The bilateral relationship with the United States and the NATO Summit

Good harmony with the US is essential for Spain, as it strengthens its position in key areas of its foreign policy: the European Union, Latin America and the Western Mediterranean.

The NATO Summit in Madrid has been extremely important, due to its content and the geopolitical context in which it has taken place. Russia’s criminal aggression against Ukraine has led to what President Joe Biden has called the “natonization” of Europe and has shown that China has not been consistent with the basic principles of International Law, by not condemning and “understanding” the flagrant violation of the territorial integrity of an independent and sovereign State, through the unjustified use of force.

For this reason, beyond qualifying Russia as the most significant and direct threat to the security of the allies, and to the peace and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area, the new NATO Strategic Concept considers China a challenge to our values ​​and interests and our security. These are substantial changes in relation to the previous Strategic Concept, when Russia was considered a partner for peace and security and there was no mention of China.

In this “natonization” of Europe, it is worth highlighting the incorporation of two neutral countries (for different reasons and circumstances) such as Sweden and Finland, once the Turkish veto has been lifted. But also the strengthening of the military capabilities of the Alliance and the US presence in Europe.

Another very important issue addressed in Madrid is that relating to 360º security, both in terms of areas (including those related to “hybrid warfare” and “gray areas”, and the use of space and cyberspace ) as well as the geographical vision, including the growing threats that come not only from the East, but also from the so-called South Flank. Two of these aspects – the increase in the US military presence on the European continent and the threats from the South Flank – frame a new stage in the bilateral relationship between Spain and the United States, a relationship that has gone through different intensities and is crucial for our country. Not only is it the world’s leading power, but the US is the main investor in Spain and the main destination for direct investment by our companies. Commercial exchanges are very important (about 44,000 million euros per year) and tourist flows -beyond the impact of the pandemic- are increasing, as well as our cultural exchanges or scientific and technological relations.

“Not only is it the world’s leading power, but the US is the main investor in Spain and the main destination for direct investment by our companies”

Obviously we are, as President Biden has said, an “indispensable partner” for security and defense, given the strategic importance of the Rota and Morón bases. For all these reasons, a close bilateral relationship in the political arena is highly desirable. And, in addition, we must be aware that it strengthens our specific weight in the European Union, from an Atlantic vocation reinforced with the departure of the United Kingdom. Also in Latin America, with a growing Chinese influence that both Spain and the US have to take very seriously in a region that is so closely linked to its neighbor to the North as through the Ibero-American Community, especially in the convulsive moment that all the countries of the region. And, of course, the bilateral relationship is essential to assert our position in the western Mediterranean. It is enough to mention our relationship with Morocco or Algeria to see the relevance of a good harmony with the US.

In this sense, the highest moment of the bilateral relationship began in 2001, when it was signed in Madrid by the undersigned – then Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of José María Aznar – and the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, with the administration of Bill Clinton, the first Joint Declaration between both countries. Note that it was negotiated with that administration, but it was fully assumed and deepened by the George W. Bush administration.

He therefore had a deep “bipartisan” vision on both sides, since the Spanish government shared all the information with the Socialist Party, then in opposition, and obtained their agreement. The relationship between two sovereign and independent States cannot be based on the political situation or on the ups and downs of the logical and legitimate alternation of government, but must be considered as a “State policy”, as is foreign policy. Without basic consensus in this field, foreign policy suffers from a lack of credibility and fails to inspire the necessary trust with the interlocutors.

Unfortunately, this internal consensus was lost in 2004, when the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero hastily and unilaterally withdrew the Spanish troops from Iraq, despite the fact that they had not intervened in the war and were under the umbrella of the United Nations and, furthermore, he allowed himself to advise the rest of his allies to do the same. Previously, the famous episode occurred when the then head of the opposition did not stand up as a sign of respect for the American flag in the military parade on October 12 in Madrid.

