The only realistic way to prevent the Mistrals from reinforcing Russian naval capabilities may be to offer French industry an alternative, so that the principle of Allied solidarity does not result in any job losses or otherwise financial and technological damage to our neighbour. That would mean existing or prospective NATO members purchasing the vessels.
While preliminary defence planning in Catalonia for the first 10 years after the resumption of sovereignty has focused on land-based naval aviation and small surface combatants, stressing asymmetric threats rather than conventional conflict, the realities of the current NATO-Russia crisis and the need for a pragmatic solution preventing both a significant increase in Russian naval capabilities and damage to French financial and technological interests, may force the Catalan national security community to consider the possibility of the early purchase of a light carrier / amphibious assault ship. While this may well anyway fit with the country's longer-term naval needs, it would without a doubt imply an added stress in terms of training during the immediate post-recovered-independence period. It would thus require a strong commitment from the French Navy to help train the necessary personnel. While preliminary planning is more geared towards cooperation with the Royal Navy, there is no reason why this should be incompatible with French training to operate a Mistral-class ship, in particular in view of growing Anglo-French defence cooperation. Thus, a three-way agreement may well provide the foundation for the training of the Catalan Navy.
A deal with France would also help explore potential opportunities for defence industry cooperation, something which should naturally flow from geographical realities but which in the past has unfortunately been prevented by alien political realities. Concerning the financial costs involved in purchasing a Mistral-class vessel, the Catalan national security community is aware of them and does not wish to see any single acquisition imbalance a defence budget which will have to cover the development of a wide range of capabilities. However, any realistic price estimate should well be within reach of the country.
To conclude, the Mistral issue requires imagination and pragmatism, with no room for simplistic solutions. It is clear to NATO that as long as current tensions and mistrust persist, it would be wrong to acquiesce to Russia's acquisition of such powerful assets. At the same time, French financial and technological interests must receive due recognition. Given these constraints, the only realistic solution seems to be the purchase, by existing or prospective NATO members, of the vessels. In the case of Catalonia this would imply moving to a kind of asset not considered to be a priority for the first decade in the post-resumed-independence era, and require a training agreement with France, which could take the shape of a three-way treaty with London. However, NATO membership implies duties and responsibilities, which are also the essence of collective security. Therefore, any serious Ally must be ready to make further sacrifices and undertake additional burdens, even more so at a time when, more than ever, it is essential for NATO to stand strong, capable, and united.
Alex Calvo, and specialist in Asian security and defence, is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan)