Spain’s feelings toward the United States are the coldest in Europe after Turkey, according to a poll by the German Marshall Fund. And they have been that way for a very long time. The country’s thermometer reading on a scale of 0-100 was 42º in 2005, only surpassed by Turkey’s 28º and compared with an average of 50º for the 10 countries surveyed (see Figure 1). The same degree of coldness towards the United States was brought out in the 16-country Pew Global Attitudes Project where only 41% of Spaniards said they had a very or somewhat favourable view of the United States. This surprises many people. After all, Spain has become a vibrant democracy and a successful market economy since the right-wing dictatorship of General Franco ended in 1975 with the death of the Generalísimo. Why are Spaniards so cool towards the United States?

Figure 1. European Nations’ Feelings towards the United States

CountryThermometer Readings
UK57º (62º)
Italy57º (61º)
Poland56º (56º)
Slovakia55 (50º)
Netherlands54º (55º)
Germany51º (55º)
Portugal51º (50º)
Europe 1050º (55º)
France50º (51º)
Spain42º (42º)
Turkey28º (28º)

Note: 2004 figures in brackets.

Source: German Marshall Fund of the US, Transatlantic Trends, 2005.

There are six main elements that over the years have moulded Spaniards’ feelings towards the United States:

  • The Spanish-American War of 1898.
  • Washington’s support of Franco after the 1936-39 Civil War.
  • The 1953 Pact of Madrid, which established US bases in Spain.
  • The lukewarm support for Spain’s transition to democracy after Franco died.
  • The Reagan administration’s backing of military dictatorships in Latin America.
  • And, more recently, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Together they go a long way towards explaining anti-Americanism in Spain, which takes many different forms and cuts across political parties.[1] This is one reason why Spain recorded the highest level of opposition in opinion polls to the war in Iraq (90% in 2003), despite which the centre-right Popular Party (PP) of José María Aznar backed the US- and UK-led invasion and sent 1,300 peacekeeping troops. This support was one of the factors behind the PP losing the March 14, 2004 general election, which it had been widely forecast to win until an al-Qaeda cell in Spain killed 191 people in bomb attacks three days before the election. Spaniards voted in unprecedented numbers and elected the Socialists under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero who quickly fulfilled his campaign promise and withdrew the troops, plunging US-Spain relations into crisis.

As all Spanish students learn, Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, the remnants of its once vast empire, as a result of the 1898 war. The United States is the only country with which Spain has been at war, apart from some colonial and post-colonial strife in Morocco and South America, since the 1830 Holy Alliance invasion. This is something that sets Spain apart from all other European countries. This defeat, known as the ‘disaster’, turned the country inward and made the nationalistic and authoritarian right, in particular, even more resentful of the United States.[2] The Catholic right saw the United States as materialistic, in sharp contrast to Spain which it regarded as Europe’s ‘spiritual reserve’.

The era after the First World War was one of considerable political and social instability in Spain, culminating in the abdication of Alfonso XIII, the establishment of the SecondRepublic in 1931 and the Civil War. Franco emerged victorious but a pariah after the victory of the allies in 1945 as he had materially helped Hitler and Mussolini during the Second World War, although Spain was officially non-belligerent and subsequently neutral. The United States, backed by Britain and France, issued a Tripartite Declaration in 1946, which stated that Spaniards could not look forward to ‘full and cordial association’ with them as long as Franco remained in power. This ostracism was designed to bring about ‘a peaceful withdrawal of Franco, the abolition of the Falange, and the establishment of an interim or caretaker government under which the Spanish people may have an opportunity freely to determine the type of government they wish to have and to choose their leaders’.

However, no direct action was taken to achieve these goals, although Spain was politically ostracised later that year by the United Nations, which adopted a resolution calling on members to withdraw their ambassadors from Madrid. There was no US ambassador to Spain until 1950, when the ban was lifted. The Spanish government was also barred ‘from membership in international agencies established by or brought into relationship with the UN and from participation in conferences or other activities which may be arranged by the UN or by their agencies’. As well as political and diplomatic ostracism, the US government barred Spain from the 1948 Marshall Plan, impeded trade with it and shut off public and private loans. This was amusingly satirised in Luis García Berlanga’s famous 1953 film Bienvenido Mr Marshall, whose subtleties escaped Franco’s censors. One of the scenes shows a large American car carrying a Mr Marshall speeding through a village and passing crowds, leaving nothing in its trail but dust and dashed hopes.

Instead of striving to liberate Spain from its authoritarian yoke, however, the United States changed its policy and began to support the Franco regime. Events brought the two countries together. On the one hand, Spain was destitute and internationally ostracised and seeking the friendly hand of any non-communist country; and none better than the world’s number one power. The Spanish economy was on its knees after the Civil War. Spain’s real GDP declined 36% between 1935 and 1938 and 28% in per capita terms. Slightly more than half of the active population worked on the land, with antiquated technology. Moreover, winters were unusually harsh and crops poor. The 1940s were known as the ‘years of hunger’. The Argentina of General Juan Domingo Perón, one of Franco’s few allies, came to the rescue after 1946 and saved Spain from starvation by supplying it with wheat and meat. On the other hand, Washington concluded that its policy had strengthened Franco, hindered Spain’s economic recovery and made her cooperation less likely in the event of another war. Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, said the policy had not only ‘failed in its intended purpose, but has served to strengthen the position of the present regime’. More significantly, the Pentagon, the body most directly concerned with the Cold War challenge, had its eyes on establishing military bases in Spain because of its geo-strategic position at the southern tip of Europe guarding the entrance to the western Mediterranean.

