How Australia can be an example of a middle power for Spain
In today's multipolar world, the positioning of countries categorised as middle powers is becoming increasingly important. Since ancient times, attempts have been made to define what a middle power is, and depending on the tradition on which we base it, it will be defined in one way or another. However, we can say that a middle power is a country with a certain economic, political and military capacity that seeks alliances with other countries or superpowers to guarantee its security and reputation and that can be differentiated by the focus of its foreign policy on a particular activity or issue that distinguishes it from other countries.
Spain has been characterised in recent history as one of them, but its actions have not demonstrated this. It is therefore important that Spain, which features in similar country rankings to Australia as for example in the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2021 or as part of G20, take note of how Canberra has managed to make its voice heard in the world. This is because Australia is a clear example of how a middle power has adapted to the political circumstances around it and has achieved great influence both in its region and globally, leading political initiatives that allowed it to put its strategic interests to the fore, and creating a very positive image of the country in the eyes of others.
The case of Spain is paradigmatic, as there are many similarities with the country in the Oceania region. Some of them are Spain's great dependence on the United States in security matters, its shared maritime border with Muslim-majority countries with which it has a complex relationship. On the one hand, Australia has had diplomatic conflicts with Indonesia over the secession of East Timor, the intelligence agency's spying on the Indonesian president and the fight against terrorism. Spain, on the other hand, has a dispute with Morocco over Western Sahara, and bilateral relations are not at their best after the diplomatic crisis of summer 2021.
In addition, the fact that migratory problems are the order of the day, and its firm commitment to multilateralism, peace missions, and cooperation as a way of standing out in international organisations. It is true that Spain is a member of two central international institutions, the European Union and NATO, but its performance in these institutions and at the global level is below its weight, something that is recognised in Spain's Foreign Action Strategy.
Madrid can therefore look to the Australian case to punch above its weight. The main objective of Spain’s foreign policy should be raising the profile of good citizenship. Taking into account the country's breeding ground as one of the most valued in the defence of equality, human rights, climate change or defence of democracy, which are values and initiatives shared by both Spanish society and the political class. In that light,the diplomatic initiative carried out in the 1990s by Australia can be applied to Spain.
Referring earlier to diplomatic initiative, Madrid needs to be much more assertive in the institutions of which it is a member, especially in the EU and NATO. For instance, Canberra has used institutions such as ASEAN to play a leading role and ensure that its interests were safeguarded. If Spain wants the same to occur, it will need to play a co-leadership role in the debates that these two institutions will face. Especially in the EU, where the balance between economic and strategic interests is becoming increasingly complex, as in the case of relations with China, and where the political space left by Brexit has yet to be filled. Madrid must be able to move away from this characterisation as a dependent middle power, taking a leading role in the development of European defence policy while at the same time fulfilling its NATO commitments, which means increasing defence spending to 2% of GDP.
On the other hand, if they have been aware of anything in Australia, it has been the need to build good multilateral and bilateral relations, using the economic benefit to further deepen the political framework. Madrid has the advantage of a shared history with the Latin American region and can act as a link between it and the EU. Relations with the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean are more complex, but it is imperative that Madrid adopts a more active position in diplomatic relations with these countries, as the safeguarding of the country's strategic interests depends on it.
Another point to highlight, as noted by the Elcano Royal Institute, Spain's commercial and political relations with the countries of Asia are less extensive, due to a certain extent to their geographical remoteness. However, Spain can benefit from the use of multilateral forums such as the G20 or the UN to strengthen relations and to get closer to this region, as Australia did with other regions such as the Middle East.
Another characteristic that these two middle powers share is the alliance with the United States. Spanish relations with Washington have been favoured by Joe Biden's electoral victory, the main objective being the renewal of the 1988 Agreement, an opportunity to give the agreement and the relationship a strategic and geopolitical sense that the relationship has not had until now. In this relationship, Madrid should look at the mistakes made by Canberra and try to implement a pact between allies rather than subordinates, bearing in mind the need to avoid being a dependent middle power.
Finally, if Australia has been able to carry out various successful policy initiatives in foreign policy, it has been because of its sustained economic growth and stability in the political line of the country's objectives. This is something that Madrid will have to take into account when it comes to managing the European funds that will sustain the country's economic recovery, and when it comes to reducing the country's political polarity and strengthening state policies.