Since taking office in 2004, Spanish Prime Minister JosÃ© Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero has worked assiduously to craft his own public persona as a “convinced pacifist.” His first official act as pacifist-in-chief was, famously, to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, a decision that was not only wildly popular with Spanish voters, but also cemented Zapatero’s pacifist credentials on the world stage.
A few months later, facing a barrage of criticism from non-pacifists at home and abroad that his Iraq policy amounted to appeasing Islamic terrorists, Zapatero reluctantly deployed extra troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. But just in case the deployment might cast doubt on his commitment to pacifistic ideals, Zapatero dictated strict rules of engagement that forbid Spanish troops in Afghanistan from using lethal force, a “caveat” that today essentially renders useless their presence in the country.
Later that same year, in his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Zapatero shed some light on his pacifist vision for achieving world peace. Using the flowery post-modern verbiage for which he is now famous, Zapatero declared: “Culture is always peace.” He then went on to argue that Islamic terrorists are misunderstood and can only be defeated by sitting down with them in dialogue.
Zapatero has been careful to appoint only pacifists as Spanish ministers of defense. Zapatero’s first defense minister, the controversial JosÃ© Bono MartÃnez, proclaimed: “I am a minister of defense and I would rather be killed than to kill.” He then issued orders prohibiting Spanish troops in Afghanistan from using lethal force on Taliban fighters.
Zapatero’s second minister of defense, JosÃ© Antonio Alonso SuÃ¡rez, believed it was his job to demilitarize the Spanish military and to turn the newly disarmed forces into an NGO-like humanitarian organization instead. To achieve his vision, he purged from the senior ranks of the Spanish military those officers who refused to abandon the silly belief that the main purpose of the military is the defense of Spanish sovereignty.
In this same vein, Zapatero’s third and most recent defense minister, Carme ChacÃ³n, recently said: “I am a pacifist, as are the armies of the 21st century.” Again: “I am a pacifist woman, and the Army is also pacifist.” What’s more, ChacÃ³n hails from the independence-minded Catalan region and does not even believe in the concept of a united and indivisible Spanish nation.
All of which has some Spaniards wondering: What is the Spanish defense minister defending? The answer: Probably defending what could be called the Zapatero Doctrine, which, based on almost five years of political rhetoric, can be said to rest on three main post-modern “principles”: 1) There is no type of threat that can ever justify the use of force; 2) militaries should be converted into humanitarian organizations used for civil protection rather than for the defense of sovereignty; and 3) there is no other source of legitimacy for the use of force apart from the United Nations, and if that body cannot reach consensus, it is better not to act than to act unilaterally.
But does Zapatero really practice what he preaches? Spaniards started having some doubts when politically explosive pictures posted on the Internet showed the Spanish frigate Ãlvaro de BazÃ¡n deployed off the coast of Iraq in the Persian Gulf as part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier battle group. After months of controversy, Zapatero never did end up answering the question: Is Spain in Iraq or is Spain not in Iraq?
Now the issue of Spanish weapons sales is casting more doubt over the genuineness of Zapatero’s pacifistic leanings. According to a government report presented to the Spanish Congress in September 2008, Spanish arms sales have skyrocketed by more than 130 percent during Zapatero’s tenure, to 933 million euros in 2007 from 400 million euros in 2004. Spain is now the world’s eighth largest supplier of weapons, after the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Holland, Britain and Italy.
But the recipients of Spanish weapons are a particular cause for concern. The data show that the increase in arms sales is not primarily to other European countries, but rather to distinctly non-pacifist developing countries such as China, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Indeed, Spain’s biggest-ever arms deal is with the dictator of Venezuela, which is especially surprising, considering that Spain itself languished under a dictatorship for almost 40 years and only recently became a democracy. In response to critics, Zapatero, in classically post-modern terminology, defined the 1.7 billion euro deal as a “business transaction with pacific weapons.”
So what is driving the increase in Spanish arms sales? Spanish jobs, of course, and by extension, Zapatero’s job. The Spanish defense sector, which employs almost 20,000 workers, hopes to avoid a financial crisis by selling weapons to whoever will buy them, regardless of the regime in charge or the weapons’ potential use. According to Amnesty International, some 40 percent of Spanish arms exports go to countries involved in regional conflicts or that do not respect human rights. Another report shows that Spain is the largest exporter of weapons to sub-Saharan Africa, one of the most conflict-ridden regions in the world.
The arms export data exposes, once again, the sham that is Zapatero’s post-modern Spain, where “cherished” principles are tossed to the wind whenever they are not convenient. The antiwar idealism of the Zapatero Doctrine is in reality a neo-pacifist political faÃ§ade that his government (and many others in Europe) hides behind in order to avoid military alliance responsibilities in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. And in an effort to conceal this duplicity, the Zapatero Doctrine also serves as a high-minded, anti-American bully pulpit from which to bash the United States (and Israel) for its determination to defend itself from Islamic terrorism and other security threats.
Spanish (and by extension European) pacifism has little to do with a genuine desire for world peace. Instead, it is the populist ideology of weak leaders who lack firm convictions and are interested only in gaining and staying in power. But by ignoring the time-tested Roman adage that “if you want peace, prepare for war,” they are making the world even more dangerous than it already is.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios EstratÃ©gicos / Strategic Studies Group.