611.53/11–254: Despatch

No. 816
The Chargé in Portugal (Brown) to the Department of State

No. 269
  • Subject: Aspects of Portuguese-American Relations

In view of the impending appointment of a new Chief of Mission to Lisbon1 and the current depression in our influence here, it is thought that a short frank statement of account on certain important features of our relations with the Portuguese as seen from this [Page 1750] end might be of some value to the Department in formulating future policies. The present low ebb may be traced mainly to Portuguese disappointment in our attitude in the Goan dispute and in a lesser degree to the virtual vacuum in our high level contacts during the past year. There are, however, ample reserves of friendship here for the United States and, in the Embassy’s opinion, the situation described in transitory. A brief examination of our most urgent requirements from Portugal, i.e., (1) Azores, (2) Cape Verde group—Sal Island, (3) Uranium, (4) Safehaven—evacuation; and a few suggestions, are submitted herewith.


Azores. The Portuguese control the Azores which are of vital importance to the peripheral defense of the United States and as a staging and transit point in any defensive or offensive action undertaken by our armed services. Plans are under study for expanding our activities on Terceira Island (Lagens airbase) which would entail among other things a considerable increase in the personnel ceilings allowed by the Portuguese under the existing Azores agreement. Ever since our first arrangement (1946) covering the Lagens installation, the Portuguese have been most difficult on two points: (a) insistence on a relatively short term agreement, and (b) personnel ceilings. They have been adamant in keeping our authorized limits low.

On the subject of enlarging our installation in the Azores, Marshal Montgomery, who is a frequent visitor to Portugal and for whose judgment the Minister of Defense has the highest regard, may have provided a useful lead in breaking down latent Portuguese resistance to drastic peacetime increases in our personnel at Lagens Airfield. Speaking in London on October 21, on the strategy of atomic war and the dominant factor of air power, the Marshal, pointing out that the West could not win a future war if it lost control of the Atlantic, called attention to the necessity of having “in being” a highly effective global Early Warning System in order to counteract a surprise nuclear attack from the air.

In setting our attitudes toward Portugal (viz. Goa), it is well to keep constantly in mind not only the facilities we already enjoy in the Azores, but also the steady pressure for their expansion in one form or another, to say nothing of the renewal of the Azores agreement itself in 1956. We know from experience that each renewal has involved wanting substantially more from the Portuguese than we had under the terminating agreement. While, from a strictly economic view, it might be argued that Portugal can afford to increase her NATO military expenditures and similarly a case might be made on purely military grounds for restricting the military assistance program, the Embassy is pointing out to our MDAP review officers that because of our Azores and Sal projects, as well as for [Page 1751] other political considerations, we do not deem it to be in our interest that such action be taken. On the contrary, and taking into account the comparatively small amount of war equipment which we have given to this country, it is our opinion that we should not press the Portuguese too hard in the matter of budgeting additional funds for the maintenance of the three aircraft squadrons the Minister of Defense so keenly desires and which we are more or less committed under MDAP to provide (Embassy Despatch No. 233, October 14, 19542), nor should we follow a harsh line with respect to Portugal’s other military “requirements”. Incidentally, it is the Minister of Defense who practically decides all questions arising in our Azores operation, including personnel increases, etc.

