Editorials
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Defense at risk

Spain’s armed forces require a structure that is properly suited to the country’s real needs

On Saturday, Spain held the most austere Armed Forces Day of its recent history. The 3.6 million euros that were spent on this event in 2007 have now shrunk to less than 100,000 euros. This is a drastic reduction, reflecting the government’s prevailing liquidity problems. Behind it, however, lie other, more crucial issues that will be difficult to solve.

The Defense Ministry’s level of indebtedness, nearly 30 billion euros, has led its present minister, Pedro Morenés, to call on the Finance Ministry for additional yearly financing of one billion euros, in order to set the counter back to zero.

This is an initiative that is clearly necessary to free the armed forces from such pressure; but what they also require, urgently and in parallel, is a financial strategy that would tailor spending to the real defense needs of a country such as Spain. Our armed forces are still equipped for wars of the past, with an imbalance in favor of land-based combat, which weakens the naval capacity of this eminently maritime country. One outstanding example of this imbalance is the ministry’s recent purchase of 235 Leopard tanks, already paid for and delivered, whose operational role is, for the moment, minimal.

Last summer the joint chiefs of staff presented Morenés with a plan, dubbed Visión 2025, that would reduce Spanish troop numbers by 20,000. The present figures are still very disproportionate, and swallow up too much of the Defense budget. But, quite apart from adjustments of this sort, what is still missing is a long-range strategy that might achieve important savings by combining a more efficient system with a credible capacity of dissuasion on a global level. The problems of deploying Spanish troops are evident, for example, despite the fact that there are currently 130,000 active service members.

Also especially important for the long-term strategy of the Spanish Defense Ministry is the multilateral aspect that the Rajoy government’s National Defense Directive — which was issued less than a year ago — so cheerfully disdains. The armament policy and military strategy of Spain is necessarily bound up with its political and military commitment to the European Union, NATO and the armed missions of the UN. Achieving the active collaboration of allied and partner states, and of the international firms active in the arms sector, fundamentally involves respect for common projects, which are now at risk on account of financial problems.

All these factors point to the imperious need to undertake a proper discussion on what the country’s real risks and threats are, and what type of structure is required to deal with them alone — but, above all, in the company of our partner states. Not to do so amounts to a genuine added risk. To send already unserviceable equipment that has been given practically no useful life to the scrap heap, or to attempt to sell to others what Spain is not even capable of maintaining, merely shows up our country’s weaknesses, both in terms of budget and defense.

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