Where are the US’s military bases in Spain and why are they there?

As Madrid hosts the Nato summit this week, we look into Spain's military relationship with the biggest player in the alliance, the United States, and find out where and why the US still has bases in Spain.

Where are the US's military bases in Spain and why are they there?
The United States currently has only two military bases in Spain. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

The Spanish-American relationship hasn’t always been a friendly or trusting one.

However, the rapport is much more cordial than it once was, with President biden most recently having referred to Spain as an “indispensable ally”.

That isn’t reflected in the US’s military presence in Spain, nonetheless. Although it had more in the past, the United States currently has only two military bases in Spain.

That is significantly less than other countries such as Japan, for example, which has a staggering 120 active American bases, or Germany, with 119.

In fact, Spain has the fewest American military bases of Europe: the United Kingdom has 25, Italy 44, and Portugal 21.

But why does Spain have an American military presence in the first place? And where are the bases?


Emerging from its bloody Civil War and the aftermath of the Second World War, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Spain was an isolated state on the world stage.

It was well known that Franco had sympathised with Hitler and the Axis powers more broadly, and had even sold valuable materials to the Nazis.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

Shunned by the United States, U.K. and Russia, Spain was excluded from the United Nations, and suffered severe economic consequences of being a pariah state as a dictatorship in an increasingly democratising world.

It wasn’t until 1953, when US President Eisenhower signed the Pact of Madrid, that Spanish-American relations began to thaw.

Knowing that they would need Spain’s support against communism in the Cold War, the pact provided Americans with a naval base in Rota in Cádiz province, Andalusia, and three Air Force bases in Morón, south of Seville; Torrejón, on the outskirts of Madrid; and Zaragoza, in northern Spain, in exchange for military equipment and financial aid.

The creation of these bases allowed Spain to finally open up to the diplomatic world, and in 1955 Spain finally joined the United Nations.
The economic and sociocultural impact of an influx of Americans to the areas surrounding the bases was significant. 
The four American bases in Spain became two in 1992, however, when both Air Force bases at Torrejón and Zaragoza were passed into Spanish hands. 

Former US president Barack Obama speaks to service members at the Naval Station in Rota in 2016. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
Today, Torrejón is still used for official visits and ceremonies, and is where President Biden’s Air Force One plane landed ahead of this week’s NATO Summit in Madrid.
The Americans still have two of their bases in southern Spain: the Rota Naval base, and the Morón Air Force base.

ROTA Naval base

The joint Spanish-American Rota Naval base is commanded by a Spanish Vice Admiral, and is an important entryway to the Atlantic Ocean with both an airfield and port. Strategically, the ROTA base is key to American (and by extension NATO) interests because of its proximity to the Straight of Gibraltar – where over a quarter of global maritime traffic passes through every year – and it is a geographic midpoint between Southwest Asia and the United States.

The Straight of Gibraltar is an incredibly important naval route for both the United States and NATO not only because of the sheer volume of maritime traffic passes through it every year, but because it links the Mediterranean and Atlantic and would be a key route for deploying forces by sea during a conflict.

Control of the Straight of Gibraltar was traditionally left to British forces on its overseas territory, but the growth of Ronda (which is one of the largest allied bases in the region) means that Spanish ships have taken on some responsibilities. 

Stretching over 6,000 acres (24 km2) along the Cádiz coastline, the Rota base is the largest American military community in Spain, home to both US Marine Corps and US Navy personnel, as well as small numbers of US Army and US Air Force fighters.

Rota is also key to American interests as it allows for rapid support of both U.S and NATO ships. It also supports and protects the movement of US Navy and US Air Force flights, and supplies fuel, ammunition and cargo to units in the region.

Morón Air Force base

Also in Andalusia, Morón Air Force, about 30km south of Seville, was actually already an Air Force base before the Madrid Pact was signed. The base was then upgraded and operations began in 1958. 

The base is not without controversy, however. In 1962 two American planes crashed while refuelling in mid-air, killing 7 crew members and causing hydrogen bombs to land in the proximity of the small fishing village of Palomares.

Two of the bombs detonated and contaminated an area of 2km2 area, and another fell into the Mediterranean. As a result, American B-52 bomber planes were not allowed on the Morón base until 1983.

In 1971, the base was relegated to “modified caretaker status”, and Torrejón became the main support base for the Spanish Air Force.

