Spain urges NATO to keep its focus on security challenges in the south

Spain has called on NATO not to neglect its southern flank, even as the military alliance responds to the crisis in Ukraine by deploying forces in Central Europe and the Black Sea.

Speaking ahead of a summit in Madrid to modernize the alliance’s strategy in June, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albarez said NATO must look south and east to potential security threats.

The issue is particularly acute for Spain, which depends on Algeria for gas supplies and Morocco to help control illegal migration, while remaining deeply concerned about lawlessness and violent Islamist movements in the Sahel region south of those countries.

“The Mediterranean, the Maghreb, the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa are vital for NATO and for Europe,” Albarez told the Financial Times. “We are talking about a 360-degree approach by NATO [to respond to threats] but without content it will only be a slogan. . . NATO needs to think about its role. “

The NATO summit, hosted by Spain in June, aims to update the alliance’s strategic concept, which sets out its main security tasks and challenges, but has not been revised since 2010.

Albarez highlighted the problems in the Sahel, where France decided last year to halve the number of its troops fighting Islamist fighters. “Jihadism still exists, as does all forms of illicit trafficking: weapons, people, drugs,” he said. “He is extremely fragile. We are seeing more and more military regimes in the Sahel, ”apparently referring to the recent coups in Burkina Faso and Mali.

He called on NATO to consider greater commitment to the region – through political dialogue, police and army training and assistance with coastal patrols – while stressing that Spain is contributing to the alliance’s response to the crisis in Ukraine. Madrid sent the frigate to the Black Sea, despite disagreements in the ruling coalition of the radical left-wing Podemos party.

The Spanish minister also said tensions over Ukraine would not jeopardize his country’s energy supplies, as Algeria, not Russia, is its dominant gas supplier.

But dependence on Algerian gas has become a source of concern in Madrid, largely due to North Africa’s deteriorating ties with neighboring Morocco, which severed diplomatic ties in August. Algeria subsequently shut down a gas pipeline delivering Spain through Morocco.

Albarez reiterated the commitments he said he made during a trip to Algeria last year to maintain Spain’s supply through a smaller pipeline that connects the two countries directly – and, if necessary, more expensive liquefied natural gas. , transported by ships. “Gas supplies from Algeria to Spain are fully guaranteed,” he said, while declining to provide such price guarantees.

High energy costs have been one of the most sensitive political issues in Spain over the past 12 months, prompting the government to take urgent measures such as tax breaks and contingencies in an effort to keep prices affordable.

The foreign minister also expressed hope for improved relations with Morocco after a crisis last April in which Rabat allowed thousands of migrants to enter Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta.

When he took office last July, Albarez said one of his goals was to strengthen ties with “our great neighbor and friend.”

But despite King Mohammed VI’s warm speech shortly afterwards, Rabat signaled that he wanted more “clarity” from Spain on the disputed area of ​​Western Sahara, a desert region over which Morocco claims sovereignty. Karima Benjaic, Morocco’s ambassador to Spain, did not return to Madrid after being recalled in May.

“The tensions we had in April and May have passed,” Albarez said. “It simply came to our notice then. But, of course, I have more ambitions for our relationship. “

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