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Stopgap solutions for military spending

The Defense Ministry is preparing a plan to deal with its new funding situation

To concentrate Spain’s waning defense resources in a Joint Force, which would always be ready for combat at short notice, is a reasonable measure. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have proposed giving priority in terms of means and resources to this group of units, which will comprise only 10 percent of the armed forces, made up of elite personnel — amounting to around 10,000 soldiers out of a total of more than 120,000. Such a measure, however, is really no more than a stopgap solution to deal with the difficult budgetary situation that now conditions national defense.

In six years, the defense budget has been reduced by a third, going from 8.494 billion euros in 2008 to 5.745 in 2014. The crisis has made it necessary to eliminate programs, reduce staff and cut back flight hours and operational days spent at sea; but the decisions have been made in a partial manner, as the annual budgets were prepared.

In the middle of 2012, the chief of the Defense General Staff presented Minister Pedro Morenés with a plan, called Visión 2025, to reduce the staff of the armed forces (civilian and military) by around 20,000 troops. The remaining total is still excessive, and eats up 77 percent of the ministry’s budget. This analysis, however, has not been brought before the parliament for debate and to seek a broad consensus, as was obtained when it was decided to scrap compulsory military service, and to transform the army into a professional force.

The successive partial reforms can have coherent meaning only if they form stages in an orderly transition toward the slimmer armed forces model that Spain needs and can sustain in the medium term, and are not conceived merely on a piecemeal basis, to cope with budget cuts that are assumed to be temporary, but will very probably be permanent.

The arguments brought forward by Morenés are not particularly encouraging, when he warns that “it is better to have 10 percent of our troops 100 percent ready, than to have 100 percent of them 10 percent ready,” because this immediately invites the question of what sort of treatment the remaining 90 percent will be getting.

These patchwork solutions, though well intentioned, prompt too many questions about what our long-range state policy is, in an area as important as that of defense, which compromises national security and the image of Spain abroad, especially in terms of the joint missions Spain carries out with NATO, the UN and the European Union. It is not easy to increase efficiency when you have fewer resources at your command, but the task can only grow more complicated if there has not been a serious, comprehensive debate on the matter.

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