Antimilitarist strategy in light of the professionalization of the Spanish army

By Alberto Estefanía (Prisoner for Peace 1998), Basque Country

In the Spring of 1996, after coming to power, the new executive of the Partido Popular proposed to end obligatory military and substitute social service in 2003. In another attempt to demobilize the antimilitarist movement, they are replacing a mixed conscript and professional army with a purely professional one. And so, largely thanks to conscientious objection, the end of military service has been decreed. However, as is well known, the antimilitarist aim has never been merely to put an end to conscription. So a new strategy is now necessary in order to continue the struggle for a world, free of armies, a world without war.

In February 1997, eight years after the first public refusals by objectors to do military service, six members of the Conscientious Objectors Movement (MOC) arrived at the barracks in which they were required to complete their military service and once in uniform, abandoned their posts. This is how Conscientious Objection in the Barracks was formed, itself a logical extension of the previous strategy which seeks the same end - the end of armies and wars - by the same method - disobedience - and which is becoming an increasingly expensive instrument of protest to the army and its programme of professionalization.

For the last eight years, refusal to do military service (Insumisi-n as it is called in Spanish) has constituted our main form of military disobedience in the fight to achieve a demilitarised society. With Conscientious Objection in the Barracks we are taking a step further and bringing the conflict to the actual soldiers. Antimilitarists who desert are court-martialed and condemned to between two years and four months and six years in military prison.

There are in all 27 objectors in barracks throughout the country. At present six of them are being held in the military prison in Alcalá de Henares, and the rest are either awaiting court martial or still on the run. Of course desertion is not the only method the MOC is using in its struggle against the armies; education for peace and in favour of disobedience, objection to military expenditure in the tax budget, the "old" form of refusal to do military service, and attacks on military property etc., are also employed. For example, at this time, apart from the objectors in the barracks there are 28 antimilitarists, men and women, facing charges for perpetrating non-violent acts against the military.

Antimilitarist work is having a strong influence on the process of professionalization. What in the first instance augured a political triumph for the government which promised strong public backing has turned into an awkward problem for it. Although it is true that many young people are happy to be freed from the obligation to complete military or civilian service, it is no less true that the professionalization of the army cannot count on the necessary public support to fulfil its proposed objectives. In the Spanish State there is a rift between society and the army: this is the fruit of the labours of the antimilitarist campaign of the last decades.

Faced with this situation, the Ministry of Defence is making enormous efforts to create a useful image for the army which could justify, on the one hand, the drain on the taxpayers that the increased military expenditure supposes at a time of general reductions in social expenditure and which, on the other hand, could justify its own existence. Hence the constant talk, along with other Western countries, of "peace missions" and "humanitarian forces". Hence, also, the most expensive publicity campaign in the history of the Spanish Armed Forces in order to recruit soldiers for the professional army. Nevertheless, the figures speak for themselves: in the last draft, despite the significant reduction in entrance requirements for the new army, only 1.2 applications were made per available place. This more than ever opens the door to failure for the professionalization process.

As for the MOC, whether professionalization fails or is simply achieved with great difficulty, we will continue to use disobedience to denounce the injustices that the armed forces support in the world by defending the interests of the richest whilst condemning to poverty more than 80% of the world's population. We will continue to push history towards a future of peace in which armies have no place.

KEM-MOC (Movement of Conscientious Objection, Basque Country)