By Alex Calvo and Pol Molas

Security and defence, key policies for independent Catalonia.  As Catalonia moves to recover her lost independence, security and defence are getting to the forefront of the political debate. They may not be prompting many headlines but Catalan leaders and opinion makers understand that whereas some issues of concern to Catalans may not have much of an impact on other countries, this one does. As Catalonia gradually leaves behind Spain, it is only legitimate that other countries, and in particular NATO member states and fellow maritime democracies, may wonder whether a newly independent Catalonia will make a positive contribution to their national security. Are we talking about a new serious, solid, partner ready to shoulder the burden of providing security in a world haunted by a long list of challenges? A list going from revisionist powers threatening freedom of navigation to organized crime and terrorist groups. Or are we facing a free rider and potentially a sanctuary in a key corner of South-Western Europe, sitting astride key sea lines of communication (SLOCs)?.

Catalonia is committed to NATO and to the national security of partners and allies. Such concerns are legitimate. While no democracy can seriously oppose letting people vote on their future, self-determination is after all just another term for democracy, there is no shortage of dossiers on the table of any government. Washington and its allies already have to deal with a large number of issues, and therefore cannot be expected to eagerly look forward to an additional one. Furthermore, the international community is, by its very nature, conservative and can easily view with mistrust the emergence of a new state, particularly due to uncertainty over future defence and security policies, and its place within formal alliances and ad-hoc coalitions. Fortunately, neither the NATO member states, the maritime democracies, nor the international community have anything to fear from Catalan independence. Instead they stand to benefit from a new, serious, and committed partner; a country ready to contribute its military capabilities to the defence of shared values and interests.

The past as a guide to the present: from police to NATO. There is a saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, so despite the clear consensus in Catalonia in favour of NATO membership, Atlantic Alliance partners may still wish for more concrete evidence of Catalan commitment to collective security. History shows that they can rest at ease; there is no cause for concern. A clear guide to independent Catalonia’s position may be found in the preceding period, under Spanish rule albeit with a measure of autonomy following General Franco’s death. As an autonomous region, Catalonia pushed for her own police, turning the 3-century-old “Mossos d’Esquadra” into a modern, capable force. Today, with a few exceptions such as gun permits or the issuing of identity cards, Catalan Police are responsible for whole-spectrum public security, as millions of tourists visiting Catalonia every year can attest to.


Policing is not an area likely to give politicians many votes, being rather fraught with myriad dangers and potential controversies. The fact that the Catalan prime minister of the time, Jordi Pujol, invested so much political capital in securing the deployment of the Mossos d’Esquadra, and the multi-party consensus backing him, proves that Catalans are serious about the business of ruling themselves. They seek freedom, while aware that it never comes free.

Prison management: a hot potato if ever there was one. Even more revealing is what happened with prisons. Catalonia was, and remains, the only autonomous region in Spain to have pressed for, and obtained, the power to manage prisons. Nobody else wanted them, and for once Madrid was more than happy to oblige. As you may imagine, this is a hot potato if ever there was one. Act tough, and you will be accused of human rights violations. Be gentler, and you will be labelled soft on crime. No votes to be gained, yet again the Pujol administration, with the full support of the opposition, and in a policy followed by all his successors whatever their political colour, insisted on and secured the grave responsibility of managing prisons.


The oldest maritime democracy is reporting for duty. While the Mossos d’Esquadra, born three centuries ago, are the oldest civilian police force in Europe, we should never forget that modern Maritime Law was born in Catalonia. Many of the rules still in force today were first compiled in the “Book of the Consulate of the Sea”, whose earlier editions go back to the XIV Century and its roots even further back. Catalan law provided the basis for much of maritime law in other countries, including English Law. The modern Law of the Sea is to no small extent heir to Catalan Law, and independent Catalonia will join fellow maritime democracies in working to ensure the rule of law at sea.


Conclusions. Police and prisons make it clear how serious Catalans are about security. When an autonomous region under Spanish rule, Catalans pressed to have their own police force and to manage their own prisons, and stuck to those policies no matter how many controversial episodes followed. They never used Spanish domination as an excuse not to be concerned with such matters, as they might easily have done. Once free to govern themselves, they will adapt exactly the same approach, becoming net security providers to NATO, the maritime democracies, and the international community. As a trading nation, the oldest maritime democracy in the world, and the cradle of the modern law of the sea, Catalonia will join allies and partners to ensure the rule of law at sea. Renewed Catalan independence is good news for the Atlantic Alliance.

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan).

Pol Molas is a naval analyst and regular contributor to the Blau Naval blog.

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