The “Portuguese way of war,” as coined by military historian John P. Cann, marked the suite of policies undertaken by Lisbon to address the host of hurdles presented by the Portuguese Colonial Wars. The African theaters would have represented a daunting challenge for any nation: provinces thousands of miles from both the Metropolitan and one another, battlefields on harsh terrain ranging from Guinean swamps to Mozambican jungle to Angolan deserts, peoples arising from disparate ethnic, linguistic, and tribal groups each with their own complex histories, and opponents in some cases forming two or three separate armed factions. Compared with the Western powers that fought counterinsurgencies in the Third World during the postwar period – Great Britain, France, and the United States – Portugal was overwhelmingly inferior in population, in wealth, and in military might.
To meet such challenges, the Portuguese had no choice but to adopt strategies and tactics which, to put it bluntly, kept “the tempo of the fighting low and cost effective.”
“You go to war with the military you have” was the truism coined by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a phrase particularly apt to the Lusophone Empire in the Cold War era.
Since the Portuguese were fighting on a limited budget, any disruption to their meager resources could prove catastrophic. While the total amount of U.S. aid to Salazar was insignificant from the vantage point of the Americans (see Chart 1), U.S. aid nonetheless represented a meaningful part of Lisbon’s budget (see Chart 2). As such, the arrival of the pro-African nationalist Kennedy administration and the subsequent curtailing of U.S. military aid thereafter was no trifling matter.
In his hour of need, Salazar received ample and timely military aid from both the French and the West German governments. This installment in our series will examine the nature of this French and German military assistance with an emphasis on the underlying diplomacy buttressing said aid. First, we will do a brief review of the French and German relations with the United States, highlighting disagreements on pressing geopolitical issues. Then, we will look specifically at the nature of the aid (the rationale behind the assistance, the underlying negotiations, and the form of aid), which was usually specialized heavy equipment like aircraft that the Portuguese could not produce themselves. Next, we will look at the crucial non-military support that either state offered to Salazar—French defense of Portugal in the United Nations, and German financial assistance to the Estado Novo. Finally, we look at how assistance from both countries declined in the later part of the 1960s, due to political changes in Paris and Bonn.
What insights can this case give us? First, it provides a snapshot into the renewed vigor of the Portuguese dictatorship following the purge of treasonous elements after the failed Botelho Moniz coup. Second, we can witness incipient forms of the foreign policy themes that would ultimately emanate from France and Germany in the coming the decades: French haranguing of American hegemony as epitomized in Jacques Chirac’s opposition to the Second Iraq War or Emmanuel Macron’s positioning as the globalist-cosmopolitan alternative to Donald Trump—and the continuing political and economic domination of the European continent by Germany, the major theme of the long Chancellorship of Angela Merkel. Finally, it provides functional detail on how marginalized, autocratic regimes might use alliances to enhance regime security – either very starkly as in the case of Bashar al-Assad’s dependence on Moscow and Iran for survival, or more discreetly such as Rodrigo Duterte’s growing embrace of Beijing.
U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson had a warm corner in this heart for the Portuguese – channeling Ulysses after a trip to Lisbon, Acheson waxed that “from then on some of my fleece was left behind, and some of Portugal came with me.” His dealings with the major European powers, however, lacked the same romanticism. “Unity in Europe requires the association and support of the United States” was Acheson’s realist maxim on the indispensability of American hegemony. For Acheson, a dean of Cold War doctrine, assessment of European foreign policy centered on one pivotal factor: “The basic criterion from US viewpoint is, of course, extent to which any given action by Eurs [sic] promotes or prejudices US security interests.” Indeed, European diplomacy had merit only to the extent it enhanced U.S. interests:
An increased measure of Continental European integration can be secured only within the framework of the North Atlantic community. This is entirely consistent with our own desire to see a power arrangement on the Continent that does not threaten us and with which we can work in close harmony.
