For those concerned about a military build-up in Europe, most eyes have been on eastern Europe and the Baltic states. NATO expansion, new bases and intensified exercises have proceeded there apace, but there are also military developments elsewhere in Europe, with a different strategic orientation.
In recent weeks, the Spanish government has agreed to allow the US to have a permanent military presence at the Morón de la Frontera Air Base near Seville. Currently around 850 US troops are stationed there, on the basis of a bilateral agreement originally signed in 1988, but this can now be increased to a possible 3,000 troops, with 2,200 US marines due to arrive at the base. There will also be an increase in military aircraft from 14 to a possible 40.
The US presence at the base has been increasing incrementally. For many years no US troops were actually stationed there, but following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012, US troops arrived in April 2013. Then last October the US asked to use this base, together with the Rota naval base, also in Andalusia, as a stopover point for US missions relating to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. Rota will also receive two additional destroyers equipped with the Aegis radar system, bringing the total to four. These are part of the US/NATO missile defence system – a key factor in the deterioration of western relations with Russia. It is widely understood to provide the US with the opportunity to attack Russia without fear of retaliation.
But as well as its implications for Europe, this development has to be understood as part of the US orientation towards Africa, where it now has a military presence in Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. There is a strong economic imperative motivating US actions too – China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner and the US and former European colonial powers are not happy that they have been surpassed.
The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister claims that this deployment of a US rapid reaction force in Spain will contribute to stability, whether in Africa, Europe or the Middle East. But frankly, whether it’s the jumping off point for intervention in Africa, or poised to further jeopardise relations with Russia, it’s hard to understand this as anything other than an increasing militarisation of Europe which is unwelcome and dangerous. Of course the Deputy PM attempted to give the decision a positive economic spin, saying that US investment at the base will boost the local economy, but that will be small comfort when we reap the results of this in the shape of further war and military intervention – and the deaths that will result.