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Spain: The Military In National Life
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Military in National Life


Since the early nineteenth century, the Spanish armed forces had been burdened by an inflated officer corps and had had infrequent military challenges. The professional military was preoccupied with its status and its privileges. Promotions were slow, and they were based on seniority rather than on merit. Fighting units were starved of modern equipment because of heavy personnel costs. The military had established a tradition of frequent interventions to alter the course of internal politics in what it perceived to be the higher interests of the nation. Nevertheless, until the authoritarian regime of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-30), the military was more inclined to induce changes in civilian governments than it was to impose direct rule

Although left with a large and powerful army at the close of the Civil War in 1939, Franco allowed the armed forces to deteriorate. The majority of his officers were identified with the most reactionary elements in the government and with the repressive aspects of the regime. They were thrust into an uneasy relationship with the civilian politicians of the democratic government installed after Franco's death in 1975. Aggrieved over the course of events, a small group of army and Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) officers attempted a coup on February 23, 1981, by holding the entire government hostage in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament). The coup failed because of the lack of support and the intervention of the king on the side of democratic rule.

The Socialist government that assumed office in 1982 introduced a radical program to reform the status of the armed forces. It set out to improve the material conditions of military life, but it also imposed layers of civilian control and a sharp cutback in the size of the army and the number of active-duty officers. Smaller, but more rationally configured and embarked on a modernization program, the armed forces were faced with the task of coordinating Spain's fighting strength with the overall NATO defense effort. Although the officer corps continued to be treated cautiously as a potentially intrusive factor if the civilian government faltered, its traditional political role seemed increasingly anachronistic.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Spain was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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