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Spain was in a somewhat unique situation among Western European countries following the Second World War. The Spanish Civil War that raged from 1936 to 1939 attracted communist and leftist sympathizers to the Republican side in the conflict while Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany provided military support to the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists' victory cemented General Franco's position in power and even the eventual destruction of the Axis alliance during World War II saw his fascist regime remaining securely in place. Spain had been officially neutral during the war, and in the war's aftermath was well-insulated from the anti-fascist dictatorial regime in the Soviet Union. Until Franco's death in 1975, Spain would remain a pariah among the democracies of the West and a natural adversary of the communist Soviet Union. Cold War considerations ensured that Franco's regime would not, however, remain isolated, and a 1953 mutual defense treaty between the United States and Spain would allow for the construction of large U.S. military installations on Spanish territory. Defense agreements aside, however, Spain's economy, under the firm control of the government, remained stagnant for many years. The introduction of free-market economic principles and a small degree of liberalization in Spanish society provided the opportunity for economic growth, and Spain's became one of the more efficient economies in Europe.
Franco's death in 1975 provided the impetus for Spain's integration into the political, military and economic structures of the West. It formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1982, and became a formal member of the European Union in 1986. Absent the political baggage of the late fascist dictator's many years of rule, Spain became a fully-accepted member of the community of nations and remains a member of both NATO and the EU today, although its economic problems, along with EU members Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Portugal, have exposed it as a weak-link in the network of countries using the Euro as its currency.
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