Spain was the missing link to close the network of forward-deploying US bases that the Strategic Air Command was keen to establish to encircle the Soviet Union (bases were established in Portugal’s Azores in 1951 and in Turkey in 1952). The National Security Council issued a report in December 1947 on Spain (known as document NSC 3) whose purpose, in the words of US Under-Secretary of State Robert Lovett, was to ‘quit kidding ourselves as to our interest in Spain and to reorient our policy in relation thereto’. President Harry Truman grudgingly approved NSC 3 and it became official policy in 1948. A policy paper by the Department of State and the Department of Defence similarly concluded: ‘In the light of the intensification of the ‘Cold War’, the potential military importance of Spain […] has increased in importance to such a degree that the security interests of the US and the NATO nations now require that a programme […] should be put into effect, despite political objections, in order to provide at least for indirect Spanish cooperation within the Western European strategic pattern’. The idealistic approach towards foreign affairs was abandoned for a classical Realpolitik. In March 1950, the US government dipped into its surplus stocks and sold 86 million pounds of potatoes to Spain, thereby helping to end the potato rationing that had been in force since the end of the Civil War.

The turning point came on June 24, 1950, when communist North Korea invaded non-communist South Korea, under US control since the end of the Second World War. By then the Soviet Union had atomic bomb capability, and the staunchly anti-communist Franco was playing his card as the ‘Sentinel of the West’ for all it was worth. The intense anti-communism in the United States in 1948-54 (McCarthyism, the witch-hunt named after Senator Joe McCarthy) also helped to create the appropriate atmosphere for a rapprochement with the Franco regime. National security factors began to weigh increasingly in Spain’s favour; Washington dropped its planned demand for economic policy reform as a prerequisite for the provision of aid. Shortly afterwards, the US Congress earmarked US$62.5 million under the Mutual Security Act to be loaned to Spain by the Export-Import Bank (Eximbank). The money was used to purchase badly needed cotton, fertiliser, tractors, wheat, coal and equipment for railways and for the development of mining and hydroelectric power. Truman sent Stanton Griffiths as ambassador to Spain at the end of 1950, after the United Nations allowed ambassadors back into the country following a break of four years. In 1951, the US Congress voted Spain a further US$100 million. Spain’s real GDP jumped 17.6% in 1951, in no small part due to the US inflows, which began to reactivate an economy ‘held together by bailing wire and hope’.[3]

The 1953 agreement which established air bases at Torrejón (near Madrid), Zaragoza and Morón de la Frontera and a naval base at Rota on the Spanish Southern Atlantic Coast, not far from Gibraltar, was a controversial marriage of convenience especially for France and Great Britain, which believed it undermined the moral authority of the Western block, and for liberals in the United States, democrats in Spain and the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards who went into exile after the Civil War. A New York Times editorial said the United States was ‘swallowing a bitter pill’.[4] The most difficult part to negotiate were not the conditions under which the United States would be allowed to activate or put in a state of alert the bases and military facilities in the event of an armed conflict (which remained a secret until 1979), but the accompanying economic assistance. Franco was very accommodating over the activation clause (Spain merely had to be informed of the undefined ‘evident Communist aggression which threatens the security of the West’), although in order to save face and claim no loss of sovereignty the clause was kept out of the public domain. The bases were put on a state of alert because of the 1958 Lebanon crisis, the evacuation of the Congo in 1964 and Libya in 1969, hardly acts of ‘Communist aggression’ and ‘threats to the security of the West’. The agreements enabled the United States to introduce nuclear weapons into Spain (Rota had Polaris submarines after 1963) and to carry out flights over Spanish territory with nuclear weaponry. This became a sensitive issue after the infamous Palomares incident in 1966, when a collision between two US planes led to the dropping of four H-bombs, one of which landed in the Mediterranean. However, despite the public outcry (muted in Spain because of a shackled press), Article VII of the technical (and secret) agreement –which gave the US forces total freedom to move inside Spanish territory, territorial waters and air space– was not modified until 1970.

The agreement was also a triumph for Franco, particularly as no political liberalisation was demanded. The dictator’s regime gained international respectability, especially in the multilateral area (Spain joined the United Nations in 1955). Internally, the dictatorship felt more secure with US troops on its soil, although by then the threat to it from the political opposition was negligible as it was weak and divided. As a contemporary analyst put it, Spain had gone ‘from United Nations outcast to United States partner’.[5] Spain was viewed as little more than a strategically located piece of real estate. In order to defend the West from communism, the United States believed it was necessary to embrace a lesser evil. ‘The values of freedom and human rights that the United States predicated in the hard struggle against communism would always be kept in abeyance when tin-pot dictators controlled pieces of geography that could be used to defend freedom worldwide’, noted Ángel Viñas, the leading Spanish historian of the bases agreement.[6] One of the consequences of the agreement was that it led to visits by Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford (it is striking that no European prime minister or head of state met Franco while he was in power apart from Portugal’s dictator, Oliveira Salazar).

Instead of GIs liberating Spaniards from an authoritarian yoke, they consolidated the dictatorship and gave it a pervasive feeling of security. This produced the curious situation whereby Francoists were seen as pro-American, although they hated the democratic form of government in the United States and its liberal values. Spanish democrats felt abandoned, and this was to generate very strong anti-Americanism particularly among the ‘1968 generation’ in the Socialist Party that played a prominent role in Spain’s post-Franco transition to democracy and governed the country between 1983 and 1996. For example, Javier Solana, who was Minister of Culture, Minister of Education and Foreign Minister during the period of the Socialists, NATO secretary general (1995-99) and since then the European Union’s foreign policy chief, was an anti-NATO activist (as a young man he wrote a pamphlet called 50 Reasons to Say No to NATO). The 1973 CIA-backed overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, a revered figure among the Spanish left, and the support for General Augusto Pinochet (a declared admirer of Franco) only reinforced the anti-American sentiment.