A critical test of this power arrangement arose during the Suez Crisis of 1956, when France and Great Britain invaded Egypt in protest of Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. After neither state sought prior U.S. diplomatic consultation, the Americans moved swiftly to thwart the offensive. By denying an emergency loan from Eisenhower to defend an attack on the sterling post-invasion, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had no choice but to turn tail and abort the Anglo-French mission. Whereas London was quick to repair ties with Washington, the incident stung Paris bitterly and forced a complete reassessment of French foreign policy:
Guy Mollet, infuriated by Eden’s reversal, moved swiftly on two fronts: he pushed ahead with negotiations on the formation of the European Economic Community, which would come to fruition by 1957, and also accelerated work on France’s own nuclear deterrent—a project that would lead to a French nuclear weapon by 1960.
The Suez Crisis also ruffled the West Germans, who used the incident as a springboard for closer ties with France:
Western German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French premier Guy Mollet were meeting in Paris on November 6, 1956, at the height of the Suez Crisis (and the simultaneous turmoil in Hungary) Shortly after Adenauer exclaimed it was time for Europe to unite ‘against America’ Mollet excused himself to take a phone call from British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who informed Mollet that under U.S. pressure, London had decided to call off the Anglo-French invasion of the Suez Canal. When a crestfallen Mollet returned to the meeting room and conveyed the telephone conversation to his guest, Adenauer consoled him by saying, ‘Now it is time to create Europe.’
The “time to create Europe” surged to the fore with the ascension of Charles de Gaulle to the French presidency. For the duration of the 1960s, an ideological battle emerged that “arrayed Washington’s ‘Grand Design’ of a Western Europe snugly embedded within the U.S.-dominated Atlantic community against de Gaulle’s ‘Grand Ambition” of a ‘European Europe.’”
A key plank of de Gaulle’s “Grand Ambition” was deeper Franco-German cooperation:
Gaullist policy envisioned a close Franco-German axis as the foundation for the Europeanization of Western European defense and the construction of an independent Western European pole of power in international politics.
These efforts reached a crescendo in January 1963, when de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s application to the European Economic Community and signed the Élysée Treaty, a document calling for greater mutual consultations on defense with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The reaction from Washington was decidedly negative:
President Kennedy called the treaty ‘an unfriendly act.’ George Ball, the U.S. deputy Secretary of State, came down hard on the Germans and said that Germany ‘would have to make a difficult choice between its relationship with France and its ties with the rest of Europe and the U.S.’ Rusk believed that de Gaulle was trying ‘to force us [the United States] out of Europe,’ and that this had to be resisted with ‘the greatest effort.’
Why did the West Germans risk the ire of their American partners? The signing of the treaty “evidenced Adenauer’s disenchantment with U.S. policy, which stemmed from the Kennedy administration’s handling of the 1961-2 Berlin crisis. The crisis underscored growing doubts about the credibility of America’s extended deterrence strategy and Washington’s commitment to German reunification. Washington’s passive acquiescence in the erection of the Berlin Wall and subsequent bilateral negotiations … suggested to Adenauer (correctly) that the United States and the Soviet Union were tacitly cooperating to stabilize the postwar power status quo in Central Europe at Germany’s expense.”
Nonetheless, West German discontent had its boundaries: “Adenauer, as early as 1960, had already told his advisers that he did not plan to let de Gaulle wreck NATO or the EEC.” Adenauer made sure the treaty language was moderated, and maintained close diplomatic cooperation with Washington.
Given the economic boom the West Germans were experiencing as members of the post-war, American-led global liberal system, German deference is not entirely surprising: “More so than other advanced industrialized countries in the postwar period, the FRG has relied on expanding international markets … Its growth strategy has been distinguished by an emphasis on exports.” Key to this export led growth was an undervalued Deutsche Mark, due to the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. Like the East Asian exporters of the early part of the 21st century, the West Germans built considerable trade surpluses with each of its major trading partners. This newfound economic prowess seemed to affect the diplomatic posture of the West Germans – or at least that’s what some of Eisenhower’s emissaries experienced at the tail-end of his administration:
In November 1960, Robert B. Anderson, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Douglas Dillon, the U.S. Undersecretary of State, paid a visit to Bonn … the mission of Anderson and Dillon was aimed at rallying the Europeans to the defense of the American currency, which had been under pressure since 1968. Germany was the main target and the negotiators’ agenda included a request for a direction contribution toward the cost of maintaining U.S. troops in Germany. Press commentators on both sides rushed to the event. The German press commented on the visit with particular malice. Anderson and Dillon were portrayed as begging for money and, to underline this characterization, the German news magazine Der Spiegel printed a photo showing the stout German minister of economics, Ludwig Erhard, lecturing the skinny Anderson.
