Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
WHAT will be General Franco's policy in case war comes in Europe between the democratic nations and those which have helped him to power? The Spanish are a proud people and, if their behavior over many centuries is any criterion, they will not willingly permit Spain's foreign policy to be dictated from abroad. Therefore, if Nationalist Spain should enter a general war on the side of the Rome-Berlin Axis, it would presumably be for one of two reasons: either because the two Axis Powers, particularly Germany, had become so firmly entrenched in Spain that Franco was no longer a free agent; or because Franco believed that Spain had more to gain from joining them than from remaining neutral.
There are five principal ways in which Spain could exert pressure against France and Britain on behalf of the Axis. From her bases in the Balearic Islands she could harry French communications with North Africa. In the Gibraltar area she could attack the fortress itself and she could endeavor to cut Britain's communications through the Strait. Further, she could use her western ports and her island possessions as bases from which to attack British, and to a lesser extent French, communications in the Atlantic. And lastly, she could invade France across the Pyrenees. Let us consider these possibilities one at a time.
The threat which the Balearic Islands, if they were in hostile hands, would represent to France's "life line" to North Africa is often spoken of very gravely in the democratic countries and with pleasurable anticipation in the totalitarian ones. Yet the danger is not so great as either pessimists or optimists imagine. German writers speak of the Balearic-Sardinia-Sicily triangle as "barring the way to traffic" between France and North Africa. Such an assertion reveals the obtuseness regarding maritime affairs to which continental strategists are often prone. Bases by themselves cannot bar a route; that can be done only by the ships or aircraft which operate from them. In so far as it is a naval problem, the maintenance of communications between France and North Africa will depend on whether the French fleet can command the sea against its Italian rival. This is an issue to be fought out between ships. In a sea area where distances are as short as they are in the Western Mediterranean, the division of the Italian fleet between its continental and Sardinian bases on the one hand and Minorca on the other should prove no more effective in cutting French communications than the similar division of the German fleet between Wilhelmshaven and the Belgian ports during the World War was in preventing Britain from trading with Holland.
To what extent aircraft operating from the Balearics would be a danger to high-speed transports properly escorted by men-of-war is a question to which no one yet knows the answer. In the absence of conclusive evidence, it would be a mistake to assume that a decisive advantage must infallibly lie with the aircraft. The French shipping route need not pass close to the Balearics. It could be made to run midway between Minorca and Sardinia; this would give it 100 miles of open sea on each side. An added protection could be obtained by a judicious use of the dark hours at night for sailing.
Moreover, the Balearics are within bombing range of both France and North Africa, and might therefore be made nearly as unhealthy as Malta; presumably they are also just as liable as the latter to invasion and capture. Furthermore, the establishment of Italian bases, either naval or air, in the Balearics would automatically create an Italian line of communications, which itself would be a source of weakness. We can therefore safely say that the Balearics in Italian hands would complicate France's task of protecting her African communications but would not make it impossible. And even if the Italians should succeed in their intent, the French could still use the alternative route in the Atlantic to carry troops and supplies from North Africa.
An attack on Gibraltar would undoubtedly prevent the use of that place as a naval base. The naval harbor lies on the western side of the Rock opposite the Spanish mainland, which is only four to five miles away; it is thus fully exposed to long-range gunfire. This, combined with an air attack from nearby Spanish aërodromes, would almost certainly make the harbor untenable for men-of-war. Whether the fortress itself would be easy to capture is another matter. The only land approach is across an absolutely flat neck of land, every square yard of which can be completely covered from the Rock. Given the power of modern defense, the task of the attackers would hardly be an enviable one.
The provisioning of the fortress would, it is true, present a serious problem. Fortunately there is an abundant supply of water, stored in the interior of the Rock and refilled by nature from the rain-water catchments built on its sloping eastern face. Replenishments of food and ammunition for a long siege would be more difficult to effect, but it should be possible to run them in under cover of darkness, if necessary, on the eastern beaches where the towering cliffs of the Rock act as a screen against Spanish gunfire. Even if Gibraltar were captured, its loss would probably be more or less balanced by a compensating gain on the opposite shore in Africa. While the Spanish were attacking Gibraltar, the French North African Army would presumably be advancing into Spanish Morocco. If this manœuvre were successful, it would provide the harbor of Ceuta as a substitute for that at Gibraltar.
It might be objected that the close proximity of Ceuta to the aërodromes of southern Spain would render it untenable as a naval base. But if this is true, then aircraft from French Morocco should be equally able to deny the use of Gibraltar harbor to Spain and her allies, supposing that they had succeeded in taking it from the British.
