attention to other risks mentioned in the directive: the speed with which information flows in the modern world, the telematic handling of transactions, the growing frequency of cyber-attacks, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the breakdown of air and aerospace security. If these are the major risks, then it comes as a surprise that the government’s directive does not even mention Spanish participation in the anti-missile shield.
It is well to spell out the need to coordinate the intelligence and information services of the state, and to promote a “culture of defense,” but a strong Spain demands a more general view. Euroskepticism sits ill with the proclaimed desire to move toward fiscal and even political union on the European scale. Documents such as this one draw their inspiration more from a distrust of multilateralism, reminiscent of the José María Aznar leadership era, than from the idea of a country that looks to Europe to solve its most serious problems.