North Atlantic Treaty Organization

   Portugal joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, as a founding member. Besides complementing the Atlantic orientation of Portugal's foreign and defense policies, this membership also supported the country's close relationship with two leading members of NATO, Great Britain and the United States. Portugal's slight contribution to NATO in the first decades after joining was conditioned mainly by the fact that Portugal's primary concern was in defending its colonial empire, Portuguese India (1954-61) and in conducting several colonial wars in its African empire in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea- Bissau (1961-74). One contentious question during this phase of Portugal's membership was the extent to which Portugal used NATO-issued equipment to fight those wars in Africa and Asia, since several of these colonial territories were neither on the Atlantic nor in NATO's jurisdiction (Mozambique and Portuguese India).
   The perceived strategic value of Portugal's key Atlantic archipelagos, the Azores and Madeiras, constituted Portugal's primary contribution to NATO and neutralized any U.S. ambivalence about the question of Portugal's NATO membership. The usefulness of Azores' air and naval bases, especially Lajes base at Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira Island, Azores, along with bases in continental Portugal and in the Madeira Islands, trumped international criticism of Portugal's colonial action and influenced American policy toward Portugal. This remained the situation until after the Yom Kippur war, an Arab-Israeli conflict, in October 1973, when Portugal, despite the risks to her energy supplies, gave the United States permission to use Azores bases for resupplying Israel.
   The Revolution of 25 April 1974 had an impact on Portugal's relationship to NATO. Leftist forces in Portugal were now in command, and Portuguese NATO delegates did not attend highly sensitive NATO defense briefings. But by 1980, after moderate military forces had ousted the radical leftists, Portugal's NATO roles returned to the routing. One of NATO's major subordinate commands became IBERLANT (Iberian Atlantic Command), under SACLANT (Supreme Commander Atlantic), located at Norfolk, Virginia. IBERLANT is located at Oeiras, Portugal and, in 1982, the IBERLAND commander for the first time was a Portuguese Vice Admiral. That same year, Spain joined NATO and, until 1986, when Spain decided not to join NATO's integrated military structure, Portugal was anxious that Portuguese commanders not be subordinate to Spanish commanders in NATO. As a key leader of IBERLANT, along with the representative units of Great Britain and the United States, Portugal's forces remain responsible for surveillance and patrolling of the area from central Portugal to the straits of Gibraltar.
   Portugal has made symbolic if modest contributions to NATO's mission in the Balkan conflicts beginning in the late 1990s and in Afghanistan since 2001. Among Portugal's contributions has been the service of medical units in Afghanistan.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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