Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Armed Forces

The armed forces in Portugal traced their origins back to the armies and military orders of medieval times. The orders were often autonomous from the state, and, because they were formed during the reconquest, may have predated it. Hence, the armed forces came to be thought of--and thought of themselves--as a separate unit in society, independent of any civil authority and perhaps above it. Even at the beginning of the 1990s, the military still had to some extent this sense of aloofness and of ideals of a higher order.

The military was long the ultimate arbiter of Portuguese national politics. The armed forces were drawn into the chaotic, man-on-horseback politics of the nineteenth century. Military cum civilian factions "rotated" (rotativismo) out of national politics with frequent regularity. The armed forces helped usher in the Portuguese Republic in 1910 and ended it in 1926. The military brought Salazar to power and served as an indispensable prop of his dictatorship.

It was the armed forces that overthrew Caetano in 1974 and the MFA that launched the revolution. The MFA took pains to retain special powers by creating the Council of the Revolution, which guaranteed the armed forces the power to prohibit legislation that they saw as harmful to the revolution's democratic achievements. The military agreed, however, that these powers were to be of limited duration.

During the 1980s, the political and social roles of the armed forces diminished. The 1982 constitutional amendments reduced the military's political power by abolishing the Council of the Revolution, thereby ending the military's guardianship over Portuguese politics. The National Defense Law of 1982 put the military completely under civilian control. In addition, the armed forces were significantly reduced in size and budget. On the other hand, Portuguese officers became better educated, more technologically sophisticated, and more professionalized.

By the beginning of the 1990s, the Portuguese armed forces had a social role similar to that of armed forces in other West European countries. Only extreme events could possibly pull Portugal's soldiers back into politics, although like any other interest group they did lobby to protect their interests, benefits, budget, and position in society.

Data as of January 1993