“The relationship between two sovereign and independent States cannot be based on the political situation or on the ups and downs of the logical and legitimate alternation of government, but must be considered as a ‘State policy'”

It should be said that Rodríguez Zapatero, already as former president of the government, has continued to express his animosity towards the US, supporting regimes as anti-American as Cuba or Venezuela or recommending the need for Europe to join China in order to confront the hegemony of our main ally. Attitudes that do not help to generate a climate of mutual trust again. Nor does it help that members of the current coalition government are clearly opposed to the Atlantic Alliance and the US itself. All this has been seen with crystal clarity as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, blaming NATO and calling for a “peace” that is nothing more than a surrender of Ukraine and the crystallization of a de facto situation that rewards the violation of the International Law and the unjustified use of military force to achieve geopolitical objectives, making future aggression possible.

For this reason, it is remarkable that, on the margins of the Madrid Summit, another Joint Declaration was signed which, taking up the spirit and objectives of the 2001 Declaration, has been adapted to the new circumstances, although with no more specifics than those relating to to defense. It is a credit, without a doubt, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares. It is a declaration that reinforces the multilateral response to Russia’s challenge and shows strong support for Ukraine, defends a rules-based international order, shares the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, and “encourages” China to fulfill its commitments in multilateral organizations, contribute to international security and cooperate in the provision of global public goods such as climate change, biodiversity and gender equality.

The new declaration aims to intensify security cooperation, including the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and human trafficking, as well as cybersecurity and cyberspace. Also promote safe, orderly and regular migration, both in Latin America and North Africa, the fight against climate change within the framework of the Paris Agreement, as well as the improvement of energy security and the supply of critical minerals, promoting resilient supply chains.

Likewise, greater cooperation is intended in the commercial field (where we still maintain some differences due to the tariffs established by the previous US administration), business taxation (within the framework of the OECD) and in the digital, scientific and technological field.

Finally, greater political cooperation is promoted, with regular consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of State, as well as between the two governments, in the perspective, in addition, of the upcoming Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU in the second semester 2023. All of them are very general objectives, but they frame a clear will to collaborate and improve the bilateral relationship.

“Reliability and trust are very hard to build, but losing them can be very fast”

The 2001 declaration was more specific on some points (such as the contacts between presidents, the exchange of information, the updating of the Extradition Agreement or the promotion of the teaching of English in Spain and Spanish in the US). And it gave rise to the best bilateral relationship we have ever had. We must hope that this level will be recovered, even partially.

In both declarations, defense issues were crucial, even establishing a High-Level Bilateral Defense Committee in 2001, within the framework of the review of the Defense Cooperation Agreement. Now it is agreed, again within this framework, the permanent establishment of two additional US destroyers (to the existing four) at the Rota base, to strengthen the anti-missile shield. Parliamentary approval is pending. The government partners and parliamentarians of the Socialist Party have already anticipated their negative vote. Fortunately, the opposition led by the Popular Party has already confirmed its favorable vote, in a clear exercise of responsibility and sense of State.

It is true that in the final phase of the Rodríguez Zapatero government the US was offered to increase the military presence at the Rota base, and that there was a certain improvement during the Mariano Rajoy government. But the fact that Donald Trump came to the White House not only did not help but made things worse (with Spain and, in general, with the Western allies).

The 2001 bilateral declaration made it possible for the new President Bush’s first trip to Europe to begin with Spain, in a very in-depth bilateral visit, something that had not happened before. Now it has taken place, for the first time in the last two decades, in the multilateral framework of the NATO Summit.

We are going in the right direction. Hopefully it can go further and Spain’s clear commitment to NATO or the sudden change – little explained and dismal in form – of the Spanish position on the Sahara have been able to contribute to reestablish a minimum confidence. But foreign policy, credibility and trust are built step by step, with perseverance and consistency. For this, it must be agreed with the main opposition party and government alternative, and within the framework of Parliament.

If this is not done, everything could be, again, a failed attempt. And we can’t afford it. Reliability and trust take a lot to build, but lose them can be very fast. That the NATO Summit, organizationally very successful for Spain, is not the flower of a day. The commitments assumed in a loyal and firm manner must be maintained, and this must also be required of the alternative government. About his position, fortunately, I have not the slightest doubt.

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