In the revealing words of Wells Stabler, the US ambassador to Spain from 1975 (the year that Franco died) to 1978, the United States ‘really didn’t do a great deal’ to develop some form of policy towards a post-Franco Spain.[7] The main –some would say the sole– concern were the bases, whose importance increased after the United States was forced out of Libya in 1970. Fearful of antagonising the regime, which made a ‘terrible fuss’ about any form of contact between the US embassy in Madrid and the opposition, however tame it might be, US diplomats had virtually no relationships with the opposition. In May 1975, six months before Franco died and when there was a state of exception in two Basque provinces, President Ford visited Spain, a trip that Stabler described as achieving ‘absolutely nothing at all except, again from Franco’s point of view, to indicate that Spain’s big friend was rallying around’.[8] Stabler persuaded Ford and Kissinger to meet some ‘very tame’ members of the opposition, all of whom had been at one time ‘violent Francoists’. But Prime Minister Carlos Arias Navarro ‘turned to ice’ when he saw the list and demanded the meeting be called off, which it was. Stabler believed Washington should have put its foot down. ‘It would have been a signal –though a very minor one– that we did have some view about relations with the opposition’. The ambassador later, and on his own initiative, began to meet members of the opposition, including Felipe González, head of the Socialists and prime minister from 1983 to 1996. Such was the strength of anti-American sentiment at the time that the Socialists, for this and other reasons, spent three months after receiving the invitation deciding whether they wanted any of their members to meet US officials.

The bases agreement came up for its fourth renewal during Franco’s twilight months. What most interested the United States was not actively aiding the advent of democracy but guaranteeing its continued access to the bases and ensuring they were as free of constraints as possible. This was in stark contrast to West European countries, which were then building bridges with the opposition to Franco. When Ford expressed concern to Germany’s Helmut Schmidt about the possibility of losing the bases, he told him that ‘in order to be sure of your bases and your strategic links with Spain the day after tomorrow, you should also speak about it with those who will be in power in the future’.[9]

The negotiations, fortuitously as it turned out, were not finished by the time Franco died (and the United States, unlike Europe, sent a very high representative –Nelson Rockefeller, the Vice President– to both Franco’s funeral and the proclamation of Juan Carlos as king). The prolonged talks opened a window of opportunity for Washington to support, albeit timidly, the establishment of democracy. In early 1976 José María de Areilza, the Foreign Minister, managed to convince Henry Kissinger of the need to use the new bases agreement to give a strong signal of support to King Juan Carlos and the emerging political forces. The pact, based on successive executive agreements (which meant it did not have to be approved by the US Senate), was elevated to the more dignified form of a treaty. The withdrawal of Poseidon nuclear submarines from Rota was also agreed as a result of the 1966 Palomares incident.

The first post-Franco governments backed NATO membership to the immense relief of Washington, which had long lobbied for Spain’s entry but which in the dictator’s day it never pushed for over the heads of its European allies the way it did the bases agreement. But it was a contentious issue for the Spanish left, which saw NATO membership as aggravating the Cold War environment. At the same time, hard-line Francoist elements in the armed forces were not happy at the democratic direction in which the country was moving, and on February 23, 1981 members of the Civil Guard, headed by Lt.Col. Antonio Tejero, stormed the Spanish parliament as part of a failed coup. Instead of rallying to the support of the beleaguered centrist government of Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, the US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, said the coup was ‘an internal affair only of concern to Spain’. This unfortunate remark outraged Spanish democrats as it confirmed their belief that the US government placed little importance on the fate of Spanish democracy and that it hankered after the cosy relationship it had during the Franco regime. (This statement, 25 years after it was made, is still recalled by Spaniards). The left was also antagonised by US intervention in Central America during the 1980s, following the 1978 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua against the brutal, corrupt US-backed regime of Anastasio Somoza and Washington’s covert support for the Contras fighting against the Sandinistas, and the 1989 invasion of Panama. Successive US administrations supported Latin American dictators, in general, because they were viewed as a bulwark against communism in the United States’ backyard. Spaniards with long memories recall that one of the reasons for US support of the Franco regime was the dictator’s staunch anti-communism. During the 1980s, surveys regularly showed that more Spaniards thought the United States was a threat to world peace than the Soviet Union.

Spain entered NATO in May 1982. The general election five months later was, however, won by the Socialists who were against membership of the alliance and committed to submitting the issue to a referendum. They were also determined to negotiate a less subservient bases agreement. In a policy U-turn, the Socialists campaigned to the great relief of Washington for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum and narrowly won the day in 1986. But they attached three conditions, to the irritation of Washington: Spain would not join NATO’s integrated military structure; the ban on nuclear weapons in Spain would remain and, most importantly, there would be a gradual reduction of the US military presence in Spain including the F-16 jet fighters. For the Socialists, overcoming the Francoist origin of the bilateral agreement would only be achieved by reducing the US presence and not just by joining NATO.

Prime Minister González set the tone for the negotiations in a seminal speech in Washington in September 1985: ‘We should not be surprised that those defeated in the Civil War and the democratic opposition in general should have viewed the treaties as American support for the dictatorship and a blow for the hopes of a rapid democratic restoration in Spain’. The Socialists took a tough position in the arduous 1986-88 round of negotiations. They pressed for a much more balanced relationship and made it clear from the outset that if no agreement was reached by the time the accord expired in May 1988 the United States would have to pack up and go home. This warning sent a shiver through the US military establishment because it was feared that a US exit could trigger a domino effect in other European countries.

The Spanish side pursued five objectives:

·        A more-than-cosmetic reduction in the military presence.

·        A new setting based on mutual respect, sovereign equality of the two parties and a fair burden-sharing of the defence effort.

·        A reshaping of the procedures and control systems of the authorisations to use the support facilities by the US forces. The Spanish left was particularly unhappy that US aircraft based at Torrejón refuelled US planes supplying Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which breached the strict neutrality declared by the Spanish government (and was hushed up by both sides). González denied Washington permission in 1986 to use the bases to bombard Libya.

·        The separation of the security and defence relationship from any other kind.

·        The updating of the provisions relating to manpower and privileges. Francisco Fernández Ordóñez, the Foreign Minister, put the position clearly when he told US Secretary of State George Shultz: ‘What we want is a balanced relationship, not subordination. We want a relationship between allies, we want a relationship between equals, we do not want a military overextension’.

The negotiations dragged on for two years. The government doggedly stuck to its guns and did not buy the US argument that if it could not take over responsibility for the NATO missions fulfilled in Spain by the forces then it should allow them to stay. In the end, Washington relented and national pride was recovered in 1988 with a watershed agreement that laid the foundations of a more balanced relationship and no longer made Spain a kind of vassal of the United States. The US presence was reduced by around 40% (4,500 military personnel and 500 civilians).