Whether the Strait of Gibraltar can be dominated by artillery is a question that has given rise to much public concern in England ever since it became known, in the comparatively early days of the Spanish war, that Franco had allowed heavy guns to be mounted near Tarifa. It was freely declared that these guns could paralyze the movement of ships through the Strait and that they therefore represented an alarming threat to Britain's Mediterranean communications. As a matter of fact, this menace from coast artillery is a good deal less dangerous than it has been declared to be. From whichever direction one approaches the Strait of Gibraltar, the European and African coast lines converge steeply towards its narrowest part and as steeply open out on the other side. It is consequently possible for even a slow ship to be well out of sight of the Strait -- and therefore out of range of shore guns -- at nightfall, to pass through it during the dark hours, and be out of sight again on the other side by the following day. If searchlights were used from the shore, a ship in midchannel would be almost outside the limit of illumination. Moreover, shore searchlights form admirable marks for warships' guns, and a destroyer or two coming in at high speed after dark should be able to keep them from doing any useful work. Star shells, of course, might be employed; but they are not a very satisfactory illuminant for long-range shooting, and destroyer smoke screens ought to be an adequate safeguard against them. At the Dardanelles the heavy guns of the Turks did not prevent British destroyers from maintaining, night after night, a patrol line across the channel at a point where it is only five miles broad. They should not prove a serious hindrance to ships passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, which is eight miles wide at its narrowest point. Aircraft operating from aërodromes located at points on the southern coast of Spain as far east as Cabo de Gata would probably be more troublesome than guns in the Strait. But even such planes would lack that coördination with other weapons which alone could make their attack really effective.
The fact of the matter is that the most dangerous section of the 1,800-mile route between Gibraltar and Suez is not in Spanish waters but in the bottleneck between Sicily and Africa. In this narrow area shipping would be exposed to the full force of an Italian air attack; this might be particularly formidable since Germany's air supremacy in Europe would probably give the Italians a local air superiority over the French. British and French ships would also receive the attention of a large number of submarines, and of steam and motor torpedo boats -- in all three of which classes the Italians enjoy a considerable superiority. Whether or not a passage could be forced for commercial shipping in the face of this triple threat from submarine, surface and supermarine attack is a matter of opinion. The point is that the Italian obstacle is more formidable than the Spanish.
In any event, the severance of the Mediterranean route would not be disastrous for Britain. Only about 10 percent of her supplies come through the Suez Canal, and for this comparatively small amount the alternative Cape route would be available. Moreover, an appreciable part of Britain's Suez traffic consists of oil from Persia, which could probably be replaced, if necessary, by increased imports from America. Commodities originating in countries inside the Mediterranean account for another 10 percent of Britain's imports. However, it is significant that all of the supplies which normally reach Britain via the Strait of Gibraltar can be obtained elsewhere. The question as to whether Spain could interrupt British commercial communications at that point is consequently not of cardinal importance. The passage of men-of-war is of much greater moment, and it is reasonably certain that these could not be barred from the Strait.
The possibility that the Germans or Italians will attack British communications in the Atlantic from naval bases in the Canary Islands has caused needless alarm. The truth of the matter is that in the Canary Islands there are no naval bases, no sheltered and defended harbors in which raiders can lie immune while fuelling or repairing. The open anchorages, which are all that the islands provide, do not offer enough sanctuary to make their use a question of real concern to the superior naval power -- as was demonstrated by the destruction of the German cruiser Dresden at Juan Fernandez in the World War. Indeed, were this not the case, it is highly probable that the Union Jack would already have been flying over the Canary Islands for a century or more.
As for the naval bases in Spain proper, those on the west and north coasts would probably be of most use to the Germans and Italians. There are several reasons for this. One is that Spain has fewer good harbors on the Mediterranean than on the Atlantic. Cádiz, Ferrol, Corunna, Vigo and Arosa Bay rank among the finest harbors in the world. But even if the east coast had better naval bases, a German or an Italian admiral would find them of dubious value. To use them, he would have to divide his forces in waters so confined that observation from the air would be fairly easy -- and when the French discovered that he had divided his forces, they would pounce on his ships and defeat them in detail.
There is little doubt as to what use the German and Italian fleets would put Spain's northern and western bases. They would first act, after the example of the Goeben in Turkish waters in 1914, to bring Spain into the war on the side of the Axis. After that, they would raid the Atlantic communications of their opponents, principally the British. A wide choice of quarry would be open to them. Especially promising would be the heavily-travelled shipping lane across the North Atlantic, and the routes from the English Channel to the Cape (probably augmented by the trade diverted from the Mediterranean) and to South America. In view of the damage done by the Emden and other raiders early in the World War, such predatory operations might well cause the British and French naval authorities considerable anxiety.
The best countermove would be what it has always been -- the dispatch of warships to hunt out and destroy the raiders. This would be primarily a problem of allocating the necessary ships and of providing suitable bases for them. Assuming that Gibraltar were not available, the ideal base would be the mouth of the Tagus River, midway between Ferrol in the northwest of Spain and Cádiz in the south. The Tagus, however, might not be available. The British have an ancient alliance with Portugal, but they cannot take it for granted that their ships will be welcome under all circumstances. Portugal is governed by a dictatorship and many of her leading men are in close sympathy with the totalitarian gospel. This natural concordance of ideas has, in fact, been exploited by agents of the Axis. For several years German propaganda in Portugal has been very energetic. Britain, with her usual reluctance to advertise herself, has done little to counteract these German activities.
