Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda has caused extensive damage in the Philippines. The Royal Navy is dispatching a ship and a plane, Japan is also deploying troops, vessels, and aircraft, and the US is assisting with air and naval assets plus marines. Both Australia and Canada have sent medical teams and deployed aerial means. The maritime democracies are helping a fellow maritime democracy, while sending a powerful message to would-be aggressors: their forces are powerful, mobile, and interoperable.
What about the Spanish Navy? Where is it? The sad answer is that its assets are exclusively devoted to other purposes, chiefly harassing Catalan fishermen who refuse to fly the Spanish flag and making life difficult for the people of Gibraltar, who time and again have refused the “privilege” of being Spanish. That is its role. Harassing freedom-loving peoples who wish to decide for themselves what they and their children will be, instead of being dictated to.
Maritime democracies employ their navies to repel aggression and assist the victims of natural disasters. Common or garden dictators employ theirs to invade or harass the territories they covet, and rule by force those they have acquired by force of arms, ignoring the wishes of their inhabitants. When a typhoon strikes, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction, they are nowhere to be seen. That is not their job.
Catalonia is not just a maritime democracy. She is that, and much more. She is the oldest maritime democracy in the world. However, three centuries of Spanish colonial domination mean that she now has to watch from the distance how the Allies assist the Philippines, without being able to contribute any medical teams, transport airplanes, or any other asset that the Filipino people may require in their time of need. The time has thus come to tear apart the chains that are still enslaving the Catalan people, so that it can take its rightful place among the maritime democracies and do its duty when nature or totalitarian regimes strike.
Alex Calvo, an expert in Asian security and defence, is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan)