Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century

Sebastian Balfour + Paul Preston (editors)

Routledge 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
Since the loss of her empire in 1898, Spain has been outside the ranks of the great powers. But the Spanish Civil War brought Spain to the centre of the international stage and during the Second World War "there was a brief critical period when Spain's sovereign foreign-policy choices again commanded the rapt attention once automatically accorded the grand strategic decisions of Philip II".

Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century focuses on that period, with six essays on the period from 1936 to 1945 and events immediately preceding and following it, but the remaining five essays cover the first third and second half of the century.

Sebastian Balfour describes Spanish foreign policy from 1898 to 1914, most importantly her involvement in Morocco and resulting relations with France, Britain and Germany; this was closely linked to domestic politics. Francisco Romero covers the First World War and the crisis of neutrality, which ended the party system that had dominated Spain since the Restoration. And Ismael Saz contributes two essays, one on foreign policy under the dictator Primo de Rivera and one on the foreign policy of the Second Republic.

Enrique Moradiellos describes the international context of the Spanish Civil War, the origin and effects of Britain and France's policy of non-intervention, and the contrasting Soviet involvement, which reflected preference for a policy of collective security over one of appeasement.

Christian Leitz describes relations between Nazi Germany and Spain — and between Hitler and Franco — from 1936 to 1945. Though Germany began in a vastly stronger position, Hitler failed to get Franco to join the war and Spanish support was limited to economic links (the supply of wolfram was particularly important), the contribution of the Blue Division to the Russian front, and tolerance of clandestine military activity inside Spain.

Looking at Italian relations with Spain from 1936 to 1943, Paul Preston argues that the Spanish Civil War helped to push Italy closer to Germany. But Mussolini went ahead without matching German involvement and once committed could not back down. "The real beneficiaries of Italian intervention were Hitler and Franco, certainly not the Duce."

During the war Spain was economically dependent on the Allies, most notably for oil, but aggravated them by contributing to the German war effort. Denis Smyth concentrates, however, on Spain's geostrategic importance. In 1940-41, fearing Spanish entry into the war, the British had a standing plan to seize a naval base as a replacement for Gibraltar, either in the Portuguese Azores or Cape Verdes or the Spanish Canaries — an operation that came within a hair's-breadth of being launched preemptively. And in 1942 Spain lay astride Anglo-American supply lines for Operation Torch.

Florentino Portero describes how Britain stopped sanctions being imposed on Spain in the immediate post-war years, or any attempt to unseat Franco, but also prevented normalisation of Spain's international status, working to deny it Marshall Plan money or membership of NATO. The issue divided the victorious Allies, the British government, and the British Labor party.

As Boris Liedtke explains, early antipathy by the United States towards Franco soon gave way to tacit support, motivated by anti-communism; relations revolved around the concession of military bases and their renegotiation, but no fundamental change was possible while Franco was alive. And Angel Vinas covers post-Franco Spain, describing the role of international forces and politics in the transition to democracy, the controversy over joining NATO, and Spain's attempts to chart an independent course.

These last two essays are useful background to understanding recent events, in particular Spain's deployment and then withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The collection as a whole offers an unusual perspective on the history of Spain itself, as well as on key events in European history.

January 2005

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%T Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century
%E Balfour, Sebastian
%E Preston, Paul
%I Routledge
%D 1999
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 0415180783
%P 274pp