Once the bases agreement and the NATO issue were settled, Spain’s political relations with the United States were on a more even keel. In 1996 the Socialists lost to the centre-right Popular Party of José María Aznar who wasted no time in moving Spain’s foreign policy closer to Washington’s. One of his first steps was to suspend official cooperation with the Cuban government, except for humanitarian aid, and support the Miami-based opposition to Fidel Castro. But he was constrained in how far he could move towards Washington by not having an absolute majority and having to rely on the support of regional parties in parliament. In the 2000 general election Aznar won an absolute majority and when George W. Bush arrived at the White House in January 2001 he decided to press for the Spanish equivalent of the United Kingdom’s ‘special’ relationship with Washington. This significant shift in Spanish foreign policy broke with the post-Franco, essentially European-focused policy, largely dictated by the overriding priority of joining (in 1986) and consolidating the country’s position in the European Union. Aznar had become increasingly disillusioned with the policies of the German and French governments and their predominant role in the EU. For example, Aznar took note of the fact that it was the United States, and not France, the former colonial power, that defused the crisis when Moroccan troops seized the minuscule Spanish island of Perejil in July 2002 (Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, telephoned King Mohammed of Morocco). A closer relationship with Washington was also a way to escape from their tutelage, but Spanish society was not ready for such a deep and sudden change, although the country’s huge leap in per capita wealth over the last 30 years has produced many more people who belong to what are termed the ‘aspirational classes’ –people who are upwardly mobile or would like to be and tend to be pro-American–.[10]

The September 11 terrorist attacks galvanised the US connection. Aznar –who narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 1995 by the Basque terrorist organization Eta– had spoken at great length to Bush about terrorism during his visit to Spain (the first stopping-off point on his first visit to Europe and the first time any US president had accorded Spain this privilege). Aznar was quick to offer immediate and unconditional support for the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. As well as the shared horror of terrorism (and the hope that a closer US connection would produce a greater involvement by Washington’s intelligence community in the fight against Eta), there were many other factors behind Aznar’s Atlantic commitment. They included a way to act as a counterweight to the Franco-German dominance of Europe; a counterbalance to the EU’s eastward enlargement and to offset Spain being on the periphery of Europe; security along the southern flank of the Mediterranean, the weak point in Spain’s defensive alliances; very significant Spanish investments in Latin America (in some years more than the United States); the increasingly large number of Hispanics in the United States (more than Spain’s population of 44 million); and the potential for much greater trade with and investment in the United States.[11]

The Aznar government believed that a deeper political relationship would aid the economic relationship in both directions: Spanish business interests, at the government and private sector levels, would benefit from growing policy collaboration and US companies would be more attracted to Spain. Spain’s trade with and investment in the United States are both significantly underweight relative to both Spain’s position as an exporter and net investor in the world economy and the economic relationship of most of Spain’s EU partners with the United States. The United States takes a mere 4% of Spain’s total exports, roughly the same as the proportion that goes to all of Latin America and less than half that to neighbouring Portugal. The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and France trade much more with the United States as a proportion of their total trade (15% in the case of the United Kingdom). While Spain’s exports have steadily risen to more than 2% of the world total, their share in the US market is only around 0.5% –one-tenth the level of Germany’s share, one-sixth the UK’s share, one-fourth France’s share, and one-fourth Italy’s share–. Spanish FDI in the United States is also low and is dwarfed by that of the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, France and even Ireland. The policy of closer relations, however, made little or no difference to Spain’s trade and investment during the Aznar period, either because there was not enough time for the enhanced relation to have any effect or, more likely, because these issues, in a globalised economy, are hardly affected by changes in political relations. Indeed there has been more direct Spanish investment in the United States since the socialists came to power in 2004 than during the eight years of the PP. In 2005 Santander, Spain’s largest bank, acquired 20% of Sovereign Bancorp for €2 billion and Ferrovial, the largest construction group, bought Webber Group in Texas for €646 million, among other investments.

Aznar also aspired to place the Spanish economy more within the camp of the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ and to influence a similar change of course within the EU. He and Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, with whom Aznar forged a very friendly relationship, despite their different political backgrounds, worked closely together on the Lisbon Agenda to make the EU economy more competitive.[12] Aznar had his eyes set on Spain becoming a member of G8, the high table of developed countries –the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia–.[13] Spain was invited to the 2002 G8 summit in Canada and a radiant Aznar was photographed with his feet up on a table smoking a cigar with George W. Bush. It seemed as if Aznar had reached his zenith.

The closer ties with Washington were very much consolidated in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when Spain, by then a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (which raised the country’s profile), emerged as the US’s most solid ally along with the United Kingdom. Aznar was the main instigator of the article published in the Wall Street Journal (January 29, 2003), signed by the prime ministers of Spain, Portugal, Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, Denmark and the Czech Republic, which said that ‘the transatlantic relation must not fall victim to the constant attempts of the Iraqi regime to threaten world security’. Aznar unsuccessfully tried to persuade Mexico and Chile, also non-permanent members of the Security Council, to back a UN resolution authorising the use of force in Iraq. The resolution was never approved. When he visited Mexico to try to get President Vicente Fox on board he was widely viewed in Spain as a ‘poodle’ of Washington. At the height of the Spanish government’s cooperation, a marketing campaign was launched in the United States carrying the tagline: ‘Your friend in Europe’.

