LIKE Napoleon, Hitler found that domination of the Continent was not enough, that he must seize the gateways to other more remote zones of power. Like Napoleon, he set upon Egypt and Russia. Will he, like Napoleon, turn his armies also towards Spain, the gateway of the West? Or is he already in a situation there which makes military action superfluous?

There are elements in Spanish policy which seem inevitably to range the country on the side of Britain's enemies. I suggest that the strength of these elements has generally been underrated. We have realized that the ruling elements in Spain are thoroughly anti-democratic. We know that all through the war the Spanish press has been a megaphone for Berlin, proclaiming Axis victories and hailing the extrusion of Britain from the Continent. What we are apt to forget is that, at any rate in the short view, the national interests of Spain do seem to stand to profit from a German victory. "Treaty revision," the bait that hooked Hungary and Bulgaria, is attractive to Spain also. As Señor Suñer said to the San Sebastian correspondent of the Völkischer Beobachter when he was on his way to Berlin in September 1940: "In the hour when Spain seeks associates she turns to countries which are victims of the same injustices that she herself has suffered. . . . The natural aspirations of Spain are derived from tradition and from her geographical position between two continents."

The existence of such sentiments gives German propagandists a lien on Spain which, incidentally, they do not possess in the case of Portugal, whose geographical position is so similar. That Señor Salazar is fully conscious of Portugal's rôle as "not merely a European but a World Power" [i] is patent. The Portuguese press gave the greatest prominence to President Roosevelt's premonitory statement at the end of July 1940 on the importance of Portuguese and Spanish ports being kept open to maintain communication between Europe and America. Portugal's function, it was explained in Lisbon, is to preserve in Europe, by the formation of "peace zones," those standards of civilization which represent the Latin and Western spirit. And, so far, with the Atlantic seaboard under the protection of the British Navy, the Portuguese Government and people have stood their ground resolutely against German threats and blandishments. But the fact remains that the fate of Portugal is bound up, temporarily at any rate, with that of General Franco's Spain.

As I write, the probabilities are that Hitler's challenge in Spain will be on the plane of political warfare, and that on his timetable it is scheduled, if his progress in Russia permits, to take place this fall. Already the major part of the flood of propaganda and instructions for Hitler's agents in the United States and the Latin American Republics passes through the Peninsula. And it is there that the Nazis hope to draw the best dividends from their latest investment in the "Christian" and "European" crusade against godless Bolshevism.[ii] There is, after all, no more ardent Christian paladin and Soviet hater than General Franco.


The purpose of Hitler and Mussolini in helping General Franco to smash Republican Spain is now surely plain to the most numb-skull of British Sahibs; and those who were dubbed "Reds" for having deplored the jettisoning of the traditional British strategy which sought to prevent a hostile Power from ever controlling Spain have had their worst anticipations realized. The Dictators were simply and solely intent on securing power positions for use in the scheme of grand strategy elaborated in Germany by the "geopolitical" school under Professor Haushofer and discussed in frank detail by the egregious Professor Banse as early as 1933. But quite apart from geopolitical plans for a Nazi enveloping movement based on Spain and Ireland, it was unlikely that a German General Staff which had succeeded in "rolling up" the map of Europe on which Britain's foreign policy had for centuries been based would neglect the possibilities offered them in Spain. Over ten years ago, indeed, Admiral Raeder, now Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, declared: "If ever the Vigo-Canaries-Azores triangle should be constituted and placed under a single military authority, the automatic consequence would be a complete reversal in the European situation and the relations between European countries and all the other continents . . . a reversal in favor of the Power which occupied the points of the triangle."

How far Axis agents have actually gone towards preparing a Spanish satellite state for use in military operations is, of course, a secret which the layman cannot probe with success. But we know that there are some 50,000 Germans in Spain; that airports and strategic railroads have been built; and that submarine refuelling bases have been established in the northwestern province of Galicia and in the coastal districts of Andalusia and Morocco. We also know that the batteries of Algeciras and in the hills behind, and the long-range guns which command the Straits from Ceuta, put the Axis Powers in a position to make Gibraltar untenable. Further, they now possess a complete network of air communications connecting Spain, Spanish Morocco and the Canaries with Italy. What Marshal Balbo once declared to be the best seaplane base in the world, if properly equipped, has been quietly secured in the stretch of water north of Cartagena known as Mar Menor. So long as Spain is "neutral" there is little or nothing that can be done about facts like the foregoing. After all, even during the First World War, when a Liberal pro-Ally government under Count Romanones was in power in Madrid, the Germans freely used submarine bases on the coasts of Spain. It is hardly surprising, then, if reliable reports tell us that their aircraft and submarines are operating from bases at Badajoz, Vigo and Seville against Atlantic shipping.

