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''Progressive'' Spanish Army Recruits Women And Foreigners

By Sinikka Tarvainen     Apr 12, 2001 in Technology
MADRID (dpa) - By 2003 Spain is set to have a fine new professional armed forces with high-tech equipment and trained for European peace missions. Only one thing is missing: the soldiers.

Lack of willing recruits has become such a problem that the military now seems prepared to take all comers: women, foreigners, even men with low intelligence quotients.

Following the example of several other Western European countries, the Spanish armed forces are to become entirely professional in two years' time. They are to have 100,000 soldiers, but have not been able to recruit more than 76,000 so far.

The army has long had a poor reputation in Spain, where regionalist movements detract from a sense of nationalism and the image of the army was tarnished by the iron-fist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1939-75).

Soldiers are relatively badly paid, and the numbers of consciencious objectors are among the highest in the world.

The professional armed forces have nothing to do with the hated old "mili" or military service, Defence Minister Federico Trillo says, but publicity campaigns and promises of pay raises have failed to fill the ranks.

For the time being, the armed forces have been "saved" by women who began joining in 1992 and whose presence has soared, now making up 7.8 per cent of personnel.

Women pilot planes, drive tanks, parachute and have even joined the tough elite unit known as the Legion. Spain is expected to have its first female generals within 15 years.

The Defence Ministry is trying to make the best of the female resource, establishing nursery facilities at barracks and helping pregnant and breast-feeding soldiers gain access to non-fighting jobs.

It is estimated that women could make up half of army personnel by 2025 - a calculation which shocks some old army veterans. The ministry has even lowered requirements for soldiers, so as to get more men to join.

The required intelligence quotient has been slashed from 90 to 70, prompting warnings that Spain was about to have an "army of illiterates" who barely knew how to tie their shoelaces.

Experts have replied that all kinds of men have always served in the world's armies, and that "stupid" men could even make better soldiers because they obeyed orders to the letter.

The ministry is now planning to recruit Spaniards living abroad and Spanish-speaking Latin American immigrants who could thus gain easier access to Spanish nationality. The numbers of foreigners would be limited to 10 per cent of the crew on navy ships and to 30 per cent in the Legion.

In the attempt to fill its ranks, the conservative and macho institution has suddenly become a champion of the rights of women and immigrants.

A defence official who criticized women's physical performance was dismissed on the spot, and the plan to recruit immigrants was presented as a "progressive" measure to integrate them into Spanish society.

On a deeper level, the very concept of the army appears to be changing. Instead of men fighting for God, king and the fatherland, it will now be soldiers of both sexes and different nationalities defending international peace.

Around 3,000 Spaniards - men and women - have already taken part in international peace operations in places such as Bosnia over the last decade.

The foreign soldiers will not even swear an oath to the Spanish flag, but only an "oath of fidelity". General Franco is probably turning in his grave.
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