Spain joined the so-called ‘coalition of the willing’, symbolised by the photograph of Bush, Blair and Aznar at their summit in the Azores.[14] ‘Spain can no longer be in the same corner as the countries which do not count, do not serve and do not decide’, said Aznar shortly before the invasion of Iraq. ‘In order to place our country among the most important ones in the world when the world is threatened, Spain must assume its responsibilities and do so with courage, determination and leadership’. Spain, however, did not contribute combat troops to the invading force, although Aznar did seriously consider sending them. But this would have been too much even for his own party.[15]

The alignment with Washington over Iraq went against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Spanish population. Aznar’s stance was viewed as arrogant: he did very little to try to win over public opinion, which needed to be done in a country like Spain, with such a long history of antagonism towards the United States, and he did not submit the sending of peacekeeping troops to parliament. Spanish commentators were quick to point out that this was in stark contrast to George W. Bush and Tony Blair winning bipartisan support from their respective legislative bodies for the sending of combat troops. Foreign policy towards the United States became a battleground between Aznar’s Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists, for the first time, and on March 14, 2004, following al-Qaeda bomb attacks on trains in Madrid, the PP (without Aznar as he vowed not to run for a third term) lost the general election on an almost record voter turnout (77%, not far from the all-time high of 80% in 1982 when the Socialists first came to power on a ticket of ‘change’). The voter turnout was almost 10 percentage points higher than in 2000. Collectively, some 3.5 million voters either abandoned the PP or added their vote to the Socialists compared with the 1996 election.

Many American commentators and some legislators, including Dennis Hastert, the most senior Republican in the US Congress, as well as Richard Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, directly or indirectly accused the Spanish people of appeasing terrorists on the grounds that they had given into them by throwing out a party whose leader had stood shoulder to shoulder with the Bush administration in its fight against global terrorism. This was a very simplistic interpretation of what happened in the three days between the bombs and the elections and deeply offended many Spaniards who are no strangers to terrorism.[16] Spanish governments of all political colours have been fighting the Basque terrorist group Eta, which has killed more than 850 people in almost 30 years, and the great majority of Spaniards have stood behind them. There is no doubt, however, that the terrorist attacks were a major factor in swinging Spain’s general election in the Socialists’ favour. But there were other factors such as the PP government’s apparent determination, in the immediate aftermath, to pin the blame for the attacks on Eta, even when the evidence was thin. Had Eta been responsible for the bombs, it might have swung the vote in the PP’s favour as it had taken a hard line against the group. Just as Spaniards felt that the PP had misled them by swallowing the Bush administration’s line that Saddam Hussein represented an immediate danger because of his possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and therefore war was the only option, so they felt they had been deceived over the authors of the bomb attacks in Madrid.

The Socialists’ leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, made it clear one year before the election that if he won he would pull the troops out of the ‘illegal war’ in Iraq. It was not a knee-jerk reaction to the bombs but a firmly held conviction. At the October 12, 2003 (Columbus Day) military parade, Zapatero, then the head of the main opposition party, refused to stand when the US contingent and flag passed the dignitaries’ box. When he took office and quickly fulfilled the promise, the White House went ballistic. The New York Times carried the story of the withdrawal on its front page with a headline across six columns, making it the most prominently displayed piece of news out of Spain since the Civil War. In Spain, a strongly pacifist society, probably because of the trauma of its 1936-39 Civil War, which is embedded in the collective memory, the troop withdrawal was hugely popular. Whereas Aznar wanted to lead public opinion in foreign policy, Zapatero believed he should follow it.

It is also important to remember that Spain is the most left-leaning nation in Europe, according to self-placement scales. On a scale of 1 to 10 from left to right –where the centre point is located at 5.5– the average in Spain has held steady at around 4.7 since 1980. This pacifism –and the gulf between American and Spanish public opinion– was underscored by the German Marshall Fund’s 2004 poll of the United States and eight European countries, carried out after Spain’s troop withdrawal. To the question ‘Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice’, 82% of Americans responded ‘yes’, while only 25% of Spaniards (the lowest number of all the countries polled), answered in the affirmative. The question did not refer to any particular war, such as the Iraq War or the Vietnam War, but to war in general. ‘Setting aside who is right or wrong, we are facing an enormous gap in perspective which transcends individual politicians and which we have to deal with’, said Robert Kagan, a columnist and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at a conference in Madrid.[17] A majority of Spaniards (74%) in the same survey supported the government’s decision to withdraw the peacekeeping troops from Iraq and 66% supported deploying the troops in Iraq, but only if the United Nations approved a multinational force to assist with security and reconstruction. Support, however, fell (to 43%) if such a multinational force were to be under US command. Perhaps because of its own bitter experience, Spain is more disposed to send troops abroad to stop a civil war (approved by 70% compared with only 38% in the United Statesand an average for Europe of 56%, according to the same survey).

The Socialists became the whipping boy for the White House’s frustration with ‘Old Europe’, as the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labelled Germany and France (who also opposed the war with Iraq). The PP’s defeat in the election had removed one of the central members of the ‘New Europe’ pool of countries which shared the Bush administration’s vision of the war against international terrorism. In a tit for tat, George Argyros, the US ambassador in Madrid, boycotted the October 12, 2004 military parade because at the 2003 ceremony Zapatero had remained seated. José Bono, the Defence Minister, inflamed passions when he said that Spain was ‘no longer subordinated’ or ‘kneeling’ before the United States. And in a pointed snub to Zapatero, now Prime Minister, Aznar was the first foreign dignitary invited to the White House after the November 2004 US election, while Bush never returned Zapatero’s congratulatory call. All of these events were of great symbolic importance for Spaniards, and only served to strengthen anti-American sentiment.

Zapatero sought the kind of flexible and autonomous relationship with Washington that Felipe González, the former prime minister, had between 1983 and 1996. When he came to power, González also had to overcome an initial period of friction (with the Reagan administration) as he fulfilled his campaign pledge of putting Spain’s continued membership of NATO to a referendum. It was touch and go whether the ‘yes’ vote would win the day, but it did and González then went on to enjoy a good relationship with the Reagan, Bush (Sr.) and Clinton administrations and was able to disagree without falling out, for example, over US intervention in Central America. The administration of George W Bush, however, is much more hard-nosed than previous Republic governments; and its inner circle is very much a club. While Aznar bent over backwards to be a member of it, Zapatero, and Spain in general, has no desire to be hugged by Uncle Sam. This is not just because of major and irreconcilable differences over US foreign policy –the core element in Spain’s anti-Americanism– but also a belief among a majority of Spaniards that it is in the country’s best interests to keep a distance and have some leeway in its foreign policy. Spaniards are among the keenest for the European Union to exert stronger leadership in world affairs.