In 1991, however, Morón was heavily involved in the Gulf War and then again for fighting in Kosovo in 1999. From 2001 onwards operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan were supported from the base, and the southern base was also used a base for operations into Libya in 2011.

At full capacity, it is believed up to 3,000 American troops from African Crisis Response team can be stationed at Morón, and up to 40 aircraft stored.

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How Spain could be impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday could have a considerable impact on Spain's economy, with the price and supply of energy and certain food products already affected.  

How Spain could be impacted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine

At four in the morning (GMT+1) on Thursday February 24th, explosions started to be heard in several Ukrainian cities, in what Vladimir Putin has described as a “large-scale operation” to defend the Ukrainian independence fighters in the Donbas region.

Ukrainian authorities have already reported the first casualties and announced that Russia has launched a “full-scale invasion” of the country, in the words of the Ukrainian foreign ministry with the aim of “destroying the Ukrainian state”.

“The Government of Spain condemns Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and expresses its solidarity with the Ukrainian Government and people,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted on Thursday, adding that he was in “close” contact with Spain’s EU and NATO partners to coordinate a response to the attacks.

It’s a harrowing situation for the 44 million inhabitants of the eastern European nation and an unnerving scenario for the world as a whole as it tries to put a still ongoing global pandemic behind it.

According to a survey by Spanish social research group Instituto DYM, 56.3 percent of Spaniards are “fairly” or “very” worried about the potential of the conflict having an impact on life in Spain. 

The escalating war may seem far away for many here in western Europe, but how big an impact could the Ukraine-Russia conflict actually have on Spain?


In terms of the effect it could have on energy supplies, one of the biggest worries for European nations, Spain has an advantage in that it doesn’t depend on natural gas that comes from Russia, unlike the case for Germany, Hungary or the Baltic countries.

The gas that is imported from the region arrives by sea in large methane tankers that transport it in a liquid state.

According to Spain’s Strategic Reserves Corporation (Cores), in 2021 Spain imported 10.5 percent of its natural gas from Russia compared to 44 percent from nearby Algeria. 

That being said, the ongoing conflict between the north African nation and its neighbour Morocco did result in Algeria temporarily cutting supplies to Spain last year and could prove equally if not more troublesome for the Spanish economy in 2022.

But even if Spain may not be as affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as other European nations, it couldn’t avoid the consequences of a general rise in energy and fuel prices throughout the continent.

This comes at a time when the price of electricity in Spain has risen by 46 percent on average in the last year, diesel is 25 percent more expensive and petrol costs 23 percent more.

Oil prices already surged on Thursday, with Brent breaching $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014 and very real fears that as the conflict in Ukraine unfolds consumers in Spain and elsewhere could be faced with scenarios similar to the oil crises of the 1970s.


Practically half of all maize imports to Spain are from Ukraine, and a large proportion of other grain consumed in Spain comes from the eastern European nation. This also includes 60 percent of the sunflower oil that Spain buys from overseas and 31 percent of vegetable oil.

Spanish agricultural website Agroinformación already reported an increase in price of wheat, barley, oatmeal and rye as the conflict escalated. 

Russia’s confirmed invasion of Ukraine is certain to drive prices up further and create more volatility. As a precedent, when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, cereal prices rose by 20 percent. 

A reduction in debt purchases and a rise in interest rates by the European Central Bank would mean economies with more public debt over GDP, which includes Spain, would feel the pinch especially. 

READ ALSO: The food products that are more expensive than ever in Spain


There are currently 800 Spanish NATO soldiers deployed at the border between Russia and Ukraine. 

A survey by Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute for International and Strategic Studies found that 48 percent of Spaniards were actually in favour of Spain participating in NATO operations in the conflict, particularly men over the age of 45 with right-wing political views. 

Even though Madrid will be hosting a NATO summit in late June, Spain is still considered a medium military power on the international sphere and Defence Minister Margarita Robles has so far not suggested that more troops will be sent to assist Ukrainian forces.

However, Pedro Sánchez will attend an extraordinary European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and any decision on a coordinated intervention in the conflict will likely be accepted by the Spanish Prime Minister, given his eagerness for Spain to play a more pivotal role in both the EU and NATO.

EU nationals have so far not agreed on how to deal with the Ukraine crisis, with some sending military support to the country (Spain among them) and others pushing for a diplomatic solution.

READ ALSO: How much influence does Russia have over Spain?