French lessons, French weapons
Since at least the 19th century, the Portuguese had been diligent students of French military theory. While Revue Militaire General was breaking the story on Soviet designs on the Lusophone Empire, the French military was cycling Portuguese staff through its training programs. One such staff member, Major Artur Henrique Nunes da Silva, returned to Lisbon in 1960 after completing training in “Guerre Subversive” in the Ecole Superior de Guerre and went on to publish the go-to Portuguese field manual on counter-insurgency after a stint in Angola the following year.O Execrito na Guerra Subversiva reflected both the prolific writings of General Lionel-Max Chassin, Colonel Lacheroy and General Nemo from the Indochina conflict of the preceding decade as well as the latest lessons from the ongoing strife in Algeria.
Since large numbers of the officer staffs trained in France directly or were at least close students of French military science, the Portuguese naturally looked to French weapons makers once the American aid spigot turned dry under Kennedy. The first deal, preceding JFK, occurred in 1958 and called for the delivery of 80 Panhard combat cars – all of which were ultimately sent to Angola. The deal showcased the remarkable penny-pinching abilities of the “budget minded” Portuguese, given that “75 per cent of this transaction would be paid to France in goods such as wine, corn, and rice.” Of more import to the Portuguese was the symbolism: Paris was willing to aid Lisbon in the protection of her colonies.
French aid was especially valuable to the Portuguese Air Force. Portugal had negotiated for Nordatlas, Broussard, and T-6 Harvard aircraft in late 1960, but the planes were only delivered in 1961 and 1962 after the outbreak of the Colonial Wars. No piece of machinery would prove as critical to Portuguese military operations as the French helicopter series, Aérospatiale Alouette – “except for the individual Portuguese soldier, the most useful all-purpose items in the theatres was the helicopter.” The Portuguese received two Alouette II helicopters in 1962 and an additional four in 1963 before upgrading to an order of 15 Alouette III in 1963. With its extensive marshlands and serpentine river system, “the geographical configuration of Guinea made the helicopter the most efficient means of moving troops.” In Angola, the helicopters were widely deployed in the Dembos jungle region against the UPA; on the Angolan savanna, they fought in conjunction with units of dragões—cavalry units—for a uniquely Portuguese fighting combination that most certainly caused much confusion among the ranks of the African rebels.
Surprisingly, the French faced minimal international opposition for its support of widely reviled Salazar regime. After 1962 though, arms restrictions appeared – at least in theory: “According to French Prime-Minister, Michel Debré, France could only sell to Portugal ‘strictly defensive’ material such as means of transport and cargo airplanes, while the sale of equipment ‘capable of being used in counter-guerrilla warfare’ should ‘rather be refused.’” Such weak language was poorly enforced, and questionably offense-minded weapons were included within the large volumes of materiel sold to Lisbon.”
In 1964, the Portuguese had an opportunity to repay France the favor – but not without seeking some advantage in the process. “When France initiated its own nuclear missile program, it required a tracking station and this was afforded in the Azores.” While thanking France for its “friendship and loyalty,” the Portuguese saw a new opportunity “to safeguard kindly the stability of French military and political support.” Due to Portuguese pressure after signing of the April 7th 1964 agreement, France sidestepped its own restrictions and sold numerous overtly offensive military equipment to Lisbon including rockets (ranging from 37mm to 60mm), and 20mm cannons, among other materiel.
The crowning achievement of Portuguese lobbying came in a deal for warships later that year. Perhaps it was some impatience on the Portuguese side, as the ships had been desired by the Portuguese Navy since 1958. For when the negotiations re-commenced in the early 1960s, the Portuguese displayed even more stinginess than usual:
Portugal wanted ‘the payments to start as late as possible, [extend] for the longest [duration] possible, and with the smallest rate of interest possible.’ The Portuguese diplomat was not afraid to threaten his French colleagues with the possibility of the Azores negotiations to be called off.