Zapatero pulled the troops out of Iraq, but he kept them elsewhere in the world and reinforced the presence in Afghanistan.[18] In February 2005 half of Spain’s 540 troops were transferred from the relative calm of Kabul to the more conflictive western part of Afghanistan, enabling NATO to carry out the second phase of its stalled stabilisation mission. Spain took charge of a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Qala-i-Naw, the capital of the province of Badghis near the border with Turkmenistan. Spain’s presence in this phase was the largest among NATO countries. And a further 500 troops were sent from Spain to help police Afghanistan’s presidential election in September. The pull out of troops and the stronger presence in Afghanistan were the two sides of the Socialists’ policy towards terrorism. On the one hand, the government regarded the war in Iraq as counterproductive in the fight against terrorism and, on the other, it had no qualms about being involved in Afghanistan because it was a training base for terrorist networks, and there was a wide consensus in the international community, unlike over Iraq, on the need for firm action. According to the 2004 Transatlantic Trends survey by the German Marshall Fund, Spain was the second most reticent country in believing that it was justified to by pass the United Nations when its interests were involved (see Figure 2). Spaniards very much prefer the consensus approach, perhaps because this was what was needed and successfully achieved to overcome the divisions of the Civil War after Franco died and restore democracy. In the international arena, this preference for a multilateral framework within which to pursue national actions to combat international terrorism can only come from the United Nations, whatever its faults. Spain is one of the countries that most supports the idea that the United Nations should become significantly more powerful in world affairs.[19]

Figure 2. When The Vital Interests of your Country are Involved, it is Justified to Bypass the United Nations

CountryPercent in Agreement
United States59
United Kingdom51

Source: German Marshall Fund, Transatlantic Trends, 2004.

While Spain and Washington have established a modus vivendi, there were serious differences over Cuba and Venezuela, two countries close to Spaniards because of the linguistic and cultural affinities and emigration to them. The Socialists overturned the PP’s policy of isolating Cuba, totally in line with Washington’s, and successfully spearheaded the EU’s wish to restore normal diplomatic relations with the Castro regime in 2005.[20] The EU reduced high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba in 2003 after the summary execution by firing squad of three people who had hijacked a ferry in an attempt to escape the country and the roundup of 75 dissidents. EU countries also decided to invite dissidents to national holiday celebrations at their embassies in Havana as a sign of support for the regime’s opponents. This produced the so-called ‘cocktail wars’. Castro retaliated by freezing out embassies from all official contacts. EU ambassadors in Havana became known as ‘Findus ambassadors’, after the frozen food producer, as they had little to do. The Socialists came to the conclusion that the previous policy was getting nowhere and, meanwhile, the post-Castro period was inevitably drawing nearer. Spain is the largest foreign investor in Cuba and has close cultural and family ties: it is estimated that 70% of Cubans have a Spanish grandparent (alive or dead). More than 150,000 Spanish tourists visit Cuba every year. The two poles of Cuban exiles in the world are Madrid, where some 60,000 Cubans live, and Miami (more than one million). The exiles in Madrid are less actively anti-Castro than the ones in Miami for various reasons, including the higher degree of sympathy that exists in Spain as a whole towards the Cuban regime, especially people on the left. Cuba is also to some extent an emotive issue for the Spanish right because of the loss of this colony in 1898. According to the June 2005 barometer of the Elcano Royal Institute, 60% of Spaniards surveyed backed the lifting of the EU sanctions against Cuba. Madrid contended that the island’s future would be decided within the country and not in Miami or Washington and that lines of communication had to be kept open.

As regards Venezuela, the Socialists’ decision in 2005 to sell ten C-295 transport planes, four coastal patrol corvettes and four smaller coastguard patrol boats to the government of Hugo Chávez was fiercely criticised by Donald Rumsfeld. Washington was deeply concerned about Chávez’s arms build-up, which included the purchase of weapons and equipment from Russia and Brazil. Strictly speaking, Spain’s sale was not of arms and was defended by Zapatero on the grounds that the purpose of the deal was to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking. Furthermore, US criticism of the deal looked rather hollow when José Bono, the Defence Minister, revealed to the Spanish parliament that the previous PP government had sold guns, grenades and anti-riot gear to Chávez between 2000 and 2003 and Washington raised no concerns. This is an example of Washington’s double standards towards its friends and opponents.

As we have seen, the overriding factor that antagonises Spaniards is Washington’s foreign policy, and the gap between the democratic values preached at home and what is practiced abroad. The foreign policy area that aroused the most hostility has traditionally been Latin America, Today, it is the war in Iraq and the issues of Israel and Palestine.[21] The pro-Palestine camp is strong in the Spanish press and frequently prompts responses from the Israeli ambassador in Madrid.

The re-election of George W. Bush in November 2004 intensified the negative feelings of Spaniards towards US foreign policy. According to the March 2005 barometer of the Elcano Royal Institute, 68% of respondents felt his re-election was ‘negative for peace and security in the world’, ten points above the world average. The 2005 Transatlantic Trends survey showed that 81% of Spaniards disapproved of the way George W. Bush handled foreign policy. And when asked in the 2005 Pew Global Attitudes survey what was the main problem with the United States, 76% of Spaniards said it was mostly President Bush –by far the highest proportion of all the countries surveyed– and only 14% America in general (see Figure 3). Why Spaniards disliked Bush much more than say the Germans or the French did not come out in the survey so one can only guess, but the list of factors would surely include his lack of culture and eloquence (one reason why Spaniards warmed very much to Bill Clinton); his refusal to sign up to the Kyoto Pact to combat global warming (Spain is becoming increasingly environmentalist) and wearing his religion on his sleeve (secularism is very much on the rise in Spain).