It does not seem likely to the writer that Hitler and the German Command desire to realize on these strategic assets, but rather that, as in several other fields, they would prefer to accomplish their aims by political warfare. A great error was made by many commentators on Spanish affairs in assuming that a long line of moves -- including the Suñer mission to Berlin and Rome in the fall of 1940, the resulting meeting of Hitler and General Franco, and the establishment of Nazi police agencies in Spain following the Himmler visit in October 1940, together with the unceasing flow of propaganda -- are steps in preparation for Spain's formal entry into the war on the side of the Axis. Whatever Falangist hotheads may say, however much Señor Suñer may threaten, General Franco's Government, ready and willing to be exploited for its diplomatic nuisance-value, and anxious to have its suitable reward, is resolutely opposed to becoming directly involved. In the first place, the exhausted state of the country precludes it; and essential imports, particularly food and oil, are obtainable only by the grace of the British Navy. Secondly, there is enough latent hostility to the present régime -- not all Republicans are dead, in exile or in prison -- to make it decidedly unsafe to undertake any action that might permit a renewal of the civil war. Moreover, if Spain were a declared enemy, Britain might once again, as in the time of Napoleon, be presented with a field of operations from which eventually Hitler's whole European structure could be shattered. Hitler knows perfectly well that, as things stand, Nationalist Spain would be more of a liability than a help as an open ally, whereas she fits into a useful place in the "new order" as a non-belligerent associate. All this is not to say, however, that a fuller rôle might not be assigned to her if the strategic situation were altered through a decision by Vichy France to place her fleet and colonies at the disposal of the Axis.

Meanwhile it is a mistake to count, as some do, on the development of a strong difference of opinion between the dominant Falange or National-Syndicalist elements and the conservative classes. The latter are, in fact, the bulwark of the Franco régime. The British Government has been misled by Catholic influences into magnifying the importance of the Carlists and Traditionalists, reputed to be anti-German. Its mistakes here are much the same as it made about Italy. To begin with, the Falange is not just a party which happens now to be in the ascendant; it is the party -- the only party -- and it operates the machine of state in Spain just as effectually as its opposite numbers control Germany and Italy. The idea of a possible monarchist opposition, sponsored by army officers, is a snare and a delusion. As anyone with knowledge of the mood of Spanish army leaders should know, they were Germanophile long before Hitler was heard of, and have so remained. It must not be forgotten that the Spanish Army long nursed a resentment against Britain and France for the curb those nations put on Spain's expansionist ambitions in Africa. The attitude of contemporary Spain will never be properly understood unless we bear in mind that the Spanish bourgeoisie and upper classes (with certain obvious exceptions, like the Duke of Alba) are traditionally and fundamentally Germanophile -- as we saw, indeed, in the 1914-18 war -- and hence respond readily to the anti-British propaganda of the Falange zealots. It is sheer wishful-thinking, moreover, to conceive of General Franco as a simple "Christian gentleman" who is unhappy about the necessity of associating with the Axis and who battles all the time against the extremist views of Señor Serrano Suñer. They are peas from the same pod, but each with a distinctive and different rôle in the conduct of Spanish foreign policy.


What is that policy? It is to use the opportunity provided by the present World War to wipe out the stigma of decadence which has lain on Spain since the dissolution of her great empire, and to equip the Spanish nation, spiritually and materially, for pursuing once again its "manifest destiny." But let us not make the mistake of thinking that in this there is any sloppy sentimentality. The Spaniards care about Spain's national interest. They will play the German game so long, and only so long, as it serves that interest. The contempt shown in Spain for Italy since she "took the count" from the British Navy and made such a poor showing in Greece is significant. But if there is no misplaced sentiment there is a luxuriant "ideology" of resurgent imperialism, and this, of course, German propaganda has assiduously fostered. In the years when Italy bid fair to become a "great Mediterranean Power," the Spanish spokesmen for this ideology used always to give a nostalgic glance backwards to the great days of the Emperor Charles V and his Imperial Army of Spaniards and Italians. Today writers often indulge in historical fantasies designed to show that association with Germanic rulers in the sixteenth century, before "decadence" set in, always brought good fortune. Or you may come across the Mediterranean mysticism of a theorist of Spanish Fascism like José Permartin,[iii] with its dogma that Spain is destined to assume leadership in a future Catholic-Latin bloc of nations whose function it will be to "Christianize" the Germanized Europe which is to emerge from the present war. In every case, England -- either as the cradle of the Reformation and therefore the symbol of Europe's apostasy, or as the instrument of Spain's decline and fall -- is the arch-enemy.

