Spain's new left shakes hands with the military right

No one would have believed it. Against all predictions there has not been a single rumor of another plot to overthrow Spain's Socialists during their first 15 weeks in office.

Only last year, under a crumbling Democratic Center government, almost any Spaniard could rattle off the name and rank of generals suspected of wanting to keep Spain from veering left.

Although the press still continues to publish military promotions and political declarations of top brass, the names are quickly forgotten by the general public. Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, in speaking to the press, said that what once seemed like formidable challenges, such as his relationship with the armed forces, ''disappeared completely once in office.'' The military has been pleased with the government's determination to govern and make decisions.

''Now our real problems are socioeconomic ones, like those in any other country,'' said Mr. Gonzalez.

The young and bearded Socialist defense minister from Catalonia, Narcis Serra , seems to fascinate the top military brass, although he never even did mandatory military service. He uses their patriotic language and extols the virtues of an adequately prepared army.

The captain general of the central Madrid-based military region, Gen. Rafael Allendesalazar, praised the Socialist defense policy and said, ''I have the impression that the minister of defense is drastically (sic) good.''

The secret of such an unexpected relationship of mutual flattery seems to stem from a policy of gradual reforms which have not rocked the military boat. Any military doubts have been tempered with promises of more ''profession-alization'' that will give the armed forces not only better salaries and training, but also higher social esteem, greatly damaged by a 1981 frustrated coup attempt.

The military's disappointment about Spain not yet joining NATO has been amply compensated for by a Socialist concern for the defense of the Spanish islands of Ceuta and Melilla near Morocco, which most Spanish military officers consider more of a priority anyway.

The Socialist reform plan for the armed forces, presented by Narcis Serra in Parliament, picks up initiatives that were already announced by former Defense Minister Alberto Oliart, but which were never sent to Parliament through two years of constant coup rumors.

The 12-point Socialist plan titled ''modernization of the army'' is designed to adapt Spain's Army to defend Spanish territory against possible foreign enemies (namely Morocco). A 19th-century concept of the Army as the vigilante of national unity, whose main purpose is to save the fatherland from internal chaos , is supposed to fade away throughout a 10-year period of the new defense plan.

According to Mr. Serra, the plan will obtain a national defense that is more autonomous and independent, more operative and professional, though less top heavy. To begin with, the size of the Army will be trimmed down from the present 250,000 men to 160,000. The number of top generals will be almost halved from the present 163 and lesser ranks will be reduced accordingly.

''It is not possible for professional military men to have a high social level with a correspondingly high salary if the staff is not reduced,'' justified one Defense Ministry spokesman. Salaries will eventually be equated with those of high civil servants. Modernization will also come with all the latest and long-coveted advanced military equipment. The Spanish arms industry is to be boosted.

Mandatory military service will be reduced to 12 months instead of the present 18, and an alternative civil service will be studied for conscientious objectors. In addition, the Socialist plan aims to reform parts of the military code of justice. Under a ''less urgent'' category, there will be legislation to reform military education and the disciplinary code. Female participation in the Army will also be introduced.

Regarding the touchy issue of promotions, the defense minister gave concrete instructions to the Army's Supreme Council to use professional and objective criteria for promotions to the rank of general, instead of just the criteria of seniority. Already, several colonels have been promoted over others with higher seniority.

The Supreme Council is strictly a consulting organism while the government Cabinet has the final word. Mr. Serra quickly eased alarm about Socialist vetoes by insisting that ''the government will never discriminate against any military officer because of what he thinks. . . . His actions, and not his ideas, are what will be evaluated at the time of studying his case for promotion.'' This was interpreted to mean that the government would routinely respect the Supreme Council's recommendations.

While in the opposition, the Socialists criticized the former Center governments precisely for respecting every single Supreme Council promotion. With the tables turned, some promotions have even been criticized by progressive sectors of the Army itself. For example, Gen. Carrasco Lanzos was promoted to general, with government approval, in spite of being on the lists of officers allegedly involved in the Oct. 27 coup plot, the eve of national elections that swept the Socialists into power.

In any case, objective promotion criteria have evidently appeased those officers who don't identify ideologically with the government, or even with democratic institutions.

Some critics of the Socialist defense policy point out a few ''glaring ommissions.''

The government has not dared touch the problem of reinstating in the armed forces those officers who belonged to the illegal military organization ''Democratic Military Union'' (UMD) at the time of the Franco dictatorship and the period of transition to democracy. They were court-martialed for sedition and are still banned from the armed forces, while participants in coup plots still remain within the military fold, and others have even returned to active duty.

Gonzalez said that the UMD issue was not a priority in relations with the armed forces. However, he acknowledged it was ''an issue that needs to be resolved'' with no further comment.

There has been little reshuffling of top chiefs of staff who were named by the former government. The Socialist government has not produced any further information regarding last fall's foiled coup plot as promised.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Spain's new left shakes hands with the military right
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today