Will an independent Catalonia join NATO?

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Catalonia's quest to recover independence has prompted governments world-wide to focus on two issues: the possibility of a Spanish default, and Catalan security and defence policies. Barcelona-based think-tank CIDOB held a round table on the 4th of June to discuss the latter. The day before, President Artur Mas had publicly confirmed in Parliament that Catalonia would be seeking direct membership in NATO, and the Military Studies Society (SEM) had published an unofficial white paper on defence budgets. After an introduction by one of the think tank's researchers, Marc Gafarot, in charge of the event, Barcelona University Professor F. Xavier Hernández Cardona and myself spoke.

Hernández Cardona, an expert in military history and author among others of a four-volume military history of Catalonia, focused on the country's strong record in this area. After pulling no punches by stressing that “a state without an army is like a car without wheels” and calling on Catalans to “recover our military culture”, he gave the audience an outline of some of Catalonia's military episodes and institutions.

When my turn came, I focused on the challenges any new state faced when ensuring the security of its own territory and population, plus its contribution to that of Allies, partners, and the wider international community. In the case of Catalonia one can stress how, in the 1980s, the Generalitat (Catalan Government) had demanded the devolution of powers on prisons, with the support of all parliamentary forces. The only autonomous region in Spain to have been in charge of this sensitive area over the last three decades, it proved how Catalonia was not shy when it came to the security arena. This has not gone unnoticed abroad, with US think-tank Atlantic Council comparing the country's preliminary defence planning favourably with that carried out by Scotland in the run up to the latter's referendum.

I also seized the chance to emphasise how recovering the defence industry was an essential component of Catalonia's re-industrialisation efforts, and a linchpin of the fight against unemployment and social exclusion. Two additional points I commented on were the reserve and militia forces as being very useful in contributing to social cohesion, including the integration of immigrants, and a strategic airlift capacity as being essential not only for the military but also for the myriad NGOs active in international humanitarian assistance.

The public, which filled the hall, comprised a wide range of profiles, including Jihadism expert Jofre Montoto, who commented on this threat, SEM board members, a fellow of the Guild of Industrial Engineers, plus other members of the national security community. A question by former Lleida Mayor Manel Oronich prompted a discussion of Alguaire Airport as a key dual-use facility and one of the future mainstays of the Catalan Air Force. A SEM analyst emphasised that Catalonia was likely to be called to deploy air assets in the Baltic and Far North, given the current situation, and that the Ukrainian conflict was a reminder of the need to develop not only a counterinsurgency capability but also conventional forces.

 

by Alex Calvo

Expert in defence and security in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. Guest Professor at Nagoya University (Japan)

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