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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway during a public appearance.Virginia Mayo

If the Atlantic Alliance approves holding its 2022 summit in Spain, it will be the largest international event that, except for unforeseen events, has Pedro Sánchez as host in this legislature. At least 30 heads of state and government, including US President Joe Biden, are summoned to the meeting.

Only once has Spain hosted a NATO summit. It was in July 1997, with then-president José María Aznar as organizer and Bill Clinton among the guests.

The Government has presented its candidacy claiming that next May will be the 40th anniversary of Spain’s entry into the Atlantic Alliance. And there the paradox begins, because it was a decision of the then president Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, of the UCD, to which the PSOE fiercely opposed. Felipe González promised to submit his stay in NATO to a referendum. And he fulfilled. Although the consultation, held in March 1986, was no longer to leave, but to stay. What made Spain the first country that belonged to NATO by popular decision.

The referendum imposed some limitations, such as that Spain could not belong to the military structure of a military alliance, but these were obviated by Aznar, who put them in a drawer. If there were no more NATO commanders in Spain, it was because they were highly contested.

His successor, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, tried to compensate for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, where a coalition of volunteers led by the US, with an increased presence in Afghanistan, where NATO had taken on the impossible task of stabilizing the country. However, the decision to withdraw without notice the contingent from the former Serbian province of Kosovo caused a new anger in Washington and NATO, which was leading the operation. In March 2009, Zapatero traveled more than 20,000 kilometers by plane to go to Valparaíso (Chile) and ingratiate himself with the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.

The situation today is very different. Spain has left Afghanistan in concert with NATO and is one of the countries that contributes the most to its operations: it has a mechanized company in Latvia, a rotating air detachment in Lithuania (and this year another in Romania) and a battery of Patriot missiles in Turkey, plus one or two ships in the allied permanent fleets; in total, more than 800 military personnel.

Sánchez will be able to boast on Monday in Brussels that, for the first time, Spain exceeds 1% of GDP in military spending. It is not the 2% that Washington claims, but it is on the path.

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