Country Overview: Spain


By Ms. Nora Ljubojevic Lozano, Analyst, IB Consultancy, The Netherlands

Security Situation Overview

Spain, a main connecting point between the EU and the Sahel regions, remains a staunch supporter of NATO and EU institutions, with Madrid scheduled as the location for the next NATO summit in June 2022. With its strategically located Canary Islands, the autonomous towns of Ceuta and Melilla, and the Gibraltar Strait, it has traditionally navigated tensions at its borders through diplomatic means and by resorting to the international fora with different degrees of success. Once the 8th largest economy in the world, a key negotiator in Latin America and a very close ally of the US, the country now enjoys a more modest international profile and GDP size (ranking 14th in the GDP global rankings). For instance, the US forces withdrew from their airbase for rapid deployment, located in Moron de la Frontera (Seville), to move to Sigonella (Sicily), with the expectation of basing more military units in the Maghreb area. Nevertheless, Spain oversees the Combined Air Operations Centre Torrejón that controls NATO airspace in the southern half of Europe and contributes a whole range of military capabilities to the Alliance. It also counts on excellent counter terror operations units which developed expertise due to the long-standing threat posed by the terrorist group ETA. Burdened for decades by the extremely painful terror attacks by ETA and other Islamist networks, the Spanish security infrastructure (including the National Intelligence Center – CNI) has learned important lessons on crisis management and preparedness.

The 2021 National Security Strategy lists its current pressing scenarios, featuring the risk of cyberattacks, attacks on critical infrastructure and, the energetic vulnerability (further aggravated by the recent Algerian Moroccan tensions) at the top of this list. In terms of internal threats with a potential to destabilize the country, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic (GDP 10% decrease in 2020), higher inflation than in the rest of the Eurozone area (9.8% year-on-year rate in March), high unemployment rate (12.6%, double the average of the OECD countries, as well as a 30% youth unemployment rate), recent increases in both corporate taxes and personal income taxes and a record high price of electricity (reaching 545 euros per MWTh) are aspects worth noting, as these elements increase the country’s vulnerability in the event of a global recession.

The unemployment rate soared as the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the country, increasing the number of unemployed citizens by around 800,000. Despite the fact that the number of unemployed people has lowered by almost 700,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, the economic scenario still looks bleak as GDP only increased by 5.1% in 2021 after a shocking 10% contraction in 2020. The precarity of the job market which goes hand in hand with a worrisome inflation rate will also remain a considerable problem in the short and medium term.

CBRNe Foundations

Spain has signed and ratified some relevant international treaties in the domain of CBRN, mostly during the 1990s such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Convention on Chemical Weapons, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Convention on Certain conventional Weapons, the Convention on for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the Partial Test Ban Treaty, and the Treaty on Open Skies and the Seabed Arms Control Treaty. Additionally, it is part of the Australia Group and participates in the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) NATO program.

Spain is not part yet of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), despite an interim agreement struck in 2018 between the left-wing governmental coalition groups led by Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez and, a 89% citizen support for signing the TPNW, as claimed on a ICAN’s January 2021 survey. In fact, the country has consistently voted against an annual UN General Assembly resolution since 2018 that welcomes the adoption of the treaty and calls upon all states to sign, ratify, or accede to it “at the earliest possible date”.

Overview of CBRNe and IED Stakeholders

Dependent on the Ministry of Interior, the Spanish National Police’s CBRNe Unit is made up of highly specialized National Police technicians and works in peripheral groups scattered throughout the national territory, while well-established links to other groups and the Central Unit enhance interoperability. The CBRNe Unit has dealt with an extensive record of CBRNe episodes (over 400,000 cases) and is continuously updated on new procedures and resources.

Regarding their C-IED/EOD capacity, the Police counts on its TEDAX department, tasked with detecting explosive artifacts and every CBRN agent, as well as collecting, transporting and analyzing mechanisms and remnants of those artifacts/substances. Police forces from the autonomous communities of Basque Country and Catalonia, the Ertzaintza and Mossos d’Esquadra, also developed internal structures similar to those at TEDAX. Also dependent on the Ministry of Interior is the National Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), counting on the SEDEX NRBQ, a CBRN defense and explosives deactivation service, with members specialized in detection, neutralization and deactivation of such threats as well as a subsoil reconnaissance unit (URS) in charge of monitoring the safety and security of the subterranean infrastructure. The SEDEX integrates a training center, an operative unit on Explosives Deactivation (UCODEX), and two units for the deactivation and retrieval of explosive devices on a provincial scale (GEDEX, EBYL).