Sal Island. The Embassy’s views concerning the negotiation of an agreement covering the use and development of a United States Air Force installation at Sal Island in the Cape Verde Archipelago, which the Department solicited in its Instruction No. A–40 of October 8, 1954, was submitted in our Despatch No. 239 of October 18.3 The requirement in question, although not to be compared in magnitude with the Azores is, nevertheless, important, since the Cape Verde Islands are of interest to our Air Force as a “link in an alternate Atlantic Air Movement route needed because of the anticipated wartime saturation of present Atlantic routes”. Although the Sal Island airport is under civilian control and, therefore, comes within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Communications, the Minister of Defense would have the deciding voice in such negotions as envisaged by the Department.
Uranium. The Embassy is pleased that Mr. Jose Frederico Ulrich, President of the Nuclear Energy Board (Junta de Energia Nuclear), has been invited by Chairman Strauss of the Atomic Energy Commission to visit the United States. Portugal is a potentially important European producer of uranium and our interest in this matter is well known to the Department. Mr. Ulrich, a former Minister of Public Works, is a close collaborator of Prime Minister Salazar and a man who will probably occupy a position of influence during the life of the present regime. It is believed, therefore, that it would be useful if, during Mr. Ulrich’s visit to Washington, he could have an opportunity to meet the Under Secretary, as they are both engineers and have had somewhat parallel careers.
Safehaven—Evacuation. United States Safehaven planning covering the evacuation of Americans, etc., from northern Europe through Spain and Portugal in the event of the outbreak of war, is now more or less stymied by Portuguese insistence that we transport their nationals as well. (See Embassy’s unnumbered telegram to Paris PLG, October 7, 1954.4) It is our belief, however, that the Minister of Defense, whose influence is far reaching, may eventually be of assistance to us in breaking down this present inflexible attitude which apparently stems exclusively from the Foreign Office. Although the latter has denied that our position on Goa has been a factor in their attitude, one cannot escape the conclusion that such is at least partly true.

Comment and Suggestions. A proud, sensitive people who after a long period of decline are now experiencing a national renaissance as a result of the policies and accomplishments of the Salazar regime, the Portuguese, while not lacking in realism, are most susceptible to friendly human gestures, particularly when not accompanied by obvious quid pro quo strings. “O factor humano” is a phrase constantly used in their conversation and reflects the ever present Lusitanian yearning for friendship, understanding and consideration. The personal element, therefore, in creating an atmosphere conducive to the realization of our objectives in this country, cannot be discounted.

While, in a general way, they admire American generosity and altruism and are aware that they have benefited from the Marshall Plan and MDAP, albeit that aid has been on a modest scale—their Marshall benefits, for example, were much less than those we extended to Ireland, a country from whom we receive no defense advantages—the impersonal and multi-national aspect of such operations have, perhaps, mitigated against our accruing the full psychological benefits which those programs deserved.

Since it is slightly off the beaten track, our high civilian authorities have not found it convenient or possible to visit Lisbon in the past three years. Neither the Secretary of State, Under Secretary, nor Mr. Stassen have visited Portugal, although many of the other NATO countries have been on their itineraries at one time or another and so noted in the Portuguese press. Moreover, this absence of high level contact has not been helped by frequent turnover in our ambassadors here, a fact which was recently publicly commented on by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. “During my four years [Page 1753] in the Foreign Office”, he declared, “I have already known three American ambassadors and I am about to know a fourth”. Due largely to the nature of the regime, leading Portuguese officials, both military and civilian, appear almost eternal (Dr. Salazar has been in the government for over twenty-five years, about twenty-three of which as Prime Minister) and, consequently, to them their American counterparts, with our constant shuffling, seem to have but an ephemeral existence. The need, therefore, of a reasonable ambassadorial continuity here would appear to be manifest. As of immediate interest, such moves on our part as separately inviting the President of the Republic and the Minister of Defense to visit the United States in the near future would be in the good cause and will surely pay off in dividends of good will from the basic stocks which fortunately exist here. Given the urgency of our Azores and Sal island requirements mentioned above, we recommend that an invitation should be extended to Colonel Santos Costa, the Minister of Defense, as soon as practicable.

Aaron S. Brown
  1. Ambassador Guggenheim left his post on Sept. 19; James C. H. Bonbright, who was appointed to replace him on Jan. 24, 1955, presented his credentials on Feb. 18.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 814.
  3. In instruction A–40, Dulles noted that Sal Island had been added by the Department of Defense to the list of additional military requirements desired by the United States in connection with the Azores. (711.56353G/10–854) In despatch 239 from Lisbon, the Embassy advocated proceeding cautiously and gradually on negotiations for rights on Sal Island, keeping the question separate from that of the Azores. (711.56353G/10–1854)
  4. This telegram contained an account of a conversation between Brown and a Portuguese Foreign Office official, during the course of which the Portuguese demand for evacuation of the general populace was made clear to the Americans. (200.1122/10–754)