At this point, opposition to French magnanimity began brewing in the ministerial halls of Paris. Of these, resistance to this naval transaction came from “mainly Finance (concerned about the stability of the French currency) and Foreign Affairs, but received a favorable attitude from the Defense Ministry.” The hard-nosed tactics of Portuguese diplomat Marcelo Mathias helped supply necessary ammunition for the French military to win the day and deliver an even sweeter deal to Lisbon:
France agreed to build up to eight warships with the financial operation being supported by French enterprises. Beyond this, the Portuguese Armed Forces also obtained the French government assurance for the supplying of the ammunitions to the ships for fifteen years.
The agreement also called for the provision of “four submarines and four frigates of over 2,000 tons each.” But just like the first initial transaction a few years prior, the symbolic value outweighed the good deal:
As Mathias wrote to Salazar, this agreement was extremely important to Portugal because it showed how good the relations between these two states were. Despite the international criticism of Portuguese policy, France ‘did not hesitate to prove to Portugal its friendship’ and ‘its conviction that our policy in Africa won’t lead us to catastrophe.’”
All roads—and air strips—lead to Bonn
Whereas the French armament discussions were under the auspices of the French military, Portugal’s initial weapons discussions with Germany were instead couched within the economic realm:
In 1959, it was agreed between Lisbon and Bonn that the German Armed Forces would order from the Portuguese military industries (especially Fábrica Nacional de Braço de Prata—FNBP) the production of a large amount of ammunitions and hand grenades. This transaction would count as Portuguese exports to the FRG and, in this sense, would contribute to the reduction of the Portuguese deficit on the balance of trade between the two countries. Until 1960, this was the main feature of the military cooperation between Germany and Portugal, military orders to reduce the Portuguese deficit in the commercial relations.”
Relations turned a new leaf when, while visiting Portugal in January of 1960, German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Strauss made a proposal for landing rights in the south of Portugal. The core of this agreement aimed for “reciprocal use of military bases, the possibility of storage of German reserves of war in Portugal and the production and acquisition of war material of common interest to both countries.” On January 16th, the two nations signed the Convenção Administrativa (Administrative Convention) laying the terms for cooperation the substance of which came together in the coming months:
After consulting the military commanders, the Portuguese government decided that the Beija Air Base, in the Alentejo, was the most suitable for German purposes. The choice was not innocent. The modernization of the air base would be paid by the German government, but the base would always be Portuguese.
Meanwhile, Western German subsidies to the nascent Portuguese armaments industry only accelerated. Bonn helped the Portuguese reach critical scale and operating leverage through its steady purchases:
The FRG would ‘always keep the Portuguese military production units occupied with substantial orders’ Therefore, those industries would always be able to produce weapons and ammunition for the Portuguese Armed Forces. As a consequence of this commitment, Lisbon had only to pay the [variable] cost of production, since the maintenance expenses [and other fixed costs] were already covered by the German government.
The Germans ordered more than 50,000 G-3guns from Portugal during this period, a very meaningful seed investment into the Portuguese Fábrica Militar (Military Factory). By 1961, Portugal had become a major producer of the German G3, which became the most widely used rifle in the Colonial Wars.
Before the Angolan conflict even erupted, “West Germany had delivered tanks, machine guns and broadcasting equipment to Portugal with a total value of US $55 million.” Like the French, the most important German contribution was in aircraft, as the Dornier DO-27 and Harvard T-6 became the go-to transportation and bomber planes respectively for the Portuguese Air Force. In April of 1961, German technicians from Dornier traveled to Luanda to help assemble the first aircraft order; there were 16 DO-27’s operating in Angola by October of that year, and 24 additional aircraft were purchased by the following year. The Portuguese also purchased German helicopters—the American embassy reported the order of 12 Saunders-Roe Skeeter helicopters from West Germany, 10 of which were assembled in Portugal and two of which went directly to Angola.
The American embassy reported more than weapons deliveries back to Washington. Charles Elbrick, the American ambassador, noted that Strauss had again visited the Beja region in January of 1962. When he returned to Bonn, Strauss personally reported his visit to the American embassy, stating that he had met with Salazar and the two discussed “bilateral question of Beja air base and small naval harbor that Germans desire to develop for joint use with Portuguese.” Construction finally commenced a few months later, which now included eight hangars, an enlarged landing strip, and a nearby residential area. Lisbon would not have to pay for any of this; Bonn took the expenses upon itself. To further sweeten the deal for the Portuguese, “the German Air Force had also requested the overhauling of some of some of its airplanes in the Oficinas Gerais de Manutenção Aeronautica (OGMA). All specialized workers involved in those operations would receive proper training in Germany, which was also favorable for the Portuguese Air Force.”
