Home » The geopolitical reasons why Spain can’t afford to lose Catalonia

The geopolitical reasons why Spain can’t afford to lose Catalonia

Catalonia and the Basque Country are critical to Spain's national security
Catalonia and the Basque Country are critical to Spain’s national security

Catalonia is critical to Spain’s national security for geopolitical reasons that are never mentioned, but which are blindingly obvious if you just look at a map.

As you can see from the map above, Catalonia and the Basque Country are the GATEWAYS to Spain (circled in red), because the rest of Spain’s European border is protected / isolated by the Pyrenees mountain range. Armies moving in and out of Spain by land have always had to pass through on or other of them, and all the country’s land-based supply lines to Europe run through these two gateway regions.

Basic geopolitical analysis shows that Spain can not afford to lose Catalonia and the Basque Country for reasons of defence, supply, and national security. If Catalonia is allowed to break away from Spain, the Basques will be right behind them.


It’s no surprise that all the invasions by land in the history of the Iberian peninsula have come through one or other of these regions (Napoleon invaded through the Basque Country). The Pyrenees are a natural defensive barrier, and it’s much easier to defend Spain from attack at the Pyrenees than hundreds of kilometers inside the Iberian peninsula. We are all friends in the EU now, but will we always be? European history is full of warfare between neighbouring states. Let’s hope we’ve left that all behind, but can a national leader assume that Spain will always be safe from attack, and willingly give up control of the country’s critical points of defence?


All of Spain’s land-based supply lines run through Catalonia and the Basque Country. These supply lines are critical to the country’s trade and ability to feed and provide for itself. If Catalonia and the Basque Country were independent and hostile to Spain, they could bring the country to its knees in a matter of weeks.

National security

You only have to glance at a map to see that Catalonia and the Basque Country are critical to Spain’s national security. The only circumstance in which a country would give up control of such regions is after military defeat, which is exactly how Spain lost control of Gibraltar, another strategic point. Would any big power like the USA, China, the UK, France, Germany or Russia willingly give up control over gateway regions critical to national security? No chance. An axiom of international relations is you don’t give up gateways to your heartland without a fight.

What about Scotland then? Well, the only reason Cameron allowed the Scottish referendum was because it’s not critical to British national security, so he could afford to take the chance with a referendum. If Scotland was in the home counties, sitting on all the UK’s strategic defence and supply lines, and Westminster was in the north, you can be sure that no UK leader would ever open the door to Scottish independence.

For geopolitical reasons it’s obvious that Spain cannot afford to lose the gateway regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country. There’s a saying in Catalan ‘El que no pot ser, no pot ser i a mes, es impossible’ which translates as ‘what cannot be cannot be, and anyway it’s impossible’.

SPI Member Comments

4 thoughts on “The geopolitical reasons why Spain can’t afford to lose Catalonia

  • Mark, a point well made. Nobody else on any medium I have followed has mentioned national security in this way. Why has Madrid not bigged this up?

    It seems to be the Iberian elephant in the room.

    I am surprised at what seems to be resounding silence in Guipuzcoa. Keeping their powder dry?

    Last week, using the western corridor into Spain, I happened to drive past the railway station at Hendeye where Hitler and Franco had their only meeting. Their only other option would have been at Le Perthus, in your easterly circle.

    If Hitler had not gone for Russia, he surely would have had the Panzer divisions racing through your circles. Gibralter would have been lost, the Med becoming a NAZI lake, north Africa lost, the way to the Mid Eastern oilfields opened up …

    I think the only vocal supporter of Catalonian independence of international stature, Vladimir Putin, has grasped your point but is keeping his reasoning to himself. It’s a point that won’t have been lost in the Pentagon and SHAPE, tho’.

    • Mark Stücklin says:

      Hi Chris, yes, it’s odd that nobody else has brought it up. I haven’t seen it mentioned once in all the months and millions of words and ink spilt on this drama. But like you say, you can be sure that it hasn’t escaped Vlad’s attention, Churchill would have spotted it straight away, as would have Guderian and Rommel. You have to assume that strategic thinkers in Madrid have always known about it, though it’s curious that they haven’t made more of it. Perhaps Madrid is wary of giving the impression it sees Catalonia as ‘territory’, or talk about anything military, for obvious reasons.

  • Given my disappointment with politicians and actions on both sides of this issue, I am expecting the ‘worst of all worlds’ outcome.

    I suppose that those who are more optimistic than me will see that in a few months time, in real estate it will again be a buyer’s market in Barcelona.

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