The tale begins long ago, but now winds its way around the issue of Kosovo.
For the modern Reino de España, the Kingdom of Spain, has chosen differently than most of its fellow European Union members and has refrained from offering recognition to the new country of Kosovo. What makes this seem, at first blush, odd is that Spain has been one of the main contributors to NATO and E.U. military forces employed in the Balkans. First arriving as a part of the earliest ill-starred peacekeeping effort in Bosnia, Spanish Army forces have played an important role in the Stabilization Force there and the KFOR intervention in Kosovo… up to now.
Now (as in happening this last week) Carme Chacón, the Spanish Minister of Defense, has made headlines by announcing a withdrawal of Spanish troops from Kosovo while on a “morale-building” visit to said troops. This came as quite a surprise to the NATO planning staff, as they had received no notice of such withdrawal, pending or otherwise. When the feathers began to fly, the Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (hereafter referred to as Zapatero, as is his usage) took an all-too-accomodating-sounding position:
"Carme Chacón will meet Nato's secretary-general next week to explain the reasons for the withdrawal and to reach a joint decision on a timetable," Mr Zapatero's spokesman said. "The decision to leave has been made but we can be flexible over the timetable, be it one year, 18 months or eight months."…which would have all been fine and good had it been mentioned *before* the Defense Minister gave her speech. The report cited above does mention that Ms. Chacón did call NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer prior to the announcement (at some unspecified time) but that none of the NATO staff had received word, nor had U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates or the various diplomatic offices involved received word through regular channels. These are not people who appreciate being surprised by their friends; surprised in a bad way, that is.
So the remarks were made too abruptly, perhaps? The Spanish government reconsidered the tone and the pace? Not hardly. In further remarks today, Ms. Chacón said Spain is sticking to its decision, although in fairness she now included that the withdrawal would be gradual and in coordination with NATO.
The explanation was that it made no sense for Spanish soldiers to help build a state the independence of which Madrid did not recognize. Fair enough.
One should, however, not expect to be treated as a major part of NATO and the E.U. if one insists upon having a foreign policy at odds with the declared goals of both organizations. There is a price to be paid for choosing to act that way, a price in relationships.
So why, on this matter and at this time, does the Zapatero administration chose to take it on the chin in the relationship department? This is not even as obvious a case of (supposed) self-interest as Spain’s abandonment of the Iraq Occupation. In that case, they could at least claim to be making a choice based on the change in government policy that came with the election of Mr. Zapatero’s government. This seems less influenced by any change, and more a case of political opportunism to try and restore some of the flagging domestic popularity of the administration. But that does not cover the most basic of issues here: Why does Spain not recognize Kosovo’s independence?
The answer in a large part can be found in Comunidad Foral de Navarra, or in Basque Nafarroako Foru Erkidegoa, “The Foral Community of Navarre”, where Foral is an antiquated term describing a self-governing area nominally within a Kingdom. The land upon which Navarre now exists as one of the Autonomous Communities within Spain was formerly in-part the Kingdom of Navarre… which, like much of medieval Iberia, was a separate nation… and unlike much of the rest of Iberia, is the homeland of the Basque. Here is a larger map of what the Basque nationalists of modern day consider Euskal Herria (“Basque Country”). Note that the green area is the modern Spanish region of Navarra, the purple area is the adjacent Spanish regions (including one identically named “Basque Country”, or in Spanish “País Vasco”), and the yellow area is what was old Lower Navarre which is now part of France.
The Kingdom of Spain, after all, is the first great example of ‘an Empire of Kingdoms’. From the unification of the thrones of Aragon and Castile in 1469 as the Kingdom of the Spains on to present day, Spain has always been a summation of the nations within it. In some particular cases, it has been a most uneven and fractious summation. Cf. Catalunya for an equally passionate but less violent example.
Oh yes. What makes the case of the Basques measurably different than that of the other nationalities hoping and working toward a U.K.-like devolution of Spain is that since 1959 the most prominent force espousing Basque Independence is the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA; Basque: “Basque Homeland and Freedom”), an armed insurgency of the Marxist-Leninist inclination. Note that I said “most prominent”; there are plenty of perfectly rational Basque Nationalist that play in the political scene, and most of them seek only an improvement to the autonomy in place (via the 1978 Constitution) or reassembled Basque Homeland as a unitary component of some super-state, perhaps most likely a properly confederated European Union. But the ETA plants bombs, shoots people, and dreams of driving the non-indigenous out of “their lands”… which if that sounds all too much like anti-colonialism as applied to Africa, well, it is the same rewriting of the actual history as was done in those cases too and by the same red pen of Soviet influence. While the day of glorious people’s anti-colonial idealist resulting-in-a-socialist-paradise revolution has pretty much gone into the dustbin of history, the ETA is still in business.
So for any one still in doubt as to why Spain thinks that recognizing Kosovo’s Independence is a bad idea, just imagine applying to Spain an extension of the same rules that were applied to Serbia. The two cases are utterly dissimilar in modern day; no Spanish jack-boots have gone into the Basque lands with murder and reprisal in mind since 1987 when the “dirty war” of the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL; "Antiterrorist Liberation Group") paramilitaries was brought to an end. Investigations and trials brought a host of government sponsors of the GAL to justice and no Spanish government has countenanced such since then. But there is that history there, and if the same standards as used in Kosovo were applied by a shall-we-say-less-forgiving external authority (like an altered form of the U.N., perhaps) playing the role of NATO in Kosovo, then Spain could find itself short at least a couple of Pyrenean providences.
So with that in mind, find a way to forgive Spain for its most-impolitic departure from KFOR. They can not, in any good conscience, remain there now that the military phase is past and the matter has become one of nation-building.
Forgive. But do not forget.
Remember that no state can be asked to go against its clear national interest without some pretty serious justification.
Remember that the Ejército de Tierra (Land Army of Spain) can and will fight well, when their government lets them.
If there is one thing, one blessedly simple thing, that could come out of this utterly avoidable political debacle, let it be that the NATO nations doing the fighting and dying in Afghanistan today (and maybe somewhere else tomorrow) use this issue as a diplomatic crowbar to pry off the government shackles that keep the Army (and Navy and Air Force) from making a full contribution to NATO efforts in the Global War on Terror.
They said they can’t contribute any longer in Kosovo, based on principle. Very fine then, let us see them contribute to the fullest in the GWOT, based on principle.
All links embedded in the text.
The following General Information on items referenced in the text above is from Wiki-p. As always with Wikipedia, but especially on subjects of political sensitivity like this, check the sources on all items.
General Information on Reino de España, the Kingdom of Spain
General Information on Comunidad Foral de Navarra, Nafarroako Foru Erkidegoa, the Foral Community of Navarre, Spain
General Information on Euskal Herria, the Basque “national region”
Historical Information on the medieval period Kingdom of Navarre
General Information on the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) militant nationalist group
General Information on the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL) paramilitary group
General Information on the Ejército de Tierra (Land Army of Spain)
General Information on Kosovo Force (KFOR), the NATO-led military intervention in Kosovo
Personality Profile: Carme Chacón Piqueras, Minister of Defense, Spain
Personal Profile: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minster, President of the Government of Spain