Moreover, Portugal cannot be expected to forget that she has a common land frontier with Spain. If the Portuguese should give aid to the enemies of Spain, the latter might inflict military reprisals on them in spite of the recently signed non-aggression pact between the two countries. The chance that the British can persuade the Portuguese to let them use the Tagus as a British naval base in a war against Spain does not at present appear very promising. Nevertheless, such permission was granted in similar circumstances some 140 years ago -- and it might conceivably be granted again. Fortunately, the increased endurance of modern war vessels and the wide range of air reconnaissance, especially from airplane carriers, make it less essential than formerly that ports of observation be spaced close together. The bases at Plymouth, Brest, Bermuda, Freetown (Sierra Leone) and in the West Indies might under modern conditions afford adequate facilities for the British and French ships engaged in tracking down the raiders.
Up to this point our survey indicates that Spain could not inflict serious injury on the Anglo-French combination. But this is only part of the story. It must not be forgotten that Spain herself would be open to damaging counterblows. While Spanish guns were pounding at the limestone cliffs of Gibraltar, French guns, not far away across the Strait, would be covering the advance of the French North African Army into Spanish Morocco. This invasion would probably result in a rapid conquest of the Spanish Zone, in spite of the fact that most of the Moorish troops that had been fighting for Franco in Spain were hurriedly returned to Africa immediately after the end of the civil war. Spain could also expect to lose her Rio de Oro territory and the Canary Islands, both of which would certainly be occupied by French or British forces.
Even more unpleasant would be the Anglo-French economic pressure applied against Spain immediately after the outbreak of war. With a superior British fleet to the west of her and a superior French fleet to the east, and with France controlling her only land connection with the continent, Spain would find her trade completely cut off. Spanish industry would consequently be deprived of the foreign capital goods and raw materials (e.g. cotton and chemicals) on which it is largely dependent. This would be especially disastrous in Catalonia, a former stronghold of the Loyalist Government where economic distress might have untoward repercussions. The loss of the orange, olive oil, almond, wine, iron ore and copper export trade would be particularly damaging to Spanish economy and would inflict great hardships on the Spanish people.
In short, Spain would have much to lose and very little to gain from supporting the Axis Powers -- unless, of course, she could confidently rely upon their final triumph. If Franco really believed in the ultimate victory of the German-Italian combination, his most effective contribution could be made along the Pyrenees frontier. A land and air attack across these mountains would be a serious menace to France. It would force her to weaken her all-important eastern defenses and reinforce her southern front. It would expose her war factories, tucked away in the supposed security of the southwest, to attacks by German, Italian and Spanish planes operating from the airfields of Navarre and Catalonia. It would also have serious psychological effects on the French people by subjecting them to invasions from both front and rear. Germany's obvious advantage in thus getting the French between two fires is in itself enough to explain her efforts to increase her influence in the Spanish Peninsula.
But there is a reverse side to every medal. If France can be bombed from Spain, Spain can also be bombed from France. Moreover, Spain is exposed to air attack from French North Africa. A Spanish land attack on France would have to be made over the rugged Pyrenees, where the advantage would to an unusual degree rest with the defense. The French, furthermore, would have the benefit of interior lines, whereas Spain's communications with Germany and Italy would be almost completely severed. Not a single German or Italian soldier could, with security, be sent to Spain after war had broken out.
On or near the very long coast line of Spain stand many military and industrial targets open to aërial bombardment by planes flying in from carriers out at sea. This weapon would be particularly useful to the French and British because of the naval mobility given them by their command of the sea. A carrier could wait over the horizon, out of sight of land, until the moment chosen for attack; then it could send its aircraft roaring in on any one of a hundred different Spanish ports. In this way, two or three carriers might keep the whole Spanish seaboard in a state of constant alarm. It is one of the axioms of sound strategy that diversions against an enemy's flank and rear effectively distract his attention from the main front. The Spaniards could be kept so busy defending themselves from constant air and naval bombardments that they would have little time or energy left for invading France. Further, if Britain and France controlled the seas, they could land one or more military expeditions on Spanish soil under cover of a high degree of secrecy. The threat of such a hostile landing should prove particularly effective in easing Spanish pressure on the Pyrenees frontier. If, in a general war, the democratic Powers were to adopt the strategy of "knocking away the props," a pro-Axis Spain stands out as the obvious recipient of the first knocks.
Presumably, Franco has already taken all these possibilities into consideration. In addition, he must also be fully conscious of the difficulties he would encounter in exacting his reward from a victorious Italo-German bloc. A triumph for the dictators would make Germany the new master-state of Europe -- the modern Rome. In such a Europe, Spain could expect to be little more than a vassal of Berlin. Signs multiply that the Portuguese people are becoming fully aware that coöperation with Germany is a case of "heads you win, tails I lose." Should this growing sentiment be reflected by a similar movement of opinion in Spain, the democratic Powers might find that the Spanish prop in the Axis combination was more than half ready to be knocked away.