The British Navy is known worldwide as the Royal Navy and its ships have the initials HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) in front of their names, just like those of the Swedish Navy. The armies of Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands are called royal, such as those of Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Jordan. Spain is one of the few monarchies that does not present its Armed Forces as an attribute of the King, although the Army, the Air Force and the Navy include a crown on their shields and the general officers – only they – have crowns. your currencies. And it is that the Army that Juan Carlos I inherited in 1975 was not monarchical, but Francoist, and the loyalty of the military to the new head of State was a mandate from the dictator in his will.
Article 62 of the Constitution grants the King the “supreme command of the Armed Forces”, an ambiguous term because, although the Monarch is captain general of the three armies in active service, he is not part of the chain of command and his authority is “symbolic, representative , honorific ”, in the words of Santiago Casajús, a robed colonel in the reserve.
The only time that Juan Carlos I exercised that command was on 23-F. He dressed in uniform and called one by one the highest military commanders, including Jaime Milans del Bosch, who had risen in Valencia, to order them not to second the coup. Most of them listened to him but, as Lieutenant General Guillermo Quintana Lacaci would later recognize, they would also have obeyed him if he had ordered otherwise.
Did the King go overboard by assuming prerogatives that did not correspond to him? Nobody reproached him. Among other reasons, because some of those comrades would not have paid the slightest attention to the legitimate government: the commission of undersecretaries, chaired by Francisco Laína, while the entire Executive was kidnapped in Congress. “What should I have done? Stand idly by? ”Asks historian Juan Francisco Fuentes, author of February 23, 1981: the coup that ended all coups (Taurus, 2020), who emphasizes that the transition was so complex that it was “almost a miracle” that it went well, in the words of the trade unionist Marcelino Camacho.
The Constitution already established that “the Government directs the military administration and the defense of the State” and that the acts of the King, including his command over the armies, must be countersigned by the president or the competent minister to be valid. Despite this, they wanted to make it clearer by modifying the Law of Basic Criteria for National Defense in 1984. The article that cited the King was not touched upon, but that of the Prime Minister was expanded underlining that it is his responsibility to “order, coordinate and direct the actions of the Armed Forces.” For its part, the Joint Chiefs of Staff went from being “the highest collegiate body in the military chain of command” to a mere “military advisory body for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense.”
Legally there was no longer the slightest doubt, but for almost a decade the theory of military autonomy continued to be nurtured. Its defenders, military and civil, argued that the Armed Forces are an institution of the State that depends directly on the King, without the intermediation of the Government. The fact that they are mentioned in the preliminary title of the Constitution and not the fourth, which deals with the Government and the State Administration, gave rise to the idea that they are not part of it or, at least, not at the same level. than the rest.
Juan Carlos I always cultivated a special relationship with the military. As has his son, Felipe VI. In addition to their regular visits to units and maneuvers, hearings with military commanders are frequent and they try not to miss the meetings held by their respective promotions: XIV (Juan Carlos) and XLIV (Felipe) of the General Academy of Zaragoza; and their equivalents in San Javier (Air) and Marín (Armada). The King presides, when he attends its meetings, the National Defense Council, the highest advisory body to the president; and the military orders of San Fernando and San Hermenegildo, which bear the adjective real in its name. He chooses the head of his Military Quarter (a position of lieutenant general or admiral, in which the three armies take turns), as well as the other high positions of his House; and it has the Royal Guard, a regiment of 1,500 soldiers whose mission is to honor the Head of State, the Royal Family and foreign leaders who visit Spain. Every January 6, since the time of Carlos III, the King congratulates the troops on Military Easter, the anniversary of the recovery of the island of Menorca from the English.
In his first years of reign, Juan Carlos I had great weight in the appointments in Defense. The election of Eduardo Serra as the first holder of the portfolio with José María Aznar is attributed to him, to the detriment of Rafael Arias-Salgado, but his influence was declining and in the end was limited to the courtesy, not always complimented, of giving him the names of the chosen ones, which allowed the Monarch to anticipate congratulating them. “The presidents, who came to office quite inexperienced in defense, initially heeded the King’s suggestions to ingratiate themselves with him, but later they formed their own criteria,” recalls a former minister of the branch.
Juan Carlos knew how to move to achieve his goals. Armed Forces Day 2008 was celebrated in Zaragoza and the then Minister of Defense, Carme Chacón, on maternity leave, was replaced by the Minister of the Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. The King saw the opportunity to instruct the head of the military leadership, Félix Sanz, to convince Rubalcaba to renounce his idea of removing future officers of the Civil Guard from the Academy of Zaragoza, where they shared studies with the military. Judging by subsequent events, he succeeded.
Letters from the retired
Felipe VI is not like his father. By character, age and training, his relationship with the military is far from the compadreo that characterized Juan Carlos I. However, the 39 retired commanders of the XIX promotion of the Air Academy who, on November 10, addressed him the letter who opened fire on a succession of military missives and manifestos against what they described as “social-communist government”, they did so by appealing to the status of “Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces” of the addressee. The Royal House limited itself to transferring the letter to the competent Ministry, Defense, without acknowledging receipt, as there was no sender; although a few words from the King in his Christmas Eve speech (“we sincerely thank you for all the expressions of affection and support that you have given us this year”) could give the wrong impression that he accepted this type of adhesion.
Defense experts assure that only from bad faith can some soldiers still ignore that the role of the King is institutional and that the effective direction of the Armed Forces corresponds to the Government. But Colonel Casajús warns that the expression Supreme Command it has very strong connotations in the military world. “If today the Spanish military were asked who their commander-in-chief is, I am afraid that many would not give the correct answer: the president. And that is not due to ideology, but rather due to a lack of training on the constitutional role of the Armed Forces ”. The British Navy is called the Royal Navy and the Air Force, the Royal Air Force, but no one doubts that their commander-in-chief in World War II was Winston Churchill and not King George.
The successor of Felipe VI will be a woman, Princess Leonor. The House of the King has not yet revealed if, like his father and grandfather, he will go through the military academies. That decision will mark its relationship with the Armed Forces of the late 21st century.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.