Sometimes the most important events go unnoticed. So it is with Spain's entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Long in the making, the formal event seemed almost anticlimatic. But this is no cause for not pausing to welcome the 16th member of the Atlantic alliance and to note the significance of the occasion both for the West's collective security system and for Spain's fledgling democracy.
In strategic terms, Spain's contribution will be considerable, even though much needs to be done to upgrade the Spanish armed forces. At a time of concern about Soviet expansion and military buildup, and at a time of tensions on the southeastern flank of NATO, there is obvious gain in broadening the alliance's reach. NATO's orbit is now extended as far south as the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession which is of importance in protecting Western shipping off the coast of Africa. It will also embrace Spain's islands in the Mediterranean.
For Spain, the new commitment means ending a military and political isolation dating from the Civil War over forty years ago. Spaniards have never had to think strategically beyond the frontiers of their own empire. Joining NATO--and eventually the European Economic Community--Spain will be increasingly exposed not only to the military but to the political institutions of the West. The trend is salutary for all concerned. While broadening of the West's military and economic groupings may create a welter of problems, it nonetheless means that bit by bit nationalism is giving way to a larger vision of the world community and of cooperation for the common good.
Spanish membership did not come without controversy, of course. Most Spaniards across the political spectrum were united on this issue. But deep divisions remain within the still-powerful military. Indeed it is hoped by many that membership in NATO will help end the bitter rivalries between the services, turn the attention of military officers outward, and give them less time to plot against the government.
Because of the penchant for conspiracy within the Spanish military, even some NATO members were lukewarm to admitting Spain to the alliance. But surely this move should be seen as a much-needed psychological boost for NATO in a time of strain (who, after all, is rushing to join the Warsaw Pact?) and as an opportunity to strengthen democratic forces in Spain.