armed forces


armed forces
   Until well into the 1980s, the armed forces in Spain constituted a political institution rather than a means of defence. Throughout the nineteenth century, the army had regarded itself as the ultimate arbiter of national life, enriching political terminology with a new term, pronunciamiento, which means a military rising in favour of a stated political aim. The Civil War of 1936–9, when Generals Mola and Franco declared against the Second Republic, can be seen as the most recent in a long line of similar ideologically motivated insurrections.
   The outcome of the Civil War compounded the institutionalization of the armed forces, for they were seen, not as an organization entrusted with the defence of all citizens, but as the embodiment of the aspirations of the victorious side. The defence and armed service portfolios in Franco's cabinet were always held by highranking officers. Serving army officers were commonly seconded to command positions in the police and the Civil Guard. Military service was compulsory, and conscientious objection was not recognized, refusal to serve being punished by long terms of imprisonment. The Organic Law of the State (1967) copper-fastened the political role of the armed forces by making them responsible for "the defence of the institutional system", which in effect meant the suppression of internal dissent. Terrorist crimes, and the catchall offence of "disrespect to the armed forces", were tried by court-martial, as the Catalan theatrical group Els Joglars found to its cost in 1977, even after parliamentary democracy had already been re-established.
   Though an integral part of a highly militarized regime, the armed forces were poorly funded and equipped, even after the American bases agreement of 1953. In the mid-1960s, 82 percent of the armed forces budget went on pay. Total expenditure per member was one-third that of Italy, and less than one-sixth that of France or Britain. Pay and promotional structures for career officers were poor by comparison with other European countries, though better than the average wages of their civilian compatriots. Until the reforms of the 1980s, promotion was on strict seniority, which both militated against professionalism, and also created a top-heavy structure, with a high proportion of officers to other ranks: in 1975, there were 24,000 officers to 220,000 other personnel.
   The political influence of the armed forces remained strong even after Franco's death, so much so that in September 1976 Adolfo Suárez felt constrained to submit his plan for political reform to a meeting of the armed service ministers, the Captains-General of the nine military regions, and the Chiefs of Staff. This virtually conceded to the armed forces the role of monitoring the transition to democracy. Their statement that they would support "whatever opinion can be contained in the institutional order and its legitimate development" carried the ominous implication that they still reserved the right to veto any development which they considered excessively radical.
   The interventionist instincts of the armed forces were fostered by the continuing deference shown by politicians during the years after the restoration of democracy. Provocative speeches by serving officers of extreme right-wing views went unpunished, and even blatant breaches of discipline attracted derisory sentences. For example, in October 1977, a Civil Guard commander in Málaga, Tejero, created a potentially lethal confrontation by sending his men to control a legal demonstration, armed with live ammunition rather than riot gear. Tejero's only penalty was a month's confinement to barracks, after which he was given a desk job. This kind of episode simply encouraged the tendency towards political plotting, compounded by the reluctance of the military intelligence service, the CESID, to pass on to the authorities evidence of military conspiracies against the elected government.
   It was the attempted coup known as the Tejerazo (1981) which finally strengthened the hand of the government in asserting civilian authority over the armed forces. Already, certain reforms had been instituted in the late 1970s by the Defence Minister, General Gutiérrez Mellado. Restrictions on political activity were imposed, and military jurisdiction over terrorist offences was abolished. A clear line of command was established from the three branches of the armed forces to a newlyestablished Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and onward to the government. The first reform of the standing orders, the Reales Ordenanzas (Royal ordinances) since the eighteenth century came into force in 1979, and in the following year the jurisdiction of courts martial was restricted to military personnel. In 1981, the military authorities were given the power to remove incompetent officers from the active list, and selection procedures for promotion on merit to ranks above major were introduced. Despite some wavering in the government's resolve, and its apparent willingness to continue to bear the high cost of an over-staffed military establishment and a very generous retirement scheme, these measures indicate the attempts of successive administrations to depoliticize the armed forces and introduce greater professionalism. Much of the credit for this belongs to a civilian, Narcís Serra, who served as Defence Minister from 1982 to 1991.
   The most effective measure, however, was the decision taken in the wake of the Tejerazo to press ahead with negotiations for entry to NATO, which was ratified in 1982. Though the Spanish armed forces are not fully integrated into the command structure of NATO, membership provided opportunities not only for modernizing equipment, but also for an internationalization of their role. Since 1989, Spanish military personnel have taken part in UN peace-keeping activities, notably in Bosnia, where they suffered casualties, and were involved in the UNsponsored blockade of Iraq during the Gulf War of 1990–1. By 1992, Spain had the highest number of officers serving under UN auspices.
   Further reading
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapter 8 is an excellent, clear account of the political role of the armed forces, and their development since 1975).
   - Ross, C.J. (1997) Contemporary Spain: A Handbook, London and New York: Arnold (chapter 4 provides a useful summary).
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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