Spain's remote position on the southwest periphery of Western Europe has affected much of its history, even when it belonged to the Roman, the Habsburg, and the Napoleonic empires. The Pyrenees have presented a formidable land barrier against both invasions and influences from the north. At the same time, Spain's location at the western entrance of the Mediterranean has impelled the country to play the role of an important maritime power and has enabled it to act as a bridge among Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
In the nineteenth century, Spain, beset by political instability deriving from the cataclysm of the French Revolution as well as from its own later failure to participate in the Industrial Revolution, withdrew behind its borders. After suffering a humiliating defeat by the United States in the Spanish-American War and losing its last colonies in the Philippines and the New World, Spain's focus turned even further inward. Neutral in both world wars, Spain found that its isolation deepened during the Franco years, intensified by the ostracism the country experienced because of its associations with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.
After the Nationalist victory in the Civil War, the Franco regime devoted itself primarily to domestic affairs, relegating foreign considerations to a secondary position. The primary concerns were to establish political stability and to ensure economic reconstruction and development. Spanish diplomacy was an instrument with which the government tried to obtain political legitimacy and to gain Spain's acceptance by the international community. Franco played the leading role in pursuing these foreign policy goals, as he did in every other aspect of his government.
Spain's pariah status following World War II strengthened Franco's internal position, solidifying the support of the Spanish people behind their beleaguered leader. Nevertheless, as Spain began to benefit from mounting Cold War tensions, from signing an agreement with the United States, and from achieving United Nations (UN) membership, the siege mentality of the Spanish people lessened.
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