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Chapter 5. National Security


Afonso Henriques, patron of the Portuguese Armed Forces, at the Battle of Ourique in 1139

IN THE SEVENTEEN YEARS following the Revolution of 1974 that restored democratic rule to Portugal, the armed forces underwent striking changes. The counterinsurgency warfare of 1961-74 in Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea (present-day GuineaBissau ) brought an expansion of the personnel strength of the armed forces to 250,000. By early 1992, however, military forces were down to about 61,000. The army, reduced to scarcely 20 percent of its peak strength, suffered by far the greatest cut.

The drastic contraction of the armed forces was accompanied by a redefinition of the nation's security policies. Until 1974, the resources of all three services were dedicated to suppressing the independence movements of the African territories. Although Portugal was one of the original members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), its principal contribution was in the form of strategic facilities, notably the United States base in the Azores (Açores in Portuguese), which was viewed as indispensable for reinforcing the alliance in the event of conflict with the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces. Portugal did maintain two army divisions at home, one committed to NATO and the other to the defense of the Iberian Peninsula under the terms of a long-standing treaty with Spain, the Iberian Pact (also known as Treaty of Friendship and Nonaggression). Both divisions were staffed far below their authorized strengths.

After the restoration of elective government in 1976, Portugal adopted a more active role with respect to NATO. Determined to offer more than basing facilities, it committed itself to maintain a modern army unit, the First Composite Brigade, for potential deployment in northeastern Italy under NATO command. A Special Forces Brigade and a number of thinly staffed and underequipped infantry and artillery regiments were responsible for the defense of continental Portugal and the Azores and Madeira archipelagoes. The navy and air force were reorganized to emphasize defense against potential maritime threat in the waters within the Portugal-Madeira-Azores triangle (also known as the strategic triangle).

The equipment of the three services was, however, approaching obsolescence, and they were ill-prepared to handle the new defense obligations. Portugal depended on assistance from the United States and other NATO allies for its major weaponry, but the rate of delivery fell short of essential requirements. Nonetheless, the United States had supplied maritime reconnaissance aircraft and had agreed to furnish F-16 interceptor aircraft, air defense missile systems, and a variety of helicopters, including combat helicopters needed by the First Composite Brigade. Germany had provided three new frigates, giving the Portuguese Navy a limited but up-to-date antisubmarine capability.

The military-led revolution of April 1974 dismantled the repressive system established by António de Oliveira Salazar and maintained by his successor, Marcello José das Neves Caetano. For two years after the 1974 coup, the armed forces were the dominant element in the political system, although the military leadership itself was torn into bitterly competing factions. Under the constitution of 1976, a politico-military body--the Council of the Revolution--retained review powers over the actions of the civilian government. This transition stage ended in 1982 when the constitution was amended to subordinate the military to the elective political forces. The National Defense Law, passed in the same year, limited the mission of the armed forces to defense of the country against external threat, contrary to the traditional view of senior officers that the armed forces were also responsible for safeguarding the nation's internal security and the stability of its institutions. Although the military remained involved in defense policy matters, its weight in civilian political affairs had declined with the reduction in the size of the armed forces and the shrinking military threat in Europe.

Data as of January 1993

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