It also has an Arms, Explosives and Security leadership section that plans, inspects and oversees activities listed under its competences on arms, explosives, pyrotechnical items, and munitions. Its capabilities can also have a more administrative nature, updating the National Arms Register/listing that keeps arms and explosives users informed of any changes to their licenses.

Under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence, the Spanish Army 1st CBRN Regiment, made up of 249 military officers, operates with VAMTAC (high mobility tactical vehicle) reconnaissance vehicles, and BMR 6×6 armored vehicles suitably adapted for the mission with Sampling and Identification of Biological, Chemical and Radiological Agents (SIBCRA) Equipment. Additionally, this highly specialized Army unit recently acquired Indra’s mobile chemical laboratory, which offers a space with negative pressure that allows safe sample collection and analysis, along with an integrated communications system allowing the coordination with the Marañosa institute of technology’s central chemical weapons laboratory.

Also belonging to the army and reporting to the JEMACON, there is a specific Unit to counter IED (CENCIED) threats, which coordinates and promotes the betterment of the Spanish capacity to fight against these devices. It also liaises the C-IED Center of Excellence (CoE C-IED) with the intelligence services (CNI) and with the FCSE (State Security Forces). It also supports the Ministry of Defence in its responsibilities derived from international commitments. Naval warships integrate a CBRN protection system (COLPRO) that prevents contamination, as it has a contamination control area that allows for the entrance and exit of CBRN agents to a toxic free area through airlocks and decontamination showers. The Air Forces count on an Aerial Deployment support squad (EADA) that provides support to the Air Forces operating within the national territory by recognizing and decontaminating CBN threats.

Dependent on the ministry of Defense, there is also the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) and, specifically, its GIETMA division (Technological and environmental emergencies intervention group). GIETMA officials receive CBRN warfare training on a regular basis. It possesses a decontamination of sensitive material unit, NRBQ Velire vehicles to perform CBR detection, sampling and identification missions, as well as a staff decontamination unit, a NRBQ van and, a station to treat contaminated waters. The unmatched characteristics on a European scale of its mobile laboratory, offering both advanced field-testing capabilities and communication technology to increase interoperability, were noticed in the joint trainings for the week-long CBRN exercise Ocean Response back in 2016. To liaise with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and to implement the country’s obligations to it, Spain created in 1997 a National Authority for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (ANPAQ). It is a decision-making body headed by the subsecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and made up of members from nine different ministries (e.g., industry, economics, interior, health, among others). On another note, the contact point for implementing key provisions of the UN Resolution 1540 and National Action Plans in coordination with the UN’s 1540 Committee is the Chemical and Conventional Disarmament section within the Directorate-General of Foreign and Security Policy of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the country’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

In the domain of biological threats, Spain has set protocols on bacteriological emergencies in the event of an anthrax or smallpox attack by jihadist terrorists, as the government suggested back in 2015, claiming that there are available reserves of the vaccine against smallpox. Such protocol would encompass the Ministry of Health and the state security forces. Furthermore, there are around 16 P3-grade labs, specialized in the clinical diagnosis and research of lethal diseases. In the EU context, Spain will harbor part of the EU’s decontamination reserve together with Germany and Croatia, which aims at stockpiling vaccines, equipment, and medicines, to tackle any possible CBRN threats.


Defence expenditure as a share of GDP has slightly increased since 2019, reaching 1.03% in 2021. Nevertheless, defence expenditure as a share of the public budget has decreased over the decades, reaching a record low in both 2016 and 2020 (1.01%).

Spain ranks 7th in the list of top NATO countries with the highest defense expenditure by total US$, and the country recently pledged to gradually increase its defence budget close to 2% of its GDP as a result of NATO requests in the context of the war in Ukraine.

In 2020, the main export destination for Spanish defence supplies? were NATO countries (2,56 bn euros), most notably the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Out of the NATO sphere: Australia (256 million euros), Singapore, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are worth mentioning. In 2020. Spain ranked 7th in the arms export sales market, with a 3.2% global share equivalent to 3.600 million euros.

