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    Spain Foreign Policy under Franco
    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    The overriding need to strengthen the regime determined foreign policy in the first phase of Franco's rule. Weakened by the devastation of civil war, the country could not afford to become involved in a protracted European conflict. Although Franco was deeply indebted to Germany and to Italy for their decisive contribution to his victory over the Republicans, he declared Spain's neutrality in the opening days of World War II. His sympathies, nevertheless, were openly with the Axis powers; he had, in fact, already joined the Anti-Comintern Pact and had signed a secret treaty of friendship with Germany in March 1939. There was genuine enthusiasm for the fascist cause among important elements of the Franco regime, especially the Falange.

    Spain altered its policy of neutrality following the lightning success of Germany's 1940 spring offensive. The German armies appeared invincible, and Franco was eager to assure Spain a voice in the postwar settlement. In June 1940, The Spanish government adopted a policy of nonbelligerency, which permitted German submarines to be provisioned in Spanish ports and German airplanes to use Spanish landing strips. This stance was widely interpreted as foreshadowing Spain's entry on the side of the Axis powers; the German Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, and Franco discussed this move on more than one occasion. The two dictators could never come to terms, however. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 presented Franco with a unique opportunity to participate in the conflict without a declaration of war and to get revenge for the Soviet Union's aid to the Republicans. Franco agreed to a Falangist request for the official formation of a Blue Division of volunteers--which reached a maximum strength of 18,000 men--to fight on the eastern front. Franco still believed that the Axis powers would win the war, and he considered the intervention of Spanish volunteers to be an inexpensive way of assuring recognition of Spain's colonial claims after the war was over.

    The war turned in favor of the Allies with the entry of the United States in December 1941 and the Allied landing in Casablanca in November 1942. At that time, Spain replaced its pro-Axis policy with a genuinely neutral stance. Spain withdrew the Blue Division from the eastern front in November 1943, thus ending Franco's major collaboration with Nazi Germany. In May 1944, Spain and the Allies concluded an agreement. The Spanish government agreed to end wolfram shipments to Germany, to close the German consulate in Tangier, and to expel German espionage agents. In exchange for these actions, the Allies were to ship petroleum and other necessary supplies to Spain.

    By the end of 1944, Spain had entered into a period of "benevolent neutrality" toward the Allies. Spain allowed Allied aircraft to land inside its borders and permitted Allied intelligence agents to operate in Madrid. In spite of this opportunistic policy shift, Spain was ostracized at the end of the war by the victorious powers. Although the United States president, Harry S. Truman, and the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, successfully resisted Stalin's proposals at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 for Allied intervention against Franco, Spain was denied membership in the United Nations (UN) because its government had come to power with the assistance of the Axis powers and had collaborated with them during the war.

    A resolution adopted by the second meeting of the UN General Assembly in December 1946 expressed the most severe postwar censure of the Franco regime. According to this resolution, Spain would be banned from the UN and would not be allowed to participate in any of its specialized agencies, as long as Franco remained in power. Franco did not appear seriously concerned by this censure, nor by the subsequent exclusion of Spain from the Marshall Plan. In fact, he used the international ostracism to strengthen his hold over the Spanish government. During this period of isolation, the Argentine government of Juan Peron (president, 1946-55) provided Spain with crucial economic support.

    Franco was convinced that attacks on his regime were the work of communist forces, and he felt certain that the Western powers would someday recognize Spain's contribution in maintaining its solitary vigil against bolshevism. As events evolved, Spain's anticommunist stance proved to be a significant factor in the United States decision to revise its policy toward Spain in view of the Cold War.

    As the United States became increasingly concerned with the Soviet threat following the fall of Czechoslovakia, the Berlin blockade in 1948, and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, United States policy makers also began to recognize the strategic importance of the Iberian Peninsula; furthermore, they realized that ostracism had failed and that the Franco regime was stronger than ever. The United States government took steps to normalize its political and economic relations with Spain in the years 1948-50. In September 1950, President Truman signed a bill that appropriated US$62.5 million for aid to Spain. In the same year, the United States supported a UN resolution lifting the boycott on Franco's regime and resumed full diplomatic relations with Spain in 1951. As Spain became an increasingly important link in the overall defense system of the United States against the Soviet Union, the period of isolation came to an end.

    Two major agreements signed in 1953 strengthened the Franco regime: the Concordat with the Vatican and the Pact of Madrid. The Concordat, signed in August 1953, was to replace the 1851 document that the republic had abrogated. The new agreement provided full church recognition of Franco's government. At the same time, it reaffirmed the confessional nature of the Spanish state; the public practice of other religions was not permitted. The agreement was more favorable to the Vatican than to Franco; it included measures that significantly increased the independence of the church within the Spanish system. The Concordat served, nevertheless, to legitimize the regime in the eyes of many Spaniards, and it was instrumental in strengthening Franco's hold over the country.

