Members of the Armed Forces setting up a pavilion at Ifema for the treatment of Covid-19 [Defence].
COMMENTARY / Salvador Sánchez Tapia*
The Spanish government's declaration of a state of alarm on 15 March as an instrument to fight the spread of COVID 19 has brought with it the not very usual image of soldiers of the Armed Forces (FAS) operating in major cities and roads throughout Spain to cooperate in the fight against the virus.
For most Spaniards, the presence of military units carrying out their missions on public roads is a rarity to which they are not accustomed, with the exception of the relatively frequent activity of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) in support of civil society, which is well known to a public that, in general, values it very positively.
Apart from these performances, it can be said that the image of uniformed soldiers working directly in front of the public is not a common one. This subject of support is not, however, a novelty, and responds to a long tradition of social attendance lent by the military institution to its fellow citizens when called upon to do so.
Several elements in our recent history have contributed to producing what seems to be a certain distancing between Spaniards and their Armed Forces. These include the shift in the Armed Forces' missions abroad with the birth of the democratic regime in 1975; the long years of the fight against ETA terrorism, which led Spain's soldiers to hide their military status from the public in order to safeguard their security; the progressive reduction in the size of the Armed Forces, which eliminated many of the provincial garrisons maintained by the Armies; and the end of military service, which ended up making the Armed Forces unknown to their citizens.
This detachment, if it has existed or does exist, has been one-way, for even at times when the military institution may have been most overlooked, soldiers have remained close to their fellow citizens, from whom they come, and whom they serve, supporting them in the most difficult situations. Numerous examples testify to the military's long record of service to the citizenry. To corroborate this statement, it is sufficient to cite cases such as the military support in the floods in Valencia in 1957; Operation "Alazán", carried out in 1981 in support of the State Security Forces and Corps in their fight against ETA terrorism, sealing the Franco-Spanish border; Operation "Centinela Gallego", in which Army units have been monitoring the Galician mountains for years to prevent forest fires; the fight against the spread of camalote in the Guadiana River; and the construction of mobile bridges in numerous towns throughout Spain, such as Montblanc, to restore communications after violent meteorological phenomena had interrupted them.
On this occasion, it was the declaration of the state of alarm that brought the Armed Forces to the forefront of public attention. Given the novelty of this intervention, it seems appropriate, at this point, to make a reference letter to the rationale behind the decision of employment of the military instrument, and to explain what can and cannot be expected from the actions of the Armed Forces in this subject situation.
The coronavirus pandemic sample clearly demonstrates the reality that the security challenges facing modern societies require a cooperative response multidisciplinary, in which all the forces of society participate, contributing their particular capabilities to produce the synergy required to solve a crisis. The Armed Forces cannot remain outside this effort, and must act on an equal footing with other public and private actors. At times, when the crisis is of a military nature, they will do so by leading the effort; at others, they will assume a support function for other actors, which they will carry out without seeking any leading role subject .
In the specific case of this crisis, the contribution of the Armed Forces to the effort by deploying resources responds not merely to an intention to graphically capture this reality, but also to the recognition that the crisis will be long, that it will require the cooperation of all, and that the solution requires the contribution of resources beyond the ordinary ones.
The main mission of the Armed Forces is the military defence of Spain against external threats. From this mission derives its organisation, its preparation, its dimensions, and the equipment and armament that equips it, optimised, within the possibilities of the Nation's human and material resources, and from agreement with the will of the Spanish people, to respond to the demands of this mission, which is its true raison d'être .
This does not mean that armies cannot and should not carry out other missions, which they will carry out to the best of their abilities. agreement In fact, from a legal point of view, military participation in the coronavirus crisis is reasonable if one takes into account that, according to the Organic Law on National Defence, one of the missions of the armed forces is to "preserve, together with State institutions and public administrations, the security and well-being of citizens in cases of serious risk, catastrophe, calamity or other public needs, in accordance with the provisions of current legislation" .
The Royal Decree declaring the state of alarm leaves no doubt as to the legislator's intention to involve the Armed Forces in the resolution of the crisis, since Article 4 establishes the Minister of Defence as one of the competent authorities delegated by the President of the Government for the coordinated management of the crisis, and because it specifically and explicitly empowers these authorities to require the action of the Armed Forces in tasks that guarantee the effective fulfilment of the measures included in the decree .
By virtue of the provisions of the Law of the Military degree program , when a state of alarm is declared, the members of the Armed Forces are invested as "agents of the authority" with regard to the tasks set out in the decree of declaration, which brings them closer to the functions of subject police. agreement Specifically, and in accordance with Article 5.2 of the decree, this status empowers them to "carry out checks on people, goods, vehicles, premises and establishments that are necessary to verify and, where appropriate, prevent the services and activities suspended in this royal decree from being carried out, except for those expressly exempted". To this end, "they may issue the necessary orders and prohibitions and fail the activities or services being carried out".
Having defined framework , it should also be considered that employment of the Armed Forces requires a minimum familiarity with the military organisation, as well as with its capabilities and limitations. While it is true that the SAF offers a wide range of possibilities for action, it is necessary to be aware that there are tasks for which it is not capable, and that the use of these capabilities must be in accordance with its specific possibilities and procedures employment.
This reality, together with the imperative need for the employment of military resources to be coordinated with all the actors involved in resolving the crisis, justifies the presence of the Chief of Defence Staff (JEMAD) -who is also the advisor of the President of the Government and the Minister of Defence at subject operational- in the Situation Committee that the Royal Decree declaring the state of alarm has set up in support of the Government.
