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Spain - Strategic Culture

Strategic culture has been both lauded as an important analytical tool in explaining behavior, and disparaged as an explanation of last resort. A strategic culture defines a set of patterns of and for a nation's behavior on war and peace issues. Strategic culture helps shape behaviour on such issues as the use of force in international politics, sensitivity to external dangers, civil-military relations, and strategic doctrine. As the character and conduct of every government must in a great measure result from or depend upon the character and feelings of the people whom they govern, by examining closely the Spanish character it may be possible more satisfactorily and fully to estimate the character of the government as it existed at various times. The Spanish national character of today is an excellent and well proportioned compound of dignity, a high sense of honor, and a spirit of independence. So it is not without reluctance that observers noted its past defects, or, when they actually obtruded themselves to notice, believed in their existence and operation.

Historically, Spain was isolated from Europe on many levels. Dominated by the Moors in the early Middle Ages, Spaniards developed a culture apart from the rest of Western Europe. Politically, Spain was under the dictatorship of Franco until his death in 1975, whereas virtually all other Western European nations were based on democracy. Economically, Spain was impoverished, while other Western European nations had industrialized and were thriving. Tallyrand asserted in the early nineteenth century that Spain, geographically separated by the Pyrenees mountains, should not even be considered as a part of Europe. His proclamation that "Europe stops at the Pyrenees" seemed to be based not only on how the rest of Europe felt, but on how the Spaniards themselves felt.

Spanish history is different. Iberia's active participation in European affairs essentially ended with the termination of the Napoleonic wars. Following the collapse of Napoleon's Empire, both Spain and Portugal were subsequently torn by domestic upheaval, civil wars, and repeated military coups. They had lost most of their American colonies to independence by 1826, the rest to the United States in 1898. The great economic expansion experienced by the central and northern European countries in the nineteenth century did not occur in Iberia. Hence when the economic drive to maturity did finally begin in Spain and Portugal in the twentieth century, it came in a different historical context and therefore not necessarily with all the same social and political concomitants of modernization that had accompanied the urban-industrialization process elsewhere in Europe.

It is more understatement than cliche to claim that Spanish culture is an outgrowth of Spain's history. From the ancient Iberians and Celts, Phoenicians and Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Visigoths, through the Moorish invasion and the Reconquest, what some have referred to as a Spanish national character was formed. The Spanish national character, as it existed from its first development down to the 19th Century, was mainly formed in the earlier part of that solemn contest which began the moment the Moors landed beneath the Rock of Gibraltar, and which cannot be said to have ended until, in the time of Philip the Third, the last remnants of their unhappy people were cruelly driven from the shores which their fathers, nine centuries before, had invaded. During this contest, and especially during the two or three darkest centuries, nothing but an invincible religious faith, and a no less invincible loyalty to their own princes, could have sustained the Christian Spaniards in their disheartening struggle against their infidel oppressors. It was, therefore, a stern necessity which made these two high qualities elements of the Spanish national character.

In Europe generally, and in Protestant Europe especially, the Spaniard was long regarded as the type of pride and hardness of heart. With the mercurial Frenchman he had few points in common, and their disagreement was aggravated by competition for empire. To the Italian he was a stern ruler; and although the common descendants of Philip and Jeanne la Folle occupied the palaces of Madrid and Vienna, the jealousies of rival crowns, were rife between them. By the Fleming and the Hollander the Castilian was regarded in the same light as the Jews regarded Antiochus Epiphanes, or the Christians of the second century Diocletian, as an incarnate fiend. And among the English the Spanish national character fared little better, since it was associated with the Armada, with all the crimes done in the Spanish main, and with all the cruelties and insolences committed in the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even the Peninsular war and its great results effected little towards removing these sinister prejudices; for in it the Spaniard proved himself slothful, treacherous, and corrupt, in the field and in the cabinet, and a serviceable ally only as the fierce, fraudulent, and brutal guerilla.

By the conclusion of the Napoleon Wars, the most prominent and obtrusive feature in the Spanish national character was pride; not that pride, however, which was ashamed of ignorance, which stimulated to industry and active exertion, which was nearly allied to art honorable and useful ambition, and which exalted the individual or natim in which it existed and operated ; but a passive pride — a sullen satisfaction with their own excellence — a foolish and obstinate belief that the mere circumstance of being Spaniards, quite apart from any regard to their intellectual or moral qualities, or their conduct, raised them far above all other people.

Among the “professional” economists, only the members of the German Historical School and J.S. Mill tackled the question of “national character”. However, leading figures of European thought – such as Hume, Montesquieu o Kant– were really interested in this idea, which sometimes was used as an additional element to interpret the socioeconomic situation in the European countries. At the end of the nineteenth century, there was even an attempt to carry out a scientific systematization: the Psychology of Peoples. In the Spanish case, the idea of “national character” was always closely linked to the idea of decline. In this way, the Arbitrists and the Regenerationists thought that the shortcomings of Spanish national character were a basic explanatory factor in order to understand Spain’s socioeconomic decline. In particular, the Regenerationists internalized some of the most negative stereotypes associated with Spain’s external image, which had been elaborated by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment and later qualified and spread by the British travellers of the second half of eighteenth century.

The severity of the Spanish loss to the Americans in the 1898 Spanish-American War initiated a tangible move away from a previous Spanish culture of imperialism, and toward one of isolationism. The isolationism planted in 1898 was buttressed by the Franco policies following the Spanish Civil War, and it continues to be the aspect of Spain's historical character most resistant to change. Spain’s problems in domestic politics, economics, and military and foreign affairs may be attributed to a difficult national democratization process as well as to a strategic culture of isolationism.

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Page last modified: 25-01-2013 18:56:31 ZULU