Misc 19/01/2016

Catalonia, a NATO member

Arnau Gallard
3 min

The continuity of an independent Catalonia within NATO has been debated several times. It has been argued that Catalan proponents of independence are mostly anti-militaristic and that, as a result, could choose not to remain as a part of the Alliance. These claims have often been based on surveys that show independence supporters' lack of trust in the Spanish armed forces (such as the article "Catalonia to NATO: anti-militarism is deeply rooted", from El Pati Descobert, published in ARA on September 23rd).

This lack of trust can probably be explained by historical events such as the Franco dictatorship. However, the need to be a part of a common defense system cannot be determined by our feelings about the Spanish military. We Catalans have to decide if we want to remain a part of NATO by looking at security challenges for Catalonia, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and cyber attacks, and analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of being part of the Alliance.

The three most common arguments against being a member of NATO are neutrality, the cost, and the existence of countries without an army. Those who favour being neutral do not want to align themselves with the USA or other European countries, and cite Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland as examples. Being neutral is a legitimate argument; that said, these countries are not neutral. Sweden and Finland hold military exercises with NATO and participate in its rapid reaction forces, and Switzerland has given it support in many operations. For example, Sweden and Finland deployed troops in Afghanistan, and Sweden also participated in the air campaign during the Libyan War in 2011.

The cost argument states that if Catalonia was not a member of NATO, we could spend the funds destined for defense on other collective needs. In practice, the European countries that are not a part of NATO, like Sweden and Finland, end up spending more on defense than the average of member countries. According to the World Bank, in 2014 Spain’s defense spending was 0.9% of GDP, Sweden 1.2%, and Finland 1.3%.

Finally, some mention countries without an army as examples to support the idea of a Catalonia without defense forces and outside of NATO. These are mostly European micro-states, or Polynesian or Caribbean islands. In addition, they have defense treaties with larger countries such as France or the USA (in the case of Monaco and Micronesia), or are a part of alliances such as the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty (Costa Rica and Panama).

Among the reasons in favor of continuing as a member of NATO are resource optimization, influence, and commitment as a new country. Many of the new global challenges, such as terrorism, the proliferation of non-conventional weapons, cyber-attacks, and humanitarian crises in neighboring countries mean that small countries like Catalonia can't have specialized defense units in all areas. An independent Catalonia within NATO could guarantee the security of its territory and of its citizens in a more effective and efficient way by sharing resources and expenses with other member states. In addition, it would have access to knowledge in defense and planning for civil emergencies, and to the technology and scientific advances of other partners.

Moreover, Catalonia's influence would be greater within NATO, as shown by the examples of Norway and Denmark, as opposed to Sweden and Finland. These latter two countries, despite participating in many Alliance operations, only have an advisory role. Norway and Denmark, in contrast, have had influence and authority within the Alliance in cooperative actions with countries from their area of influence, such as the Baltic States and Russia. Catalonia could do the same, for example, in the Mediterranean region. In addition, the last two Secretary Generals of NATO have been from Norway and Denmark.

In conclusion, an independent Catalonia within NATO would show its commitment to other European members. A large number of surveys show that the majority of Catalans, whether they want independence or not, want to remain within the European Union and keep the euro. Twenty-two EU countries, representing 95% of its citizens, are members of NATO. By being involved in Europe’s common security and cooperating with its partners, Catalonia would show that it aspires to independence without shirking its responsibilities.