The Beja contract corresponded with an escalation in German military assistance. The following year, in November of 1963, the Portuguese landed an agreement to acquire 46 DO-27’s and 70 Harvard T-6s. Most noteworthy was that the Portuguese paid for this order “by providing maintenance services for German aircraft in Portuguese facilities” – meaning the same German subsidized OGMA stations at the Beja base. For the cash strapped Lisbon regime, it was yet another godsend.
As a liberal democracy, did the West German government face reprisal for this sort of generous support for Salazar? At least in the beginning, the Germans took a similar approach to the French and merely played dumb:
Although the German authorities knew that these airplanes were to be sent to Africa, they trusted the Portuguese declaration stating that the ‘planes belonged to the Portuguese Defense Ministry and should be used according to the spirit of NATO.’ This declaration, requested by the German government as a guarantee, was intentionally ambiguous and it could be understood in many cases, which favored both the Portuguese and German interests.
De Gaulle versus Kennedy
In October of 1960, the time had come for Marcelo Mathias, the Portuguese ambassador to France, to have his long-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Charles de Gaulle. Portugal, Mathias informed the French president, would resist “at any cost” the budding Soviet-inspired insurrections then brewing in its African possessions. Perhaps taken in by Mathias’ firm position, de Gaulle responded with equally forceful assurance: France would “never do anything that would harm the Portuguese [sentiment] towards its colonial possessions.” De Gaulle then provided the Portuguese ambassador with his road map of the situation: “Don’t count on a change in the US’s attitude. Look for new support. Resist. France will help you.”
Nowhere was this support more palpable than in the United Nations. Aligned against Portugal were the USSR, the Third World bloc, and thanks to the Kennedy administration, the United States. Ever true to his word, de Gaulle indeed ensured that France “never endangered the Portuguese position” and abstained at every Resolution critical of Salazar’s Portugal. Upon hearing of the American intent to vote against Portugal in a Security Council resolution in March of 1961, Maurice Couve de Murville, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, replied indignantly that “this American action would create ‘one more crisis in the West.’” The French diplomatic team hammered their American counterparts on the unintended consequences of their positions, foreshadowing many of the points made by critics of American foreign policy in the 21st century:
The change in American policy had the opposite effect on Salazar. The Portuguese had confessed they were planning to introduce reforms in their African colonies, ‘but had given up, at least temporarily, because of United States and UN pressure’. [The French] considered, just like their British counterparts, that such [UN] action would amount to intervening in Portugal’s internal affairs.
Sandwiched between two critical UN votes, in May of 1961, de Gaulle, Kennedy, and Macmillan had a meeting of the minds in London on how to tackle the thorny Angolan question. The American and French positions were starkly opposed, beginning with their initial premises. While even the most ardent pro-Salazar Americans like Acheson doubted the Portuguese ability to win the military conflicts in Africa, the French remained confident that the Portuguese imperialists would prevail over the Marxist insurrectionists. From that assumption, it followed that one could have greater influence on the ground in Africa via gentle persuasion of Salazar rather than out-and-out public humiliation.
For de Gaulle, all Kennedy’s position achieved instead in Africa was to “instigate unrest in Angola.” In terms of the future of Europe, this approach would lead to the “retreat of Portugal from the Western Alliance” and widespread domestic instability in Portugal, up to and including “the establishment of a communist regime, which would certainly happen in the case of a sudden loss of empire.” De Gaulle would repeat this last point the following month in a meeting with Kennedy, stating on June 1st that despite American frustration with Portuguese intransigence, that “putting too much pressure on Salazar could cause a revolution in Portugal, as well as open the way for a communist regime in the Iberian Peninsula.”
The Portuguese were keenly aware of this French fear, which was likely planted by Salazar’s emissaries. A few years later, in April 1963, when asked the same question by the American mission in Paris, Mathias gave his stab at de Gaulle’s train of thought:
These reasons transcended the purely African aspect of problem. De Gaulle believed that ‘if the Portuguese should lose Angola and Mozambique, the Salazar regime would fall and would be succeeded by a leftist or Castroist type of government’. This would provoke ‘parallel upheaval in Spain with similar consequences’. France would then find itself with a ‘most uncomfortable neighbor on the southern flank, to say nothing of a disrupted NATO.
