Spain: anti-US feeling greets Reagan. President's visit fuels debate over NATO membership and US bases

The cowboy holds a smoking pistol. He is scowling. Above the picture, type screams, ``No NATO, no bases.'' Posters depicting a nasty, quick-fingered Ronald Reagan were pasted all over the Spanish capital in anticipation of the US President's two-day visit, which began Monday. Backed up by vociferous anti-American demonstrations, they show how Mr. Reagan's visit has heated up the pressing debate about Spain's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the status of United States military bases on its soil.

Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonz'alez plans a referendum next February or March on NATO membership. Before that vote, he hopes to negotiate a reduction of the number of US soldiers, now 12,000, in Spain.

For the US, the referendum and negotiations pose challenges for the alliance: Socialist Spain may become as shaky an ally as Socialist Greece, both of which are on NATO's southern, Mediterranean flank. For Spain, the stakes are higher: Decisions to be taken in the next year will determine the country's very role in the world.

``We have no military problems with the East, so NATO and the American bases make no sense for us,'' Ramon Tanames, the prominent leftist political thinker and leader of the anti-NATO campaign, told the Monitor. He proposed neutrality, ``like Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and Austria.''

His position has roots deep in Spanish history. Sheltered behind the Pyrenees, Spain managed to stay out of both World War I and II. The last real ``international war Spain fought was in 1898 over Cuba -- against the US.

That war is not the only reason polls show more Spaniards view the United States as an enemy than the Soviet Union. Across the political spectrum Spaniards resent how Washington let General Franco's dictatorship out of diplomatic quarantine. In 1953, the US signed the defense agreement bringing American soldiers to Spain, and in 1959, President Eisenhower came to Madrid and hugged Franco publicly.

``We see the US through different eyes than a country like France or Holland, both of which were liberated from the grip of facism,'' Angel Vinas, assistant foreign minister and author of numerous studies on US-Spanish relations, said in an interview. ``Here the US supported facism and kept a fascist leader in power.''

A majority of Spaniards view the US presence and NATO membership more as a burden imposed by Washington than as a prop to Spain's own defense. When the center-right government of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo joined NATO in 1982, the Socialists opposed the action, and in the electoral campaign that year, Gonz'alez won a massive majority on an anti-NATO platform. On taking office, the Socialist leader froze Spain's military integration into the alliance's military command.

A period of intense reflection followed. Gonz'alez was determined to remove the vestiges of Spain's long separation from Europe. This meant entry into the European Community, a goal finally achieved earlier this year. But he asked himself how he could obtain European blessing for economic and political integration while refusing military cooperation.

The answer was obvious. He couldn't.

``[West German] Chancellor [Helmut] Kohl made it clear that the EEC also meant NATO,'' opposition leader Manuel Fraga told the Monitor. Mr. Vinas at the Foreign Ministry explained: ``We realized we're part of the Western world and we must help preserve Western security.''

Last October Gonz'alez came out for continued NATO membership but tried to soften this switch by demanding ``progressive reductions'' in the number of US troops and by calling the referendum.

If the referendum were held now, the result would be ``no.'' A poll published in April by the Madrid daily El Pais showed 51 percent of Spaniards want to quit NATO, only 19 percent want to stay in. Other polls narrow the difference, but all put those wanting to quit in the majority.

``It's going to be tricky, all right,'' said respected political poll-taker and commentator Victor Perez-Diaz. ``The Socialists will have a hard time convincing their own supporters.''

Domestic economic problems aggravate the left's inbred anti-NATO feeling. In the 1982 electoral campaign, the Socialists pledged to create 800,000 new jobs. Instead, determined austerity has put 700,000 more out of work.

The Socialist unions are fuming. In recent weeks they have increased their criticism of the government's economic policies and joined communists and pacifists in anti-American demonstrations.

``The government has betrayed the left on the economy,'' Tanames said. ``We won't let it also betray us on NATO.''

Such statements draw nervous smiles from government officials but no words of panic. The officials insist that buried beneath that opposition lies a winnable middle ground.

On the right flank, the government can count on the support of the conservative opposition. Conservative leader Fraga told the Monitor he would campaign for a ``yes'' vote. He also said he did not oppose ``the principle of talking about whether this American base or that American base is necessary.''

Such negotiations remain the best and most probable aid the government could have to dampen anti-NATO feeling. Of course, hopeful officials mention a few other measures they plan to bring up during the Reagan visit. The Americans might tell their Moroccan friends that Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves on the Moroccan coast, are Spain's and would be defended by NATO. Fear of aggression from Arab North Africa remains a constant in Spanish thinking.

Or Washington might make conciliatory noises about Central America. From King Juan Carlos down, Spaniards feel they remain spokesmen for their former colonies. Actions such as the recent US declaration of an economic embargo against Nicaragua send Foreign Ministry officials into tirades about ``unjustified'' imperialism.

But Vinas and other Spaniards realize their complaints in these areas are not likely to change US policy. Only on the sensitive issue of the military bases can they budge Washington. Under the bilateral defense agreement, either side can call for a revision of the accord.

The Spaniards are in a hurry. They will impress on Reagan the need for a new agreement before the NATO referendum. A common date put forward for opening negotiations is September.

So far, the Americans have responded cautiously. Statements by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt to the effect that Washington contemplated no renegotiations infuriated the Spaniards. Ambassador Thomas Enders was forced to clarify the statement as ``a misunderstanding.''

Misunderstanding or not, the Spanish demand on the bases presents a nasty dilemma for the US. American officials here stress that Washington wants Spain in NATO. They also stress that Spain's strategic importance lies chiefly in its US bases, which include the main support base for the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and two key Air Force installations.

The Americans here say they will review exactly what the American military needs at its Spanish facilities. But any jump from this position to actual troop reductions is, in the words of one official, ``hypothetical.''

It will remain so, at least during the Reagan visit. Spanish officials emphasize that the US President is ``welcome'' and that he will be treated with ``the due respect of a chief of state from a friendly country.'' He added that no pressure will be put on the President to make an early concession on the bases.

But the Spanish insist that the question cannot remain hypothetical for long. If only in general terms, Reagan and Gonz'alez will discuss it -- the nasty posters of a gun-slinging Reagan assure that.

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