“An army and a defence policy would be absolutely essential” if Catalonia were independent from Spain.
Those are the words of pro-separatist Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who cited the threat of jihadist terrorism, as additional justification for his demands.
It’s a debate that doesn’t leave Catalans indifferent. Among those in favour is Marc Gafarot, an international relations expert. He thinks that “Catalonia would have to take its responsibility for defence affairs,” with the aim of “preserving peace and stability.”
“All 28 EU member states have armies and Catalonia should do the same,” Gafarot said, noting that having its own defence forces could help the region to achieve international recognition as a sovereign state.
Jordi Armadans, director of the Foundation for Peace, Fundipau, disagrees. He believes that an army is neither essential nor necessary.
“Catalonia could do things differently. You don’t have to copy what is done around the world,” he says. Two examples are Costa Rica and Iceland, without a standing army of their own.
“These are interesting cases that serve as examples to show that not all of us need to have an army.”
Wars, the arms trade and a nuclear policy are some of the challenges that face a militarised power, he observes. However, “it’s very important to have a good intelligence service and to promote cyber security.”
What would a Catalonian military look like?
According to Marc Gafarot, if Catalonia were independent from Spain, “it should have an army of between 15,000 and 20,000 soldiers.”
“The navy would have an important weight”, given the region’s geographical location.
“The model to follow is that of Denmark, Austria, Ireland or Sweden,” he suggests.
And, what about the cost? NATO calls for each country to allocate 2% of its GDP to defence forces, however, few countries in Europe manage that.
According to the World Bank, France spends 2.3% of its GDP on military expenditure; United Kingdom, 1.8%; Italy, 1.5%; Germany, 1.2%; Spain, 1.2%; and Denmark, 1.1%.
No agreement among separatist parties
The two parties that support Catalonia’s independence, ERC and CUP, questioned Puigdemont’s words. According to the first secretary of the Catalan Parliament, Anna Simó (ERC), the time to start this debate is not now; it should wait until the independence process is underway.
CUP deputy Gabriela Serra responded to Puigdemont on Twitter: “President, it is unethical to use dramatic terror attacks to justify the need for an army. Nothing justifies militarism.”
Puigdemont responded to both in parliament today, pointing out that Catalonia could have a non-conventional army. However, he observed that the discussion would become essential if the independence process advances.
Unionist groups attacked Puigdemont for opening a “false debate” ahead of the proposed independence referendum on October 1 that is considered illegal by the Spanish government.
By Anna Lladó