The Planes in Spain
Last November the Spanish government announced that it will not extend the treaty permitting U.S. military bases in Spain, unless the United States agrees to withdraw the F-16 fighters based at Torrejon outside Madrid. Meanwhile, the new conservative government of Portugal is threatening to "re-evaluate" the U.S. air base in the Azores unless it receives greater U.S. military aid. Similar threats are emanating from the Greeks and Turks.
Defense Department officials tell us that these facilities are essential to NATO's southern flank. The Azores base is the key refueling point for U.S. reinforcements on the way to Europe; Spain and Greece provide key naval bases in the Mediterranean; and Turkey is smack up against the Soviet border. So what choice do we have but to pay up?
Let's see if we can get this straight. The United States has troops and bases in Europe in order to defend it against attack by the Soviet Union. The NATO allies, we're told, are already doing as much as they can afford in the way of defense. So it's crucial to their survival that U.S. taxpayers continue to support 700 bases and 347,000 troops in Europe.
Yet here are four members of NATO saying, in effect, that they are doing us a great big favor by allowing us to base forces there—for their defense.
What these episodes reveal is the absurdity that NATO has become. Were NATO reorganized as a European mutual-defense pact, these little extortion games could not go on. Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey would have to face the facts honestly, deciding whether the Soviet threat justifies taking part in a joint defense effort. But as long as rich Uncle Sam is there to be taken advantage of, he will continue to be held up for ransom by ambitious European politicians.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Planes in Spain".