The history of Spain presents the observer with this enigmatic paradox: after having practically ruled the world as the main empire in Europe, America and Asia, Spain had little to contribute to the peace of Vienna that sought to organize the affairs of the continent and remained aloof and neutral from every one of the many confrontations between European Powers since 1815. Why? The Spanish historian José María Jover has proposed the following explanation: if you review the history of Spain since the Napoleonic wars, you will find that every major international confrontation in Europe coincided in time with some major crisis in the very eventful 19th century. Those, mainly internal, problems were caused mainly by the disruption of the continuity of the State caused by the French invasion. They resulted in Spain being absorbed and polarized around these disruptions, which were given absolute priority over any external conflict. Let us examine these parallel stories.

In World War II, Spain was officially neutral. Thoroughly impoverished by the recent Civil War of 1936-1939, she could not afford to intervene or accept the conditions that Hitler tried to impose for her participation. Spain’s neutrality, though, was somewhat inconsistent. At the beginning, the regime’s sympathies were favourable to Germany and Italy for obvious ideological reasons. Later, her neutrality was reaffirmed and transformed into prudent abstention when the victory of the Axis powers was no longer credible. At any rate, it was a state of neutrality decided for Spain by Franco alone, without any opposition.

The situation in 1914-1918 had been different. Spain’s neutrality in the First World War was declared from the very beginning of the hostilities and was maintained until the end. This time, Spain acted through democratic requirements: the government could not decide alone. The Prime Minister at the time, Eduardo Dato, explained the two fundamental obstacles to participation in the hostilities. Doing so, he said, “would ruin the nation and ignite a civil war”. First: the na tion was already ruined: the economic and military means were poor indeed in a country which, after the defeat in Cuba in 1898, had been obliged to send half of its military to Morocco to wage wars which lasted until 1921. But the government’s policy of neutrality had also profound political causes, and was unanimously accepted by all the political forces. Public opinion was divided sharply precisely along the lines of the old confrontation between right and left: the traditionalists took sides with the Germans, the liberals with the Allies. The social problems Spain was facing at the time, namely strikes in the North and anarchy in Andalusia, were sufficiently serious to explain Spain’s determination to stay away from a conflict in which no vital interests of hers were involved. Fortunately, none of the belligerent powers sought the participation of a weak and divided Spain.

Similar reasons obliged Spain to remain neutral in the two most important conflicts that had taken place in Europe prior to World War I. The Franco-German war of 1870-71 caught Spain in the middle of the “sexenio democrático” (six democratic years) which had been ushered in by the “glorious” revolution of 1868. The primacy of the internal situation was here as clear as it would be in 1914. The country was poor and the regime was utopian and pacifist, therefore ideologically opposed to involving Spain in a war that confronted two authoritarian monarchies. Besides, Spain had grave internal troubles to attend to: an insurrection had erupted in Cuba that lasted a decade (1868-1878) and the third “Carlist” war (1872-1876) obliged the government to concentrate the scarce military means available in the Basque Provinces. Great instability was also being caused by the separatist revolution which culminated in the short-lived I Republic of 1873.

The Crimean war of 1856-1857 was also a European war from which Spain chose to stay distant on similar grounds. In this conflict, the British and the French fought on the side of the Ottoman Empire in order to prevent Russia from gaining free access through the Turkish straits to the British-dominated Mediterranean. It was far from being a priority for Spain’s interests, which lay more than ever in the preservation of her marginal colonies in America and Asia and in the protection of her territorial integrity at the Southern frontier of the peninsula. At that time, a rather adventurous war in Morocco concentrated all the efforts of the revolutionary government of General O´Donnell. It has not been uncommon to speak of Spain’s “secular isolation”. This cliché was fashionable after the 1936-1939 Civil War when Spain was indeed thoroughly cut off from the world. Those who used it probably wanted to conceal the initial rejection of Franco’s Spain by the Europeans, trying to make believe that her isolation had started much, even centuries, earlier? But it is clear to me that isolation from Europe had never existed, although Spain had resignedly accepted a secondary role and a marginal position in a continent where the centre of gravity had passed to its geographical centre, to the “central powers”. Even deprived of most of her colonies, Spain continued to be technically a world power until 1898. In such circumstances, how could she be isolated? Many circumstances could prove the intensive connection of Spain with her European environment. Let me just mention the European connection of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1868. The new regime was revolutionary and expelled the Bourbon dynasty, but its Constitution of 1869 was monarchic, and that obliged Spain to look for a king amidst the royal houses of Europe. The chosen one, Amadeus of Savoy, arrived in 1870, causing the irritation of the German Chancellor Bismark, who had offered a German prince as candidate. Tired of being entangled in the complex opposing political factions of Madrid, in 1872 Amadeus took refuge in the Italian embassy and abandoned the country.

Another interesting example is the European dilemma that King Alfonse XIII (1882-1941) faced in front of a continent divided between the liberal Entente Cordiale (France-United Kingdom) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). His mother, and Queen Regent of Spain during his minority, was the imposing Austrian Duchess Marie Christine Habsburg-Lorraine. His wife, the charming English princess Ena (Victoria Eugenie) of Battenberg. Alfonso, a soldier-king of the old school of European monarchs, was very fond of intervening in politics and chose to lean towards the British not only for personal reasons. He had also to protect the interests of Spain in Morocco. She had lost Cuba and the Philippines practically abandoned by Bismark and the central powers. From then on, the Southern border, Gibraltar, the Canaries, Morocco, would be the main concern of a resentful and humiliated former great power.

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