    The Pact of Madrid, signed shortly after the Concordat, further symbolized the Spanish regime's rehabilitation. It also marked the end of Spanish neutrality. The Pact consisted of three separate, but interdependent, agreements between Spain and the United States. It provided for mutual defense, for military aid to Spain, and for the construction of bases there. The United States was to use these bases for a renewable ten-year period, but the bases remained under Spanish sovereignty. Although the pact did not constitute a full-fledged military alliance, it did commit the United States to support Spain's defense efforts; furthermore, it provided Spain with much-needed economic assistance. During the first ten years of the Pact of Madrid, the United States sent approximately US$1.5 billion in all kinds of aid to Spain.

    Two years later, in 1955, the UN approved Spain's membership. In a visit by the United States president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the Spanish capital in 1959, the two generals received warm public welcomes as they toured the city together. The visit further emphasized Franco's acceptance and the end of Spain's ostracism. Franco placed a high value on Spain's relationship with the United States, for the prestige it conferred as well as for strategic reasons. This relationship continued to be a dominant factor in the development of the country's foreign policy.

    Spain's European neighbors were less willing than the United States to modify their aversion to Franco's authoritarian rule. The West European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) vetoed efforts to include Spain. Spain's applications for association with the European Community (EC--see Glossary) were also repeatedly rejected. Although a Trade Preference Treaty between Spain and the EC signed in 1970 seemed to herald a thaw in relations, Spain's entry into the EC, continued to be a political issue throughout Franco's lifetime. Spanish membership in the Community, considered by Spanish economists and businessmen as crucial for Spain's economic development, had to await the democratization of the regime (see Spain and the European Community , ch. 4).

    A more intractable problem than Spain's entry into the EC was the fate of Gibraltar, a sore point in Anglo-Spanish relations since 1713, when Spain ceded the area to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (see War of the Spanish Succession , this ch.). The question of sovereignty, which had been dormant during the years of the Second Republic, revived in the 1960s and jeopardized otherwise friendly relations between Britain and Spain. Spain has never relinquished its claim to Gibraltar, while the British have maintained that the inhabitants of the area should determine Gibraltar's fate. The heterogeneous population of Gibraltar enjoyed local democratic self-government and an increasingly higher standard of living than that prevailing in Spain; therefore it was not a surprise when they voted almost unanimously in a referendum held in 1967 to remain under British rule. The UN repeatedly condemned the "colonial situation" and demanded--to no avail--its termination. In 1969 Spain took steps to seal off Gibraltar from the mainland and to accelerate the economic development program for the area surrounding it, known as Campo de Gibraltar. The situation continued in stalemate throughout the remainder of the Franco regime.

    Franco may have been frustrated with the problem of Gibraltar, but he was optimistic about his potential for maintaining a powerful position for Spain in North Africa. As a former commanding officer of Spanish colonial garrisons in Morocco, Franco had developed close ties to the area, and during the postwar period, he placed great emphasis on maintaining Spain's position in the Arab world. Appealing to historical, cultural, and political ties, Franco endeavored to act as self- appointed protector of Arab interests and to portray Spain as an essential bridge, or mediator, between Europe and the Arab countries.

    Despite the regime's position as a colonial power in northwest Africa, relations between Spain and the Arab countries became closer in the late 1940s, in part because of Spain's nonrecognition of Israel. A visit by Spain's foreign minister to the Middle East resulted in a variety of economic and cultural agreements, and the Arab states assumed a benevolent attitude toward Spain's position in Morocco. Nevertheless, France's decision to withdraw from Morocco in early 1956, following the successful struggle waged by Moroccan nationalists against French control, left little prospect of Spain's retaining its zone. (In the spring of the same year, France relinquishied the protectorate.)

    In the following decades, Spain's position in North Africa eroded further. A long series of conflicts with Morocco resulted in the abandonment of much of Spain's colonial territory in the 1960s. When Morocco's Mohammed V made it clear in 1958 that he had designs on the Spanish Sahara, Spain opposed any change of status for the area. In 1975, however, Spain reversed its policy and declared its readiness to grant full independence to the Spanish Sahara under UN supervision. Following the march of 300,000 unarmed Moroccans into the territory in November 1975, Spain agreed to cede the Spanish Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania. At the time of Franco's death, Spain's only remaining presence in North Africa consisted of the Spanish-inhabited enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla and the small garrison spot called Penon de Velez de la Gomera, all on Morocco's Mediterranean coast (see Gibraltar, Ceuta, and Melilla , ch. 4).

    Data as of December 1988

    NOTE: The information regarding Spain on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Spain Foreign Policy under Franco information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Spain Foreign Policy under Franco should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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