In the current geopolitical scenario, many countries seek to increase their international projections and gain space and power in an increasingly less hegemonic world. Day after day, states of lesser geopolitical relevance try to broaden their horizons, becoming more and more militarized, adopting interventionist policies and investing in the modernization of their combat arsenals. With this, we contemplate the birth of a world of greater military multipolarity and diversity of powers, however, also with a greater number of conflicts and threats.
Spain has increased its interest in the Middle East. Currently, Madrid maintains fifteen military missions abroad, being Lebanon and Iraq the countries with the largest Spanish presence. Specifically, in Iraq, the Spanish government aims to further increase its presence and role in the local conflict. Recently, Spain’s Chief of Staff and Defense, General Miguel Angel Villarroya, announced major changes in Spanish military strategy, emphatically stating that the country is focused on Iraq and that Spanish troops will be taking increasingly decisive positions there.
According to Villarroya, several changes are needed in the way Spain is conducting its mission in Iraq today. The country was exercising the role of training Iraqi troops, according to the NATO program for Iraq. However, Villarroya believes this objective has already been accomplished and that Spain must overcome this phase of the mission. The general plans to return the Spanish military base in Besmaya to Iraqi rule. With the troops back from training missions, the next step is to invest in more important positions in the conflict, increasing, not decreasing, Spanish participation.
Since last year, Spain has been working to reduce its staff at the Besmaya base and showing a lack of interest in continuing with the work carried out in Iraq so far. At first, the Spanish project seemed to be one of demilitarization, but Villarroya and other representatives of the Spanish State have already signaled that, in fact, it is an offensive adaptation, from which the country’s participation in Iraq will become more relevant and decisive. General Villarroya visited Iraq on his first trip to an overseas mission in mid-February 2020, days after Defense Minister Margarita Robes announced that the Spanish military was resuming training at the Gran Capitán base in Besmaya. Despite Robes’ pronouncement, Villarroya declared that the base had lost its relevance and announced changes to the Spanish military program.
The case must be analyzed in depth, considering various circumstances in the contemporary world. Apparently, there was a small change in the Spanish plan for Iraq. In fact, Iraqi and coalition forces declared victory over ISIS in 2017 and since then the conflicts have subsided considerably, with the country only at the mercy of sporadic attacks by remaining ISIS terrorist groups, with no regular war. Under this context, in 2019, Spain considered definitively retreating its troops, which were without function in Iraq. But from 2019 to 2020 several changes took place in the geopolitics of the Middle East. The assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani caused a major rise in tensions in the region and Iraq was directly affected by this situation, since Iraq is an extremely important region for both Iran and the West.
However, the Iranian response was incisive – attacking American bases in Iraq -, and Washington did not retaliate for attacks on its bases. Although tensions have risen, the US was unable or at least disinterested in carrying out a conflict with Iran, which is why the new dynamics of American interventionism have proved even more fragile. More and more Iran is taking positions against the American occupation of the Middle East, as can be seen in Iran’s naval progress in the Persian Gulf, for example. American inertia shows the decline of its hegemonic power, which is already beginning to be realized worldwide. Some countries are interested in making this moment of American decline an opportunity for national rise and raise their projections in areas where Washington has been losing influence.
Washington and Bagdad recently announced that in the coming months, the US military will vacate Iraq, considerably reducing the number of troops. In contrast, this is not in the interest of other Western nations. In the specific Spanish case, Madrid intends to assume some of the prominent positions in Iraq that Washington is renouncing. It is likely that there will be even more changes and that other countries will seek to take the positions left behind by the US in its retreat from interventionism. These nations will try to continue the same American projects, but aiming at their own national interests, which means that Spain and all members of the NATO coalition will continue to perform the same acts as the US in the Middle East, including dominance over Iraq and frontal opposition to Iran.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.