American bases agreement

   The sympathy which Franco had displayed towards the Axis powers during WWII earned the regime the hostility of the western democracies, notably the United States, which in 1945 signalled its displeasure by replacing its retiring Ambassador to Spain with a Chargé d'Affaires. By the end of 1947, however, with the acceleration of the Cold War, the attitude of the US State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff was becoming more benevolent. The usefulness of Spain to American strategic defence plans, combined with the dire state of the Spanish economy, made a military agreement seem attractive to both countries. By 1949, American warships were making courtesy visits to Spanish ports, and in 1951 the Embassy in Madrid was restored to its former status. In the same year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff established direct contact with their Spanish counterparts with a view to co-operating on the establishment of air and naval bases in Spain.
   Negotiations, however, proceeded slowly, owing in part to the unflattering view which American visiting teams had formed of Spain's military and economic capability, and in part to Franco's determination to extract the maximum benefit from the relationship. Eventually, in September 1953, the Defence Pacts were concluded, though on terms more favourable to the US than to Spain. The agreement meant that the Americans were not obliged to come to Spain's aid unless she was attacked by a communist country. American military personnel stationed in Spain were exempt from Spanish law and from paying Spanish taxes. Perhaps the clearest indication that the US gave scant consideration to Spanish interests was that air bases were established close to major centres of population, at Torrejón de Ardoz near Madrid, and at Seville and Zaragoza.
   The agreement ended Spain's post-war isolation, and was presented by the propaganda of the regime as a great diplomatic success. However, the benefits flowing from the pact were less than Franco had hoped. Though Spain received some $266m in military and technical aid, general economic support was very limited. Besides, availability of equipment to upgrade the capability of the Spanish armed forces was limited by America's prior commitments to NATO, and by her involvement in the Korean War. The result was that the military hardware supplied to Spain was outdated.
   The bases agreement was very unpopular with the left wing in Spain after the restoration of democracy in 1977, and when it came up for renewal in 1987, the Socialist government in power embarked on a radical renegotiation. It was eventually agreed that the 72 F-16 aircraft stationed at Torrejón would be removed by 1991. Well before then, in any case, the Defence Pacts had been superseded by the entry of Spain into NATO.
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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