The article analyses the Spanish military transformation. This process started in 2004 as a means to adapt the force structure, organization and capabilities of the Spanish military to meet present and future threats in compliance with NATO’s initiatives, thus ensuring the continuity of the equipment modernization, professionalization and the adjustment of the country’s defence architecture to the post-cold war environment. A decade later, although transformation is still a priority for the Ministry of Defence, limited political will, a lack of strategic guidance, poor resource management and the effects of the economic crisis are compromising its development. This article describes the Spanish military transformation and assesses its value in adapting the country’s armed forces to the current and prospective security environment.
Since the end of the Cold War, defence establishments around the world have been adjusting their structures, functions and capabilities to meet current and future demands. This process of preparing the defence architecture for twenty-first-century challenges is called transformation and, since the 2000s, has guided worldwide defence and military policies.
Transformation, originally conceived as the process by which the information Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) would be achieved, attracted global attention after the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense.
However, it was the 9/11 factor that ended the apparent “strategic pause” initiated after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that revealed the urgent need to adapt the western defence architectures – large, rigid, bureaucratized and designed to fight against the Warsaw Pact in a massive conventional or nuclear war – to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century; hence, transformation came to form the backbone of the defence planning processes of many nations.
The major combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq seemed to confirm the validity of this transformation, which aimed primarily to bring about the RMA. But the commencement of security, stabilization and counterinsurgency operations revealed not only the limitations of the post-cold war militaries when conducting low-intensity operations, but also the necessity of redefining this process to develop capabilities for irregular warfare, stabilization, military support for reconstruction and counterinsurgency or counterterrorism, while preparing the forces for the future threats.
However, the conversion of a security structure designed to fight against the Warsaw Pact to one capable of meeting current challenges while anticipating future threats is a dynamic process that requires combining available and planned resources to an evolving security environment while maintaining sufficient flexibility for adjusting the military to unexpected challenges. This is why transformation not only needs to be suited to a country’s defence requirements and entails adapting the force structure and the catalogue of military capabilities, but it also entails changes in strategic thought, military and civilian personnel policies, research and development projects, working processes and budget management and industrial cooperation.
Although the United States promoted the idea of military transformation, many other countries – both major players and mid-level powers such as Spain – have undertaken similar processes to adapt their defence architectures to meet current and future threats while maintaining a qualitative edge over their potential adversaries and a parity of capabilities with their allies.
Conditioned by external factors such as the evolution of the strategic landscape, Spain’s full integration into NATO’s military structure,1 and its commitment to Allied concept of military transformation in the Spanish context, and to internal factors such as the development of the all-volunteer force and the modernization of materiel, Spain initiated its military transformation in 2004 with the aim of adapting its force structure and capabilities catalogue to the current security environment.
This process coincided with the approval of many norms which, although necessary for framing the Spanish military transformation, had the primary aim of modernizing the framework, structure and functions of its defence and military policies. In other words, although any military transformation should in theory influence the whole defence architecture (strategic conception, political options, military power, defence economy, industrial cooperation, strategic culture and the management of civilian and military manpower), in Spain this process has been limited to the military sphere.
Closely related to NATO’s initiatives, transformation has been regarded as the natural continuation of weapons modernization, the professionalization of the military, the integration of women into the armed forces, the adaptation of the defence structure to the democratic regime and to the end of the Cold War, and the country’s full integration to the collective and defence organizations.2
A decade after transformation came to guide Spanish defence planning, there have been many legal, organizational, technological and doctrinal advances in the configuration of the armed forces, but the process is advancing slowly. On the one hand, it has been based on unfeasible force objectives, conditioned by unrealistic planning –especially with regard to the modernization of materiel – and compromised by an unstable and illusory financial scenario. On the other hand, it has suffered from a lack of independent advising, political inattention, scant academic interest in its definition and implementation, a poor understanding of its intrinsic strategic value, limited political commitment, a lack of institutional continuity over the different governments and inadequate management of the available resources.
With these issues in mind, this article will analyse the Spanish military transformation since its origins in 2004 until now, when changes in the international environment, an acknowledgement of the obsolescence of the defence model and the inviability of the defence planning, and the economic crisis may compel a change in the Spanish defence paradigm and the commencement of a new military transformation in the country.