By the "laws" of geography which the Falangists so often invoke, Spain might expect to find her natural sphere of expansion in Morocco. Indeed, we are sometimes told that her mission there was duly marked out for her in the last will and testament of the great Queen Isabella, who, with her consort, Ferdinand of Aragon, symbolizes the zenith of Spain's greatness. But this is actually a flight of fancy, because Isabella always confined her interest in Morocco to its defensive aspect, that is to say as a barrier against possible Moslem invasions; she taught, rather, that the glittering prizes were to be obtained in faraway America, and as a result the lifeblood of Castile was drained away overseas. Throughout the whole period of Spain's greatest imperial tradition, indeed, the possibilities of northern Africa, as indeed also of the Mediterranean as a whole, were neglected. In the eyes of the great majority of Spaniards, however, there is one reason, and only one, why Morocco did not become, so to speak, a prolongation of Spain, and why, despite her unrivalled geographical position and her great imperial past, Spain has failed in the modern era to achieve the status of "Great Power." From the time when Britain acquired Gibraltar it was as if the jugular vein of what might have been the Spanish body politic were cut. Gibraltar in the hands of the English was a wedge separating Andalusia and Africa. To add insult to injury, when in the nineteenth century Spain's leaders began timidly to cherish ambitions of expansion in Morocco, they were made to feel, time and again, that their aspirations must always be subordinate to the will of Britain and France. Without question Spain has a case against the Anglo-French combination; she has been allowed poor pickings in the latter-day scramble for power and wealth in North Africa.

The relics of Spain's original colonial patrimony in North Africa are the four presidios of Ceuta, Peñon de Vélez, Alhucemas and Melilla, along the northern Mediterranean coast. Two of these are island rocks, and Melilla is cut off from the interior by the mountains of the Riff. She retains, also, of course, the Canary Isles and, further to the south, morsels of territory in West Africa. These, though limited in extent, are at any rate real possessions. In the so-called Spanish Zone of Morocco, however, Spain is in the position of only a sub-tenant, holding her title by the grace of France. By the Anglo-French Declaration of 1904 France obtained the chance of expansion in Morocco, subject to certain limiting conditions which were dictated by the requirements of British sea power. A stretch of Moroccan coast from just outside Melilla to a point on the right bank of the river Sebu, facing the Atlantic, was to remain unfortified. And France was required to come to an understanding with Spain in regard to her Moroccan interests, indicated plainly at the Algeciras Conference. It transpired that, by a secret clause in the Anglo-French Declaration, the Spanish zone of influence was equated with the hinterland of that part of the littoral which was to remain unfortified, while Spain at the same time was forbidden to agree that she would not alienate any of the territories thus placed under her authority.

The Spanish Government of the time had no choice but to accept this diplomatic bargain. In 1912 a Franco-Moroccan Treaty secured France's position as lease-holder, with effective powers of control over the Sultan, who, nevertheless, remained the legal sovereign. Spain, too, regularized her position, by the Franco-Spanish Convention of November 27, 1912, but it continued to be an inferior one, in that the Spanish Zone was, technically, under the aegis of a Khalifa or representative of the Sultan, who, in turn, had transferred his responsibilities to the French. That juridical position is unchanged to this day, though the stipulations about non-fortification have gone by the board.

Tangier is another example of the way in which the Western Powers have watched over their own interests and have paid scant attention to the voice of Spain. Señor Dato, Prime Minister in 1914, made an attempt to trade Spain's neutrality in the First World War against a promise that when peace came Gibraltar and Tangier should be "restored" to her. He met with no success. French colonial achievements in Northwest Africa, incidentally, have always particularly rankled with Spaniards. Their chagrin was increased by the fact that General Primo de Rivera was obliged to call in French military aid to defeat Abd-el-Krim in the Riff campaign, owing to the chronic incompetence of the Spanish Army.