The first and most important capacity with which the military institution contributes to the resolution of the crisis is that which resides in the people who serve in uniform. The Armed Forces place at the disposal of the Nation not only the power of their numbers but, above all, the imponderable strength of their values, placed at the service of the common good: the generous submission , the spirit of sacrifice, the work teamwork, the sense of duty, and so many others that are so necessary at times like these, and which mean that the Armed Forces can be entrusted with those missions that entail the greatest risk and fatigue, safe in the knowledge that they will do their utmost to carry them out.
In the realm of the unquantifiable, there is also the not inconsiderable capacity for planning operations that the armed forces have at all levels, from the strategic to the tactical, including the operational. The General Staffs of the three armies, and those of their subordinate units, have enormous potential for organising, coordinating and planning complex operations, which, if used, is extremely useful.
The diversity and versatility of a large part of the Armed Forces' material resources makes them particularly useful in circumstances such as the current one. Among the catalogue of possibilities are some as varied as the transport, both of staff and of equipment, supplies, merchandise, material, or any urgent or essential item, over any distance and by air, sea or land, especially if it has to be done to remote or difficult to reach places; support for the construction of shelters, hospitals, or any other facilities with the means of castramation of the Army Engineers, who can also carry out specialised work to improve communications, or to ensure the supply of water, electricity, or other services; health and epidemiological support to the civilian population with staff specialised doctors and nurses; the attendance in the distribution and even packaging of food for large groups; the execution of security and protection tasks for essential or particularly sensitive installations, such as energy production and distribution plants; the surveillance and control of compliance with the terms of the state of alarm by land, sea and air, either with staff, or with conventional or remotely manned means; support for large-scale disinfection operations; the production of medicines or means of health protection; communications support; the provision of essential services such as control of airspace, inter-city public transport or public transport within major cities; etc. The list could be extended almost ad infinitum.
The realisation of the enormous amount of possible support, together with the magnitude of the pandemic itself, and the consideration of the fact that military capabilities are sized to meet the needs arising from the most likely operational scenarios, and not for a massive support scenario such as the one we are now facing, suggest that, in this case, the needs far exceed the possibilities of the Armed Forces and that, without proper planning, the institution could be totally consumed in the development of these noble tasks.
This would be very laudable, but it would anchor the entire National Defence capability in a task other than the military defence of Spain, rendering the armed forces incapable of dealing with the tasks that, it is reasonable to argue, are the raison d'être of the armed forces, and which must continue to be addressed, even in the midst of a pandemic. Beyond that, they would also be unable to sustain the operational efforts that the government has decided that the armed forces should carry out abroad, some of which could be reconsidered.
The aforementioned limitations make it advisable to measure the effort required of the Armed Forces - also because they must sustain it over an apparently long period of time - which must be provided with selective criteria, with the Armed Forces acting in application of the principle of subsidiarity, when there are no civilian agencies, public or private, capable of providing support, or when the support is of a risky, dangerous or arduous nature that makes the use of military resources advisable. employment .
With the exception of the EMU, the Armed Forces are not specifically equipped, organised or trained for the subject tasks of an emergency such as the current one. In some cases, military capabilities are directly applicable in a situation such as the coronavirus. In others, however, the provision of support cannot be immediate and requires a minimum period of adaptation, reprogramming, and training to ensure that military capabilities are applied in a manner appropriate to the nature of an operational environment with which the soldier may be unfamiliar. For example, it is not appropriate to simply employ a unit trained for high-intensity combat in emergency or humanitarian support roles without first making the transition .
In this adaptation time, it is always necessary to include the response time that the units must have between missions to recover, reorganise, maintain the material in operational conditions. fill in the resources consumed, plan the new mission, move between scenarios employment, etc. Even if they are in a high availability situation and their response time is reduced to a minimum, it will never be zero if they have already been used.
The employment of the Armed Forces in this subject of tasks must always be carried out with a criterion of strict temporality. If this does not happen and the armies perpetuate their missions of support to the civilian population, there is a possibility that they will progressively expand their tasks, atrophying the development of civilian agencies that could and should preferably carry them out, and becoming their competitors; that they may, in the process, neglect their core tasks - to the point of reorganising, equipping, and training only for their civilian support dimension; and that they may compromise the neutrality and selfless servant character that citizens demand of their armed forces and hold them in such high regard. As soon as the situation allows, the Armed Forces, with the exception of the UME, it is understood, should return to their usual framework of action.
That moment has not yet arrived. The end of the crisis is not yet in sight, and we Spaniards must be prepared for a long battle against COVID 19. In this struggle, citizens can be convinced that their Armed Forces, and all those who make them up, will be at their side, attending to their needs, sharing in their hardships, participating in their grief. When the virus has been defeated, they will rejoice with them and, in silence, they will return naturally to their duties, without waiting for applause, with the intimate satisfaction of having done their duty in the service of their compatriots.
* Brigadier General (R)
 An exception to this is the EMU, a unit specially organised to carry out tasks in support of the civilian population.
 A separate issue from this work, and which would be the subject of a more in-depth analysis, is that the aforementioned Organic Law 5/2005 introduces a change, extending them, of the constitutional missions that Article 8 of the Magna Carta imposes on the Armed Forces.
 Royal Decree 463/2020 of 14 March.
 Consider, for example, the differences between providing a facility protection service in an Area of Operations, in an environment that may be hostile, and which is subject to certain Rules of Engagement (ROE), and providing it in a nuclear power plant on National Territory in a circumstance such as the present one. As can be easily understood, the response cannot be the same, and employing an individual trained for the former in the latter requires some adaptation.