UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Portugal - US Relations

The United States and Portugal traditionally considered each other friends and allies. These sentiments were reinforced by the large number of Portuguese immigrants to the United States and the growing economic and political importance of this Portuguese community. Since 1943, when the United States built the Lajes Air Base on Terceira Island in the Azores, American interests in Portugal were mainly strategic and military. In return for the use of this vitally important base, the United States gave military aid to Portugal. Portugal also benefited from the European Recovery Program (ERP), more commonly known as the Marshall Plan. During the 1960s and early 1970s, relations between the two countries were sometimes strained because the United States took an anticolonial stand with regard to Portuguese Africa.

Bilateral ties date from the earliest years of the United States. Following the Revolutionary War, Portugal was among the first countries to recognize the United States. On February 21, 1791, President George Washington opened formal diplomatic relations, naming Col. David Humphreys as U.S. minister. The oldest continuously-operating U.S. Consulate in the world, since 1795, is in Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores.

Contributing to the strong ties between the United States and Portugal are the sizable Portuguese communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, California, and Hawaii. The latest census estimates that 1.3 million individuals living in the United States are of Portuguese ancestry, with a large percentage coming from the Azores. There are about 20,000 Americans living in Portugal.

United States officials were not worried initially by the Revolution of 1974. They assumed that General Spínola, a military man and a conservative, would maintain control. As the revolution moved sharply to the left, however, and it appeared possible the PCP might come to power, United States officials became uneasy. Frank Carlucci, the United States ambassador in Lisbon, directed a campaign to aid democratic groups. The United States and its NATO allies provided assistance to the socialists and socialist trade unions because they were viewed as the best alternative to a communist takeover. The United States also sought to rally the moderate elements within the military and in Portugal generally. The campaign paid off as Portugal remained democratic.

United States assistance, presence, and involvement remained high during the late 1970s. But as Portuguese politics came to resemble those of other West European nations during the 1980s, United States assistance declined. In 1983 the base agreement was renegotiated, but Portuguese officials were subsequently disappointed by a reduction in American military aid. As part of the base agreement, the Luso-American Development Foundation was created to promote economic and cultural ties between the two countries.

The United States-Portugal defense relationship is strong and enduring. The current U.S.-Portugal Agreement on Cooperation and Defense (ACD) was signed in 1995; however, a U.S. military forward presence at Lajes Field, in the Azores, extends back to World War II. U.S. Air Forces Europe's 65 Air Base Wing, in close cooperation with the Portuguese Air Force, ensures that Lajes Field remains an important logistic hub for U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. European Command, and NATO Allies. Access to Lajes Field is an essential component of U.S. European Command’s engagement in Portugal. This access supports deployed U.S. forces throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. U.S. missions currently supported by a presence at Lajes Field include counterterrorism, humanitarian, and combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The U.S. and Portugal engage in formal discussions that cover the entire bilateral relationship, including security issues, twice a year. The parties signed an Agreement on Cooperation and Defense (ACD) in 1995, an agreement that is binding on both parties. The ACD established a Bilateral Commission that meets twice yearly -- alternating between Lisbon and Washington, D.C. -- to review bilateral relations regarding political, military, and diplomatic issues. The Commission allows subject matter experts to accompany the delegations to coordinate policies on issues of mutual interest. While the semi-annual Bilateral Commission meeting has at times been too formalized and scripted to afford an opportunity for meaningful dialogue, it has still been ffective in focusing the parties to deliver on commitments made throughout the year.

Portugal values the transatlantic alliance and advocates within the European Union and NATO for strong European ties with the United States, particularly on defense and security issues. The Portuguese Government is open to greater cooperation with U.S. Africa Command to synchronize engagement efforts, and to enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation with the U.S. on the African continent. Portugal hosts NATO Allied Joint Command Lisbon and continues to lobby the alliance to maintain a NATO headquarters in Lisbon following NATO Command structure reform. The Portuguese Government continues to struggle to meet NATO’s defense spending target, but is working to complete a transformation of its military command structure and is incorporating two recently acquired advanced diesel submarines and one new Ocean Patrol vessel into the Navy as well as upgrades to Portuguese Air Force maritime patrol aircraft.

U.S.-Portuguese trade is relatively small, with the United States exporting $1.5 billion worth of goods in 2009 and importing an estimated $1 billion. While total Portuguese trade has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, the U.S. percentage of Portugal's exports and imports has been growing at a slower rate. The Portuguese Government is seeking to increase technology and service exports, as well as traditional products (textiles and footwear) to the United States and is encouraging greater bilateral investment. U.S. firms play significant roles in the pharmaceutical, computer, and retail sectors in Portugal, but their involvement in the automotive manufacturing sector has declined in recent years.

As a small power, Portugal has decided to carve out a niche as an "honest broker" in international relations. This manifests itself in varied ways, not only in Europe-Russia issues, but also in Europe's relations with Iran and North Africa. Portuguese officials believe that a good ally helps alleviate a crisis through mediation, which is somewhat at odds with the US view that in a crisis, allies stand publicly with allies. When the Portugal finally recognized Kosovo on 07 October 2008, it simultaneously announced that it would support Serbia's call to have the ICJ review the legality of Kosovo independence. That is, Protugal both acted and called its own action into question, all in the quest for "balance".

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 31-01-2013 16:45:13 ZULU