Protecting the Mayor: the key role of Barcelona's local Police in the event of a coup
Barcelona Mayor Xavier Trias embodies the strength of the Catalan independence movement. A doctor by training, he could well pass for a small village doctor, one of those characters curing not only with their scientific knowledge but also with their calm manner and ability to listen to ordinary people.
Furthermore, as he himself explains, far from being an early hour defender of independence, like many Catalans (in a tale that will sound familiar to our American readers, as explained in the US Declaration of Independence) Trias tried for long years to reach some sort of accommodation with Madrid, whereby Catalonia may remain under the Spanish Crown while enjoying full respect for her culture, language, and laws. Once it became clear that this was not possible, this quiet figure did not hesitate to take the grave decision to work to join the international community as a fully sovereign state. Another interesting aspect of Xavier Trias is how, again quietly, without much noise, without any sound bites or attempts to take political centre stage, he has put an end to the benign neglect of security by Barcelona City Council. Under Trias, Barcelona Local Police has started to patrol the subway and launched an investigation unit, while the City Council signed a cooperation agreement with the traditional city militia, the “Coronela”, currently in the shape of a military re-enactment group but with a view to a full normalization within NATO. An English speaker, who has also mastered other foreign languages, Trias does not need any interpreter to understand that the Atlantic Alliance needs serious security policies in one of her main ports, currently excluded from military traffic by Spain's defence apartheid policies, but ready and willing to contribute to the securing of the Mediterranean, an essential step to reinforce the maritime democracies in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region.
While these are steps in the right direction, and have not gone unnoticed in national security circles of Allied nations, danger looms over the mayor of Barcelona. As the most visible face of Catalonia's capital, one of the Patriot leaders, and someone with extensive international contacts, it is not a long stretch of imagination to expect him to become one of the key targets of a Spanish military operation designed to prevent Catalans from going to the polls on 11/9. This could take the form of a coup, let us not forget that some chapters of the 1978 Spanish constitution were drafted by the military, who granted themselves the role of guaranteeing “national unity”, thus becoming in the words of the Founding Fathers a “military independent of, & superior to the civil power”, or it could follow orders from the Rajoy administration, which has repeatedly refused to rule out resorting to force, despite public pressure by, among others, British Prime Minister David Cameron.
If Spain finally decided to strike at Catalonia, the resulting operations could take many forms, from a cyber attack to the occupation of key facilities, with a wide range of possibilities in between. It could be followed by a suspension of the Catalan Government, and the stripping of some of its key powers, chief among them those over the Catalan Police Force (Mossos d'Esquadra). A straight textbook military occupation seems unlikely because Spain does not have the necessary volume of troops.
In any of these scenarios, Barcelona's Local Police would have a duty to protect the mayor. By protecting we do not only mean preserving his life and limb but also his freedom of movements and communications with the outside world. By ensuring that Trias was free to speak to the international media and to the leaders of the Free World, police would be making a major contribution to the defeat of the coup. In order to avoid misunderstandings, let us repeat this: Spain does not have the troops, nor the equipment for that matter, to launch a conventional military occupation of Catalonia. Instead, she could use a limited degree of force to instil fear among Catalan citizens and Patriot leaders. In war, force is not a goal in itself, but simply a means to achieve a political objective, thus the aim of the defender must be to prevent the aggressor from achieving that political objective. There is no need to prevail in every engagement, as long as this ultimate goal is attained. With Barcelona's mayor free, unharmed, and talking to the international media without any interpreter, the Rajoy administration would be hard pressed to impose its narrative of the conflict. A conflict, let us never forget it, between democracy and tyranny, between those who believe in empowering citizens, and those who would rather enslave them. A conflict between government of the people, by the people, and for the people, on the one hand, and between old-regime notions of divine national sovereignty on the other.