There can be no surprise, therefore, that German talk about Spain's rights to Gibraltar and Tangier and German incitement to Spanish expansion in Morocco at the expense of the French evoke widespread Spanish enthusiasm. The present misfortunes of France seem to offer a bright opportunity. What General Franco and his friends want, presumably, is cession of the Atlantic part of French Morocco, so as to connect the Spanish protectorate zone with the colony of Rio de Oro. It is commonly believed that in the spring of 1940, when France's collapse was evident, and when Italy, as a result, came into the war, some Spanish leaders urged that Spain, like Italy, play the jackal. But Señor Suñer apparently received a promise from Hitler that Spain would get her share of the spoils in any event, when Germany had finished with Britain and there no longer was any danger of resistance from the French colonial forces. To appease his own activists, however, General Franco gave the order to Colonel Yuste and his troops to march into Tangier; and in successive steps, as we know, the international régime there has been disregarded. Britain accepted this, principally because there is reason to believe that Mussolini, too, had his plans for seizure of this potentially important strategic asset, and, obviously, from a British point of view, a Spanish occupation was preferable.[iv]

The Suñer visit to Berlin in September 1940 was mainly to obtain more explicit assurances regarding the extent of the Spanish Lebensraum in Africa. He went as envoy, not as plenipotentiary; and, finding Herr Hitler somewhat evasive, he could only suggest that General Franco should see Hitler himself. Since that time, of course, the Spanish claim has come to evoke less interest in the Wilhelmstrasse. It was all right as an instrument of blackmail, but so long as the "collaboration" of Vichy France is bringing in its dividends Hitler is bound to soft-pedal his Spanish promises.


To make clear that General Franco and his Government are committed up to the hilt to Hitler is still not to tell the whole story. Spanish policy is motivated first, last and all the time by calculations of national interest. Consequently, Spain has also her alternative policy "under the table." It is a countervailing policy, just in case Germany's victory does not materialize.

I have used elsewhere the analogy of a seasoned gambler at a Basque pelota match. The ordinary English visitor at one of those exciting contests between "Reds" and "Blues" will normally back one side or the other to win, and if he is a betting man he may stake heavily on the side which he expects to win. Carried away, perhaps, by the tumult of the little red-capped tipsters shouting the odds he may lose a lot of money. The Spaniard who is a pelota fan, on the other hand, will take odds first on one side, then on the other, and so on throughout the game. As the promise of victory fluctuates he will "cover" himself once, twice, or many times. So General Franco, while protesting a hundred percent loyalty to the Axis, has in fact taken care to "cover" himself as required by the swaying fortunes of the contest. The form of insurance which he has taken against a British victory will at least bring in, he hopes, Morocco; confirmation of the Spanish title to Tangier; and, maybe, even, a peaceful transfer of Gibraltar to Spanish sovereignty, subject to some international or Anglo-American board of control to watch and ward over this and other strategic keypoints.

Factors involved are, first, of course, the Trade and Payments Agreement with Great Britain of March 1940, carrying its assurances of the continued interest of British business in the future Spain, as well as the very present help of credits to water the parched soil of Spain's war-shattered economy. Secondly, there is the Treaty of Amity and Non-Aggression with Portugal -- "Britain's oldest ally" -- of March 20, 1939, buttressed by the supplementary protocol of July 29, 1940, and by sundry commercial agreements. And, finally, there would appear to be a tacit understanding with the British Navy.

It is the link with Portugal, perhaps, which is the most important -- and least appreciated -- element in this policy. General Franco's brother, Nicolas Franco, is his Ambassador in Lisbon. He is an ex-naval officer who is persona grata with the British naval authorities, and as such he has been able to accomplish an excellent job of work. Through this close collaboration with Señor Salazar, who is equally anxious to keep out of the war, General Franco has managed to preserve a measure of independence. Of course, if Hitler decided that political collaboration was not enough, and demanded a corridor to Africa, neither Franco nor Salazar could put up any effective resistance. Spain today is an object of policy, rather than a subject, as much as ever she was in the days of the Anglo-French "stranglehold." But, as I have suggested, Hitler must think twice before he can take the risk of losing his communications with the outside world; and meantime the Spanish and Portuguese dictators will go on making the most of their advantage. All that is certain is that the Nazi pressure will increase, as Hitler realizes that he has to play for the highest stakes in the Battle of the Atlantic.

[i] President Carmona's phrase on the occasion of his visit to Mozambique, August 1939.

[ii]Cf. the interview given by Señor Suñer to the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on July 2, declaring that Spain was a "moral belligerent" in the Russo-German war.

[iii]Cf. his book "Que es lo nuevo?," Burgos, 1938.

[iv] The noticeable coolness between Mussolini and General Franco's Government dates from that time.

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  • W. HORSFALL CARTER, former member of the League of Nations Secretariat; with the League commission of inquiry in Spain in 1938; former Editor of the Fortnightly Review
  • More By W. Horsfall Carter