Pedro Sánchez, leader of the opposition PSOE party, told El Mundo newspaper over the weekend that “we don’t need the Ministry of Defense” in response to a question about which national Ministry could be cut, and which needed more money.
The declaration by the man who could be President next year has sent a shockwave through Spain’s military.
You see, (one) of the troubles with Spain is that the politicians have been living in fear of the military since the Franco days. And as a result, they´ve given the generals large budgets and no oversight whatsoever, in exchange for them keeping the troublesome middle ranks in order, and not interfering with the “political process”. The upper ranks live with the lower ranks waiting on them hand and foot, and use military funds (it is alleged by whistleblowers) as their own personal bank accounts.
As a result, Spain has some very fat generals, an amazingly inefficient military, some ancient ships and no interference in the “political process”. And a growing call from the far left to cut the military all together, have an Irish or Swiss style “national defense force” and use the cash saved for something productive. The generals aren’t keen on this sort of thing, but as long as it’s the radicals saying it, they can live with the thought. As long as no-one touches their budget. (And the military budget hasn’t been touched at all during the austerity drive. In face, it’s gone up, if you factor in once off spending on defense purchases).
So to hear the leader of the opposition declare that we don’t need the military sounds to many as if these radical thoughts are turning into main stream political thought. And that’s going to upset the Generals. Ever been to South America? The Latin spirit likes a strong man in charge (the caudillo) and who’s stronger than a fat man in a military uniform with a lot of shiny medals?*
Which is why the PR machine of the PSOE is in overdrive in damage limitation today, assuring all the Sunday papers that no, that’s not what Pedro meant. Although they haven’t said what he meant, other than saying that he meant the military budget could be trimmed, not cut altogether. Which didn’t go down well either.
Mariano Casado of the “Association of Unified Spanish Military” (no idea who he is, but he seems to speak for the Generals when they don’t want to be accused of interfering in the “political process”) demanded to know “why this categorical statement was dropped and what it means” adding that it obviously was an indication of a political strategy that had slipped out.
One thing is for sure – the Generals aren’t happy at the suggestion that the possible new President is thinking about making substantial savings from their budget. This could be interesting….
*A though occurs: If Spain hasn’t fought a war against another nation since the 19th century, where do these medals come from?