Figure 3. What’s the Problem with the United States? (%)

CountryMostly BushAmerica in GeneralBothDon’t Know/Refused
Spain76 (50)14 (37)7 (12)3 (2)
Germany65 (74)29 (22)5 (3)1 (1)
France63 (74)32 (21)5 (4)1 (1)
Pakistan51 (62)29 (31)10 (2)10 (5)
UK56 (59)35 (31)8 (8)1 (3)
Canada54 (60)37 (32)9 (6)0 (2)
Lebanon47 (51)32 (32)19 (16)1 (1)
Turkey41 (52)36 (33)17 (12)6 (3)
Indonesia43 (69)42 (20)0 (7)15 (4)
Jordan22 (42)37 (28)41 (30)1 (*)
Russia30 (43)58 (32)9 (15)3 (10)

(*) Based on those with an unfavourable opinion of the US.

2003 figures in brackets.

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2005.

Spaniards, however, have a much more favourable view of the American people than they do of the US government, although they associate Americans, more than most other countries do, with the negative traits of ‘greedy’, ‘violent’ and ‘immoral’ and less with the positive characteristics ‘honest’, ‘inventive’ and ‘hardworking’ (see Figure 4). Overall, more than half (55%) expressed a positive view of Americans in the 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, up from 47% in 2003.

Figure 4. How Western Publics View Americans (%)

United Kingdom76645764532926
United States85816370493539

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2005.

Despite the increasing penetration of American films and TV series in Spain, Spaniards do not raise the kind of objections that the French do to what is perceived as US cultural imperialism. Perhaps this is because Spaniards, unlike the French, are not on the defensive as the Spanish language is very much on the rise all around the world –the number studying it in US institutions of higher education is more than the total studying all other languages– and so there is not the same depth of feeling as there is in France that Spanish culture is under threat. American films have always been highly popular in Spain (many ‘spaghetti’ westerns were made in the country under Franco), and Spaniards are cinema addicts. According to Spain’s Academy of Arts and Film Sciences, 121.7 million people saw American films in 2004, up from 115.7 million in 2003, compared with 18.7 million for Spanish films (21.7 million in 2003). The US share of films and series shown on Spanish TV is also high: close to 70% and 49%, respectively, in 2003 (latest year available), compared with 11.5% and 18.6% for Spanish films and series. There are also substantial educational and cultural relations between Spain and the United States. The Fulbright programme, started in Spain in 1958, is today the third-largest in the world after Germany and Japan in terms of the annual budget allocated and the number of scholars.[22]

The historical factors behind Spain’s anti-Americanism, particularly the 1953 bases agreement, basically affect Spaniards who grew up during the last 20 years of the Franco regime, essentially the generation that steered the country to democracy after 1975. This support for Franco by successive US administrations may seem like a thing of the past, but today’s Spain is embarked on a major rediscovery of its Civil War and the Franco period. The publication of a plethora of books with new material has revived Washington’s role in the dictatorship among the general public.

Anti-Americanism still cuts across the political divide, although today it mainly emanates from the left. This was brought out in a survey in 1997 by the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), a state institution. The survey has not been repeated since then, but the views have probably changed very little. Overall, 54% of respondents said the United States was democratic and 30% that it was authoritarian. In the breakdown of these views on the basis of which political party they had last voted for, 60% of those who said it was democratic were on the right and 41% on the left. Of those who said it was authoritarian, 48% were on the left and 22% on the right. A similar divide was seen in the question about whether the United States was caring or selfish. Only 30% of respondents thought the United States was caring and of them 40% were on the right and 21% on the left, while of the 44% who said it was selfish, 62% were on the left and 25% on the right. Spain, in general, has become a very solidario (caring) society over the last 30 years. This can be seen in the always generous response among the population to any major international natural disaster and the fact that the country has accepted around 4 million immigrants in less than a decade (increasing the population by 10%) without, so far, any really serious problems of racism.

The cross-party opposition to the war in Iraq was underscored by the demonstrations around Spain in early 2003 when 8 million people (roughly one in every five of the population) protested. The left took to the streets on an anti imperialism/war/globalisation ticket while the right was very much influenced by Pope John Paul’s condemnation of the war. Although the Catholic Church in Spain is nowhere near as powerful as it was under the Franco regime, when it was rewarded for supporting his ‘crusade’ during the Civil War with privileges, particularly in education, and financial backing, it is still very influential. Since the 1978 constitution, which enshrined democracy and recognises and guarantees religious freedom, Spain has been a non-denominational rather than a truly, French-style secular state. Catholicism is no longer the ‘official’ religion, but the Church continues to enjoy privileges, particularly in education, despite the very sharp drop in church attendance and the number of priests (roughly one-quarter today the number 50 years ago) and the steep rise in the number of people practicing other faiths, particularly the Muslim faith as a result of the influx of around 750,000 immigrants from North Africa since the late 1990s.

Spanish society has changed enormously in the last 30 years and at a much greater speed, according to distinguished sociologists such as Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, than any other country.[23] Both Europe and the United States are moving towards more liberal post-materialist values, but at different speeds and from different starting points. Europe is moving much faster than the United States and within Catholic Europe Spain, particularly, has become one of the most liberal and tolerant countries in the world.[24] Issues such as the death penalty in the United States and the intolerance of homosexuality and abortion by fundamentalists are now part of the anti-American discourse in Spain.[25] Women, whose role has changed almost beyond recognition, are particularly vociferous in these issues. More women are now at university in Spain than men, the current government has an equal number of male and female ministers and the proportion of working mothers has surged.

A victory by the PP in the next general election, to be held by 2008, could well see a swing back towards a more pro-Atlanticist foreign policy; however, given the profound opposition to the war in Iraq and the electoral setback for the PP in 2004 (largely because of its support for the war and the consequences of it), a future PP government would probably not go as far as the last one did in the event of further military incursions. By moving closer to the United States, the PP was striving for ‘major player’ status for Spain, but opinion polls suggest that most Spaniards do not want to move in this direction. This means that however good an understanding there is between the Spanish and US governments, as long as it is rejected by the majority of Spaniards, Madrid will always be in a position of weakness in the face of Washington and will not, after the brevity of the last honeymoon, be fully trusted.