The US Trade Department considers the Spanish aerospace industry (5th in Europe in terms of turnover and 8th in the world) to be highly advanced, characterized by a significant investment in R&D (11% of the companies’ annual turnover), military transportation and special mission aircrafts. Its total market size has steadily been growing since 2019.


The country’s CBRN defense capability on a national scale includes the CBRN Army’s Training Center located in Hoyo de Manzanares (Madrid), with a minimum 12h training to acquire operational capabilities. It has two separate training courses: one to instruct personnel from the military institutions such as UME staff, and another for first responders such as firefighters, state security forces and health workers. The Training Center launched an international training course on prehospital care in the context of chemical threats that was attended by Ukrainian military forces back in 2015.

Also based in Spain is the Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence (C-IED CoE) located in Hoyo de Manzanares (Madrid), which offers a wide array of courses on procedural drills for military, engineers, law enforcement and intelligence officials.

Programs and Joint Operations/Exercises in the field of CBRNe

On a national scale and concerning explosive threats, the police’s TEDAX body has participated in joint trainings with pertinent Spanish army experts. The Civil Guard’s National College for Civil Protection (ENPC) and Center for explosive deactivation trainings (CADEX), based in Valdemoro, instruct training courses on CBRN threats that are attended by the CBRN branch of the Military Defence college, the Health’s Directorate of the of the ground forces, the Military Pharmacy’s Centre, the Nuclear Security Council, the Microbiology Centre from Carlos III Health Institute, the ANPAQ, the SUMMA112 (Service of urgent medical care), member of the Politécnica University of Madrid, National Center of Radiopathology, the National company for Radioactive waste (ENRESA), and from the Civil Guard’s own Directorate General for Civil Protection and Emergencies.

On an international scale, Spain has an active role in the Biological Equipment Development and Enhancement Programme (BIODEP) that belongs to the European Defense Agency (EDA). The UME participates in annual GAMMA Series exercises along with US Navy Sailors from Task Force 68, focused on disaster response. Moreover, 300 Spanish troops conducted decontamination drills in conjunction with CBRN specialists at Camp Ādaži in 2017 and 2018 as part of NATO’s eFP Battle Group Latvia. The Civil Guard’s CADEX center has also trained Ecuador’s Rescue and Intervention Group (GIR) on explosive ordnance disposal techniques such as deactivation and material collection. Recently, Spain has hosted the March 2022 NATO training on chemical and bacteriological weapons to enhance interoperability in its Rota base, most likely participating in the forthcoming drills (Canada, France, US and Turkey) under the authority of the SHAPE.

It also participated in the Cold response NATO 2022 training in Norway and, in 2021, in two NATO multinational high visibility projects, one to procure CBRN protection equipment and other to provide a Network of CBRN defence facilities. This last project is aimed at establishing a framework allowing 10 NATO allies to share and make use of national CBRN defence facilities, like training sites and biological laboratories, to complement each other’s capabilities, enhancing their preparedness for future CBRN contingencies. The country will most likely participate in NATO’s CBRN Defence Task Force, a NATO deployable military asset that consists of the CBRN Defence Battalion and the CBRN Joint Assessment Team. Against this backdrop and, considering the country’s expertise in operational contexts, it is safe to say that the country will remain an active and reliable member in the years to come.


The country’s supportive role to its international partners is expected to continue, especially amid a delicate international context caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The country, and in general the EU’s security landscape – namely, its energy, food security and relations with the US – could be negatively affected depending on the outcome of the Ukrainian war and the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. Regarding CBRNe threat capabilities, the country continues to be a solid partner to its like-minded allies, and the pledges to increase its defence budget will most likely help to advance its CBRNe infrastructure and standards. From a realist, cost-benefit approach, whether Spain can unlock its power of influence in the international arena by showcasing its excellent human resources and preparedness in the defence and CBRNe fields remains a big ask.

About the Author:

Nora Ljubojevic is an Analyst at IB Consultancy. Her prior work experience includes the EU Delegation to the UN in New York, the Council of Europe, the Centre for European Policy in Belgrade and the Human Rights Foundation. She holds an MLitt in Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia security studies from the University of St. Andrews and a BA in Political Science from the Complutense University of Madrid.

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