Once the crescendo of anti-Portuguese sentiment passed and a more subdued level of international disapproval took its place, the UN resolutions similarly became more restrained – but French opposition remained all the same. In December 1963, France was the sole abstaining vote on a comparatively moderate resolution. Explaining their vote to the U.S. delegate Charles Yost, the French stated that the vote had been a personal decision of de Gaulle:
The French president believed the Portuguese government was ‘vulnerable internally and its allies should take no step that might weaken it.’ Moreover, de Gaulle considered that the Portuguese government ‘had shown signs of good will vis-à-vis Africans and this was a good occasion for showing Africans that Portugal’s allies would not let themselves be pushed too far on this subject.’
German financial assistance
Since it was not a part of the UN Security Council, West Germany was limited to public statements in support of Salazar’s regime. They shared the French assessment that losing Portugal to the Atlantic Alliance was not a risk worth taking, and they shared French fear that the collapse of the Portuguese Empire would usher the end of the Estado Novo and the ushering in of a communist regime. While lacking a meaningful vote in international assemblies, the Germans voted the way economists argue as being more emblematic of choice: with cold, hard Deutsche Mark.
The military subsidies mentioned earlier were not outliers by any stretch, as the Germans “supplied, many times at symbolic prices […] appropriate planes for the fight in Africa, telecommunications equipment, war material, military vehicles and others.” In addition to the military subsidies, the FRG also sought to support the Portuguese economy outright, as “during the 1960s, West Germany maintained a friendly policy towards Portugal, opening financial credits in favorable conditions and increasing German imports from Portugal.” The FRG gave Portugal many direct loans, totaling “$41.25 million in 1961, $37.12 million in 1962, and $13.75 million in 1963.” Additionally, in 1962 there was a DM100 million loan from the Frankfurt Reconstruction Bank in 1962.
Pro-Portuguese German officials were behind this favorable set of policies. The Portuguese Foreign Minister, Franco Nogueira, “emphasized the role of the German ambassador in Lisbon, Schaffarzyk, who ‘believed in Portuguese policy’ and whose ‘reports and information encouraged the German government.’”
In August 1962, Franco Nogueira met the West German ambassador to Lisbon. The ambassador had recently travelled to Bonn and declared himself very happy with the situation he found. A year earlier, he had informed his government that Angola and Mozambique would not fall and that the political situation in Portugal would stabilize.
The network of pro-Salazar politicians in the FRG ran up to Adenauer himself, at least according to Nogueira, and was augmented by substantial private investment. The shining moment of German-Portuguese relationship was a 1961 visit by the German Economy Minister:
Financial and economic cooperation was announced in Portugal by Ludwig Erhard, the West German Economy Minister, who visited Lisbon in May 1961 accompanied by a large staff of advisors. On his arrival, Erhard ‘praised Portuguese financial policies under Prime Minister Salazar’ and stated that West Germany wanted to ‘facilitate by every means, the more rapid economic development of Portugal.’ At a press conference, Erhard said the West Germans were going to help Portugal in terms of ‘material and financial assistance, as well as private investments in Portuguese industry.
Erhard was not alone among German leaders in heaping praise on Salazar’s regime:
In late July 1963, the vice-president of the Bundestag, Richard Jaeger, led a delegation of West German politicians and journalists on a trip that took in Lisbon, Luanda and Lourenco Marques. The delegation met Salazar and other Portuguese officials. In statements to the press, Jaeger said ‘this was the first visit anyone in this group had made to any part of Portugal, and expressed his admiration of Portugal’s ‘civilizing mission in Africa.’