(*) This Working Paper was handed out at a conference on Anti-Americanism in Europe at PrincetonUniversity on November 18, 2005. It forms part of a book on the subject to be published by Princeton University Press in 2006. Elcano recently published Chislett’s book Spain and the United States: The Quest for Mutual Rediscovery.

[1] Anti-Americanism means many different things. In the case of Spain, a distinction should be made between the conservative anti-Americanism of the Franco regime, which rejected US democratic, tolerant and free-market values, nationalist anti-Americanism, as a result of the 1953 bilateral agreement, which cut across classes and political parties, and left-wing anti-Americanism, stemming from US support for dictators in Latin America, the Vietnam war and other events. A distinction should also be made between anti-Americanism and ‘anti-Bushism’.

[2] In a burst of jingoism, and as part of the national subscription in 1898 to raise funds for the war, a corrida was held in Madrid with two famous bullfighters, Guerrita and Luis Mazzantini. When it came to saluting the president of the bullring, Guerrita took off his hat and told the spectators that he would like ‘nothing more than for the bull to turn into a yanqui’ so that he could plunge the sword through his heart. Mazzantini said ‘all the funds from the corrida should be used to buy dynamite so that this country of adventurers called America can be blown to pieces’.

[3] See New York Times, quoting a report by a US economic mission, October 28, 1951.

[4] See New York Times, September 28, 1983.

[5] See ‘Franco’s Foreign Policy: From UN Outcast to US Partner’, in World Today, vol. 9, nr 12, December 1953.

[6] See p. 6 of Negotiating the US-Spanish Agreements, 1955-88, Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Paper Series, vol. 3., nr 7, September 2003.

[7] See the ‘The View from the Embassy’, by Wells Stabler, in Authoritarian Regimes in Transition, edited by Hans Binnendijk, Centre for the Study of Foreign Affairs, US Department of State, 1987.

[8] Ibid.

[9] See p. 167-168 of Men and Powers: A Political Retrospective, by Helmut Schmidt, Random House, 1989.

[10] See ‘In Search of Pro-Americanism’, by Anne Applebaum, Foreign Policy, July/August, 2005.

[11] See Spain’s Atlantic Vocation by Emilio Lamo de Espinosa,

[12] Rodrigo Rato, the Economy Minister, said in a lecture on January 12, 2004 that Spain should abandon –and had already started to abandon– the long-standing practice of servile imitation of France and Germany. Spain’s economic success during the Aznar period –zero budget deficit, tax reductions, 4 million new jobs and euro membership– made it possible for the country to have a more independent voice. Rato went on to become managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

[13] In 2004, Spain’s GDP (US$991,442 million) overtook Canada’s (US$979,764 million), according to the World Bank.

[14] In his book, Retratos y perfiles (Planeta, 2005, p. 265-274), Aznar said, ‘Spain was at the Azores because it could not participate in the Normandy landing, which is where we should have been’.

[15] A dissenting voice, though not in public, was Rodrigo Rato, the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs. According to Federico Trillo, the Defence Minister at the time, Rato firmly expressed his opposition to Spain’s military involvement at a cabinet meeting shortly before the invasion of Iraq. In its place, he suggested humanitarian aid. See Memoria de entreguerras. Mis años en el Ministerio de Defensa, by Federico Trillo, Planeta, 2005.

[16] See the much more balanced testimony of Robin Niblett, executive vice-president and senior fellow, Europe Programme, Centre for Strategic & International Studies, before the Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on European Affairs, on March 31, 2004,

[17] See When Kagan, considered a neo-conservative, presented the Spanish version of his book Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order in Madrid in 2003he was heckled so much that the meeting was almost called off.

[18] The full scope of Spain’s contribution to Western security through peace-keeping operations is not generally appreciated. Spain has participated in 60 of them and has sent more than 50,000 troops abroad. At the time of writing, there are troops in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Indonesia and Kosovo. According to a Pentagon report to the US Congress, Spain is the sixth country in supplying naval forces abroad and the third in infantry.

[19] See 23-Country Poll Finds Support for Dramatic Changes at UN, conducted between November 15, 2004 and January 5, 2005 for the BBC by GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. The idea was accepted by 64% on average and by 78% in Spain, the second highest figure after Germany (87%). According to GlobeScan’s 2005 Global Issues Monitor, 36.1% of respondents in Spain ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement that the United States ‘is having a mainly positive influence in the world’. This was the second highest figure among the countries surveyed in Europe after France (39.2%).

[20]Spain’s relations with Cuba have long been a sore point with US administrations. Even the staunchly anti communist General Franco maintained full diplomatic relations with the country and traded with it. In May 2005, Castro’s brother Raúl, the regime’s ‘number two’, was warmly received in Galicia, where his parents were born, by Manuel Fraga, at that time the region’s premier and a former Information and Tourism Minister under Franco.

[21] It is not lost on Spaniards that the controversial US prison camp for suspected terrorists at GuantánamoBay in Cuba was Spanish territory ceded to the United States at the end of the 1898 Spanish-American war.

[22] An internal US report prepared in 1956 on the programme said its purpose was ‘to make Spaniards feel confident about the capacity of the United States to lead and defend the free world from the communist threat, through greater knowledge of its history, culture, economy and scientific techniques’. Beneficiaries include Javier Solana, a former NATO Secretary-General, and the EU’s current foreign policy chief.

[23] See A Difference that Makes a Difference? The US and Europe on Values and Culture, by Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, Elcano Royal Institute, Working Paper 2005/8, The author recounts that when he moved from Francoist Spain to the University of California in 1970 he moved ‘from counter-reformation to counter-culture, from Trento to Marcuse and hippy power. It was not so much travelling in space but travelling in time: from the past to the future’.

[24] In 2005 Spain became the fourth country in the world, after Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada, to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

[25] Those sentenced to death during the Franco regime were either killed by the cruel method of the garrote (a metal collar encircling the victim’s neck that was tightened until strangulation) or shot by a firing squad.