Is There Military Competition Between Spain And Morocco?

In the midst of a political crisis as acute as the one that Morocco has recently caused, it is tempting for some to revisit the respective military capabilities, fueling a long-standing approach that suggests that the clash with Spain is ultimately inevitable. An approach that starts from highlighting, on the one hand, the highly visible modernization of the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) and, on the other, the weaknesses accumulated by the Spanish Armed Forces (FAS), to immediately conclude that this poses an obvious threat for Spain. This would force you to respond to the same extent before it is too late.

If we stick to the facts, it is true that Morocco is becoming a military power in the Maghreb. In recent years, thanks to the generous Saudi aid and the American commitment to equip its faithful ally with whatever is necessary, Rabat is making a serious commitment to improve its military capabilities in all areas. The development of the five-year procurement plan initiated in 2018 has resulted in recent announcements of purchases as high-profile as 25 F-16 fighters, 36 Apache helicopters and more than 200 M1 Abrams battle tanks. And the purchase of the Patriot antiaircraft defense system, Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and four MQ-9 Reaper drones is already in sight in the short term, without ruling out a future acquisition of the highly advanced F fighters. -35.

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For all this, Rabat has about 22,000 million dollars, an extraordinary amount for an economy with as many needs to cover as the Moroccan one, and only explainable if one thinks about the favors that the Gulf monarchies have been giving it. Added to this militaristic effort is the reintroduction of compulsory military service for men and women since last year, without forgetting the enhancement of their air defense capacity and their naval component, both in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean.

For its part, it is true that Spain suffers from serious deficiencies in its Armed Forces, when it is thought in terms of defending our vital interests in different scenarios and when compared with those of other neighboring countries (especially in the NATO framework). But it is out of place to play direct comparisons with Morocco, to extract alarmist messages from there that would seem to imply that this Moroccan rearmament is directed against Spain.

In the first place, because the respective figures for equipment, material and armament do not stand up to comparison, with Spain more than doubling the budget that Morocco dedicates to defense (counting, in addition, that Spain barely dedicates 1.7% of GDP to this chapter, while Morocco almost reaches 6%), as well as in the number of planes, helicopters and warships, without neglecting that our southern neighbor has neither aircraft carriers nor submarines. And that is not compensated in any way, although Rabat surpasses us in number of troops, in battle tanks and in artillery pieces … all of them located on the other side of the Strait. Secondly, it is enough to remember that the Global Firepower Index for 2021, which measures the military power of 138 countries, places Spain in 18th place, while Morocco only comes in at 53rd.

But above these considerations, and focused solely on the military terrain, it is easy to conclude that the Moroccan rearmament is explained as an attempt to improve its position in the eyes of Washington as an important contributor to the security of the Strait and the fight against it. jihadist terrorism and, above all, as part of its competition with Algeria for regional leadership. An Algeria that continues to be superior in the military sphere (it is ranked 27th in the aforementioned index), but that sees the gap gradually narrowing.

This does not mean, of course, that the Moroccan militarist process does not affect us in any way. But there is neither a direct threat nor the need to respond point by point to what our neighbor does. Aware that Ceuta and Melilla are militarily indefensible in the face of an attack in force, for a long time Spain has tried to develop an interdependence as dense as possible with our neighbor that makes the military option unthinkable for Rabat in its traditional sovereign claim over these cities and other Spanish territories. As we have just verified once more, this framework does not free us from shocks and crises; but from there to a military confrontation there are light years away.

From all this it follows that the problems that Moroccan rearmament can create for us have much more to do with the possible Algerian replica, in a classic action-reaction game that both feed into a confrontational dynamic that can provoke an uncontrollable scale. In that case, the instability that could generate a direct clash between the two neighbors would automatically have very negative repercussions for Spanish interests in the area.

Hence, without ever losing sight of the need to maintain a military capacity of last resort that preserves our interests in the region at all costs, it is much more convenient that we dedicate ourselves to preventing these bad relations between Rabat and Algiers from leading to a direct confrontation.

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