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The armed forces had entered a period of transition in the early 1990s that was the source of considerable uncertainty and turmoil among professional personnel. The severe cutbacks in the size of the military establishment, particularly the army, and the unsettled status of the military role and missions had a demoralizing effect. Career prospects seemed increasingly circumscribed, and the government's budgetary measures made the armed services seem unattractive in comparison with the opportunities in civilian life. The promotion possibilities were limited by the excessive number of officer personnel. As of 1988, the army's personnel strength had been reduced to only 20 percent of its strength in 1974. Yet during the same period, the officer complement had fallen by little more than half. The air force and the navy experienced more moderate reductions in staffing between 1974 and l988. Naval officer strength had declined slightly, but the number of air force officers had actually increased.
The armed forces had formerly been admired as the defenders of democracy for their role in the toppling of the SalazarCaetano regime in 1974. Military officers sensed that their profession had since suffered a decline in social status and prestige and that they were regarded by the public as superfluous. The historic left-wing and right-wing factions from the 1974-76 period were still distinguishable in the officer corps, although younger officers who had entered the service since the end of the colonial wars represented a separate and growing category. The upsurge of discontent against the government's perceived indifference to career military personnel was common to all elements, however.
The armed services were forbidden by law from forming unions to express their demands. This prohibition had been skirted by the formation of sergeants' "movements" and periodic large dinner gatherings among the officers. NCOs had also staged mild demonstrations to draw attention to their grievances. NCO advisory commissions had been established by the government but these had proven to be ineffective because the officers representing the military establishment had no authority to negotiate over the issues raised. The NCOs sought the elimination of promotions outside the normal sequence, reduction in the maximum time served at each grade, greater access to officer training courses, improvement in salary scales, and earlier retirement. Although sergeants could attain officer rank after attending the Higher Military Institute, few could hope to be promoted beyond captain because of insufficient vacancies at the major level. Naval NCOs sought more training opportunities and the establishment of new specialties. The sergeants called for an updating of the Code of Military Justice and Military Disciplinary Regulations, including the right of assembly and association.
In addition to the general feeling that salary levels did not correspond to the demands and risks associated with the military profession, officers felt that special benefits they had previously enjoyed were being curtailed, including extra tax exemptions, subsidized gasoline, and overtime pay. Prices for food at military commissaries were no longer significantly below prices in civilian outlets. The officers sought a lowering of age limits on active duty at the upper ranks as a means of increasing opportunities for advancement.
The length of compulsory military service was a subject of contention in the early 1990s, and the outcome was likely to have a pronounced effect on the future status of the career service and on the effectiveness of the armed forces. The army service obligation, which had been twenty-four months at the end of the colonial wars in 1974, had been reduced to sixteen months by 1984 and to twelve months in 1990. Conscripts in the air force and navy served for sixteen months. In 1989, of 80,000 young men eligible for military service, 60,000 were deemed physically fit, although only 45,000 were actually inducted. In 1990 the number of inductees was lowered to 35,000. Those considered first for exemptions from service, in order of priority, were married men, heads of households, and only sons.
Conscientious objector status was recognized, although under the law, those granted exemption from active service were required to perform civil defense duties. Over 4 percent of those on enrollment lists filed applications as conscientious objectors. Few young people acknowledged the need for military service, viewing it as a waste of time during a prime period of their lives. The youth branches of the main political parties were among those groups advocating a shorter period of military service.
One plan for reducing the period of conscription to four months was under discussion in the early 1990s. Under the plan, 20,000 conscripts would be in the service at any single time; 10,000 would be undergoing a two-month period of accelerated training, and 10,000 would be serving in their units. A safety clause would permit the minister of defense to extend the period of service to eight months for the army and twelve months for the navy and air force if the needs of the services were not being adequately met. The government plan called for the introduction of two new recruitment systems: one for volunteers, who would serve a minimum of eight months, and another for contract enlistments, which might be as long as eight years, to attract specialists in such fields as telecommunications, electronics, and computer technology. It was foreseen that the eight-month volunteers would be attracted by a higher wage (about US$200 a month) than conscripts and incentives in the form of preferences for academic study and careers in the police services.
This much discussed service plan was a further source of dissatisfaction for many in the officer corps who felt that the four-month term of service, the shortest of any country in Europe, would lead to a military establishment that was more costly to maintain and only marginally effective. Although the total number inducted each year would increase, the time allowed for training was regarded as insufficient to teach more than basic infantry skills and would seriously degrade unit performance. Doubts were expressed over the adequacy of the wages and incentives offered to retain a permanent cadre of skilled NCOs and specialists.
Although women had the legal right to volunteer for military duty and the armed forces were under obligation to accept them, it was only in the late 1980s that a few women with special qualifications, such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers, were taken into the officer corps. Several women were also enrolled at the Air Force Academy to train as pilots. No women were serving in the enlisted ranks. As of 1991, fewer than 100 women served in the armed services, fewer than any other country of NATO.
Data as of January 1993
Portugal Table of Contents