This is how the PSOE went from “NATO entry NO” to embrace the North Atlantic Treaty


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Now that Spain celebrates the 40th anniversary of its entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), we travel back in time to see how the PSOE of Philip Gonzalez He took a political-ideological somersault by going from absolute rejection of the Atlantic Alliance to considering it essential for the country. The excuse had a name: Europe. The reality, another: the fear that Morocco would annex Ceuta and Melilla.

The PSOE, in fact, ‘inherited’ the signing of the treaty when it came to power for the first time in October 1982. The previous Prime Minister Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo had announced a year earlier in his investiture speech the entry of Spain into NATO and signed on May 30, 1982, now just 40 years ago.

Even before, in 1980, the Government of Adolfo Suarez had begun negotiations to join the Western military bloc, especially due to the efforts of the then Foreign Minister Marcelino Ear.

Cover of the newspaper Ya on May 30, 1982. File, Archive

At that time, Spain premiered a fragile democracy with enormous economic, political and security challenges; were the ‘years of lead’ of ETA, of the attempted coup of 23-F in 1981, of the eternal economic and unemployment crisisof the birth of the system of autonomies.

The Socialists had been promoting their campaign “No input NATO”. In addition, they demanded from the opposition a referendum to ask the Spanish about whether or not it was convenient to adhere to the Washington Treaty.

They were also the years of corduroy jackets with elbow padsof the antimilitarist left, of the “necessary change” after four decades of Franco’s dictatorship. The position against the Alliance brought the PSOE and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) closer together. As a result, the peace and anti-NATO movement multiplied its social support and staged massive protest demonstrations.

Suddenly, the PSOE won a landslide victory in the general elections of October 28, 1982. The treaty was signed and Spain was the 16th country of the Atlantic Alliance. And while the Socialist Party still rejected NATO membership, it was from 1984 when the Government of Felipe González got down to work to achieve in just two years to convince his own and the others that it was necessary to go from “no” to “yes”, with an antagonistic motto: “Vote YES in the interest of Spain”.

Much has been said about “cheated” which was the famous referendum of 1986, in which the socialist government asked the Spaniards about whether or not to remain in NATO. Those who went to cast their vote found a ballot of convoluted promises –with three clauses that were barely fulfilled after– and specifically designed to get the most ‘yeses’.

What was the reason for that turn, that ‘somersault’, of the socialists, who in the opposition protested against NATO and in the Government, strongly embraced the permanence of Spain in the Treaty? A short trip through the newspaper archives shows us from the perspective of the years, the fabulous pirouette of a party that said one thing in the opposition and another when it rose to power. As we have seen so many times since then.

Input “NO”

The main parties of the left in the incipient Spanish democracy, the PSOE and the PCE, were radically against of what the Government of Calvo Sotelo had signed. The manifestos in the press were constant, and the press of the time reflected it or so. The socialists’ campaign was truly massive: 1,325 billboards and 125,000 posters, according to the UCM professor Javier Munoz Soro in an article published in 2016 (PDF).

The PSOE's campaign against Spain's entry into NATO.
The PSOE’s campaign against Spain’s entry into NATO. PSOE-Archive

Victory and schisms

When the absolute majority of the PSOE in the General Elections of 1982 catapulted the Socialists to power, something began to change. Not only because of the manifestos that appeared (especially in the newspaper The country), signed by the cream of the intelligentsia and culture in Spain, in support of the socialists, but because of the call “calculated ambiguity” de González, as reported by ABC on the eve of the famous 1986 referendum.

File image of the newspaper ABC.
File image of the newspaper ABC. ABC

Felipe González marked the new course with his famous Decalogue of Peace and Security, exposed in the debate on the state of the nation in 1984. This change of direction meant, on the one hand, a total break of the socialists with the PCE and, on the other hand, another, an internal crisis between the most orthodox members of the PSOE and that new generation of leaders headed by González.

Europe, Europe, Europe

This pragmatic turn, which definitively distanced the socialists from the parties of the left, was justified in its day for the convenience of entering the European Union, then the European Economic Community (EEC). It seemed that one was almost a requirement for the other.

Cover of The Country.
Cover of The Country. File, Archive

The intense campaign in favor of yes obtained the fruit desired by the Government: it won the bet with 52.54% of the votes in favor, 39.85% against and 6.54% blank. 59.42% of the electoral census participated.

Cover of El Periódico with the triumph of the yes to permanence in NATO.

Cover of El Periódico with the triumph of the yes to permanence in NATO. File, Archive


But in reality, Spain’s entry into NATO seemed to be the solution to a problem that gripped Spain after the loss of its last colonies in Africa. The issue of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, claimed by Morocco, needed a armor appropriate.

Only NATO membership could guarantee territorial integrity in a poor, weak Spain, with an army inherited Franco’s dictatorship and outdated with respect to surrounding countries.

It would not be until 1999, already with the Popular Party of Jose Maria Aznar in the Government, when Spain was fully integrated into the military structure of NATO.

In this way, little was fulfilled of those that the Spaniards voted by the hair in 1986, after five years of contradictions by the Socialists: Spain was integrated into the military structure of the Alliance, and has been increasing the use of military bases by part of the USA (there are still those of Rota and Morón as joint use) according to the year.

Now, 40 years later, a summit in Madrid at the end of June will discuss the future of the Atlantic Alliance, whose prominence is once again resurfacing as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


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