Therefore, the first step to guarantee that the aggressors will fail to silence Trias is to understand that there is a very real possibility of a coup. Here we must avoid a mistake, very common in the history of intelligence operations, namely that of projecting our own values on to the enemy. The fact that Catalans are democrats does not mean that Spaniards are, sadly the contrary is true. Furthermore, if Madrid believed in democracy, she would pose no obstacles to a referendum, and would simply campaign to convince voters to choose to remain in Spain. Since, instead, the Rajoy administration is threatening these same voters, we should not simply dismiss those threats as the swan song of a decaying regime. By harassing Gibraltar and supplying weapons to Buenos Aires, Madrid has already proven that she has no qualms about the use of force to settle disputes. It is these actual deeds, not well meaning fantasies, that we should take into account in examining the possible scenarios.
Once this is clear, the second step is to examine in a bit more detail these different scenarios, in order to discern the necessary capabilities that will be needed to prevail in each. How to prevent an assassination? What to do to ensure Trias is not poisoned? Is it better to fortify the City Council, providing a media focus for resistance to a coup, or to take the mayor to a secure location, or even to keep him on the go, or move him abroad? How to secure and protect his communications? What about his presence in the social media? All these questions, and many more, must be answered, and they must be answered now. The clock is already ticking, and planning, like reconnaissance, never did anybody any harm. It would be unpardonably arrogant to fail to plan for all contingencies and scenarios, amounting to dereliction of duty.
The third step, once a clear picture of the different scenarios is available and the above questions have been answered, is to secure the necessary training and equipment, and to set up or adapt the necessary units within Barcelona's Local Police Force. While some of the necessary capabilities already exist, it may be necessary to devote additional efforts to training in areas like counterterrorism, sniping, and cybersecurity. It may also be necessary to procure additional equipment and to forward-deploy it where necessary.
Fourth, while some units may be rather technical in nature, for example those responsible for protecting communications, all personnel should be aware of what they are being called on to do and of the potential sacrifices it implies. Here, an exercise in sincerity is essential, there is no point trying to sugarcoat this. Policemen detailed to protect the mayor must be ready to die, and to kill, in the discharge of their duties. Needless to say, this goes beyond what most people have in mind when they take such a job, although on the other hand it is simply an extension of a police officer's duty to uphold the law and the life and property of citizens against criminals, in this case state (or war) criminals. As a result, it is essential to ensure that only volunteers fill these positions, and that in addition to freely undertaking such jobs, they are physically and mentally capable of discharging their duties. Not everybody is ready to operate under the pressure involved in defending a democratic leader against what Margaret Thatcher called “military hooligans” and Roosevelt often referred to as “thugs”.
Fifth, the necessary rules of engagement (ROEs) must be drawn and communicated to the relevant personnel. For example, if Spanish troops try to arrest the mayor, should the local police open fire to prevent it, or wait until the enemy has shot first? What is the status of Spanish troops not wearing a uniform, and to what extent would they be covered by the laws of armed conflict? It should be made clear in advance that police officers resorting to force, in accordance with these rules of engagement and the international law of armed conflict, would enjoy immunity and not be subject to any criminal proceedings.
The sixth point is to ensure the appropriate coordination with the Catalan Government. The roles of Prime Minister Mas and Barcelona Mayor Trias in the event of a coup should be seen as complementary. A possibility, for example, would be to keep the prime minister at his office, duly protected against an attack and with the necessary outside channels of communication open, including regular contact with the international media, while the mayor moved abroad to inform in person the leaders of the maritime democracies about events in Catalonia. Whatever the strategy chosen, it is essential that it has been agreed to in advance. Also, concerning capabilities, some may be better developed in coordination with the Catalan Police Force, although at the same time a degree of duplication may enhance resilience and survivability.
Finally, while Barcelona Police Force's first and foremost duty in the event of a coup would be to protect the life, health, freedom of movement, and freedom and security of communications and access to the social media, of the mayor, it would also be responsible, as with any other crime, for collecting evidence. This evidence, pictures and fingerprints of war criminals, for example, could be later used to prosecute them either before a Catalan, or an international, court. If it turned out to be impossible to put them on trial, for example because they took refuge in Spain and Madrid refused to hand them over, then this evidence could be used to hunt them down, thereby ensuring Justice was done.
Alex Calvo is an expert in Asian security and defence
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