The Great Cooling
The watershed moment for German military aid to Portugal came in 1965. In 1963, the Portuguese were forced to send back the F-86 Sabre airplanes that had been deployed to the “dark continent” back to Europe due to pressure from its NATO allies. Seeking to remedy this crucial loss, the German Defense Minister proposed the sale of 65 F-86 Sabre planes to Portugal in 1965. The catch, however, was that the Germans needed final approval from the Canadians, whose original deal with Bonn required approval for any transfers. Unsurprisingly, Canada—then under a Liberal Party government—blocked the transaction. This immediately set in motion a train of actions on behalf of both Lisbon and Bonn:
Salazar’s government developed a strong diplomatic action, which involved contacts in France in order to accomplish [a reversal of the Canadian decision], but they were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the German Defense Ministry also pressured the German Foreign Office, with the intention to solve the question. This case is an example of how the interference of the military authorities helped to solve the problems related to the international constraints of the Portuguese-German cooperation.
Amazingly, Portugal yet again left a touchy situation with an even better deal. Blocked from delivering the older, used F-86 planes, the Germans instead sold the Portuguese brand new 40 Fiat G-91 planes at lower price. Undoubtedly pleased in the short-run, the Salazar regime immediately sent the planes to Portuguese Guinea. Still, the incident caused considerable political trouble inside Germany, and the relations between the two nations would not be the same. After 1965, Bonn firmly insisted that “all the weapons and airplanes sold or given by the Federal Republic should be used strictly in Portugal [for] defensive operations in the North Atlantic Treaty system.”
The situation deteriorated further upon the breakdown of the Beja Base agreement. The death knell came in FRG’s elections in December 1966, when the SPD came to power in a coalition with the CDU/CSU:
[T]he Great Coalition government opened a change in the foreign policy of the Federal Republic. The charter defense of the Detente and be beginning of the Ostpolitik made the obstinate Portuguese attitude of keeping the Empire by force less comprehensible in the eyes of the German leaders.
As a parting gift, the Germans sold 3 last Dornier DO-27 planes to the Portuguese at cut-rate prices and permitted Dornier to commence talks with Lisbon on how to encourage domestic plane production in Portugal. The Beja Base project was formally nixed in May 1969, post the assumption of Marcelo Caetano to power. Emblematic of the post-Salazar psychological decline, the fragments of construction that already had been completed were allocated to Lufthansa and TAP for the training of civilian air pilots.
Comparatively, the aid reduction from France was less well delineated. The protracted naval supply negotiation of 1964 marked the high point – from then on “until September 1968, when Salazar left the government, France and Portugal did not have any more outstanding moments in their relationship.” The sole military supply sale of substance in the late 1960s occurred in 1969, when the French delivered 12 PUMA helicopters to the Estado Novo regime.
More problematic for the Portuguese, however, was the deteriorating domestic situation in France. The labor uprisings in May of 1968 caused considerable angst to Salazar, “who had come to admire de Gaulle greatly, and to rely on France’s international support.” The State Department report chronicling the on-the-ground situation alleges widespread dread in Lisbon:
This country was badly shaken by the events in France in May 4. It was suddenly and starkly clear at various levels of Portuguese society how easily a strong-man system could be brought to the brink of revolution … The Portuguese will be watching French labor adjustments apprehensively with an eye to their influence on the increasingly pressed local wage structure. They will have concern over the significance of educational reforms in France with respect to Portuguese students who have been up to now surprisingly quiescent but who have begun to show restiveness in recent months. There is considerable expectation here of student troubles in the autumn. Disorders in France could trigger something here.
Evidently, to Salazar, the military was not the sole element of Portuguese society to take its cue from the culturally dominant French. Marxist elements in the student and labor movements, Salazar correctly opined, might one day also take to the same French emulation game previously pursued by the Portuguese armed forces.
While the slowdown in German and French support in the later part of the 1960s was certainly not welcome by the Estado Novo, its net effect was substantially self-contained. First, the American relations with Lisbon improved substantively under Lyndon Johnson and especially Richard Nixon. Second, the Portuguese had made other alliances to compensate – most notably, the increased cooperation between Lisbon and the white-minority governments of Rhodesia and South Africa.
While Salazar’s team undertook this major foreign policy initiative we have just chronicled, domestic economic policy saw arguably much more dramatic changes. With the goal of stoking economic growth to fund the war effort and reduce domestic discontent, Salazar abandoned his prior policy of autarky for greater economic integration with the rest of Europe. These changes, however, were by no means neutral; these economic policies were fundamental in helping breakdown elite support for the Estado Novo regime within Portugal. The range and consequences of these economic policy changes will be the focus of the next analysis.
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