Until the 1980s or 1990s, Spain did not participate in crisis-management operations either alone or with third parties. This limited record of international engagement helps to explain the lack of national whole-of-government approach (WGA) instruments. Spain’s first involvement with the WGA concept came during the Multinational Experiments series organised by NATO member states in the first decade of the new century to improve crisis-management procedures. Within that framework, Spain put together an interdisciplinary team comprised of diplomats, military officials and thinktank members to explore the potential of using an integrated approach to crisis management. Then, in June 2018, Spain’s national delegation presented a first-ever assessment of Spain’s WGA during the Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Prevention and Management Seminar (CAS) held in Helsinki (Rintakoski and Autti 2008: 168–172).
Later, when NATO and the EU developed their own WGA concepts, Spanish diplomats and military officials involved in the crisis- management systems of both organisations were familiarised with a WGA. Spain’s Ministry of Defence and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and Cooperation (MAUC) soon imported this practice into their vocabulary and, since then, the number of mentions of a WGA (‘enfoque integral’ in Spanish) have proliferated in official documents. The first reference to a WGA appeared in the Spanish Security Strategy of 2011. The team tasked with elaborating this strategy was led by Javier Solana, who had become familiar with the WGA concept as the EU’s high representative for common policy and security policy from 1999 to 2009. Believing that the WGA model offers advantages in terms of managing national security, the team incorporated it into the document. In fact, they even called for the creation of an External and Integrated Response Unit (Unidad de Respuesta Integrada Exterior, URIE), although subsequent governments have not acted upon this explicit recommendation.
Unfortunately, subsequent administrations and governments have not thought (or perhaps cared) about strengthening inter-agency coordination. The national administration continues to be divided into watertight departments that very zealously guard their competences and display little openness to the idea of inter-agency cooperation. The president of the government (as the prime minister is known) could theoretically call for the National Security System to be re-designed to deal with international crises in a WGA mode by reinforcing its resources and competences. However, the management of external crises remains without presidential leadership and without any single authority able to impose a WGA upon all actors involved. For this reason, there are no binding guidelines to develop WGA or WGA-like concepts in Spain.
The MAUC’s Strategy for External Action of 2015 acknowledges this shortcoming and highlights the “need to improve the integral approach in the management of crises, combining civil and military mechanisms more effectively”, but it does so without identifying the proper measures to bring such an improvement about (MAUC 2015: 64). Indeed, the lack of WGA implementation reveals a gap between the high degree of importance that Spain assigns to the WGA concept and its limited real-world impact on governmental structures and procedures. Paradoxically, the theoretical success of the concept has created the virtual perception that national structures and procedures have been adapted for its implementation. For instance, the National Security Council (DSN) recommended in 2017 that the WGA model of crises management be imported into the sphere of national security, writing (DSN 2017: 82): “It is, therefore, a priority to further develop and adapt the comprehensive crisis management model within the framework of the National Security System in order to provide effective and timely responses to today’s threats and challenges.”