Peacekeeping Contributor Profile: Portugal

Author: Maria do Céu Pinto, University of Minho (

Active Armed Forces[1] Helicopters Defense Budget Uniformed UN Peacekeepers UN Contribution


Other Significant Deployments
World Ranking: 74
Army 17,900
Navy 9,850
Air Force 6,850
45,250 paramilitary
ASW: 5 Lynx
Air Force:
6 Alouette
12 Merlin (medium)
7 Lama
2014: $2.63bn
(1.19% of GDP)
2013: $2.77bn
(1.27% of GDP)
2012: $2.64bn
(1.24% of GDP)

World Ranking (2016): 51

(4 female)
31 May 2015
Ranking: 79th
14th largest EU contributor.
MINUSMA 49 troops
UNAMA 1 milex
ISAF: 37
Ocean Shield: 1
Baltic Air Policing: 70
KFOR(Kosovo): 186
OSCE Kosovo: 2
OAE: 13
EU NAVFOR-Atalanta: 1
EUTM Mali: 7
EUTM Somalia: 5
Defense Spending / troop:[2] US$75,229 (compared to global average of approx. US$65,905)


Part 1: Recent Trends

After the major deployment of Portugese peacekeepers to East Timor between 1999 and 2003, the numbers of uniformed personnel in UN-led peacekeeping operations dropped significantly. Between 2006 and 2012, Portugal deployed only a military engineering unit to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Since 2011, the budget for national forces deployed in international missions has been reduced prompting a clear reduction in Portugal’s participation in UN-led operations occured. Meanwhile, Portugal has sought to prioritize its participation in NATO or EU missions. This trend has been somewhat offset by the deployment in August 2014 to the UN’s mission in Mali of one C-130 Hercules transport plane and respective crew and support force, totalling roughly 50 personnel.




Since the 1990s, Portuguese armed and security forces have increasingly been required to take part in peace support operations. In the late 1990s, Portugal ranked among the top 15 contributing countries to the UN. The peaks of Portugese participation in peace operations were in the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996) and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET, 2001). Over the last decade, however, Portugal reduced the size of its military forces involved in peace operations, especially UN-led operations. This was largely due to an acute financial crisis that forced Portugal to cut down its military contingents abroad and carefully prioritize its contributions. Although the Portuguese Defence Minister stated that a balance should be sought between Portuguese contributions to UN, NATO and EU operations, priority has been given to NATO operations.[3] Currently, most Portugese peacekeepers are deployed under NATO in Kosovo, Afghanistan (which Portugal decided to scale down substantially throughout 2014), and in the Baltic air-policing mission. Portugal’s only UN peacekeeping deployment is to MINUSMA in Mali.


Part 2: Decision-Making Process

It is the Government that decides whether to deploy peacekeepers abroad, along with the Head of State. Initially, contacts are conducted in order between the relevant structures in New York and the Permanent Mission of Portugal to the UN to assess the country’s willingness to participate in the potential operation. After analyzing the request, the Portuguese mission refers it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the Ministry, the Director General for External Affairs considers the issue and informs, among others, the Cabinet of the National Defense Minister, which forwards it to the General Directorate for National Defence, if the request involves the use of the armed forces.


The subsequent petition is analyzed in terms of its impact on defense policy. In addition, once the political leaders (Prime Minister or Council of Ministers) have agreed to participate in principle, the Directorate-General (Direção-Geral) informs the General Staff of the Armed Forces and asks for details on what it can provide. The General Staff of the Armed Forces formulates its opinion, integrating the opinions of the branches on the best way to participate. This opinion takes the form of a proposal on the Force, which facilitates the decision of the military contribution within the Ministry of National Defence and the Government. The Portuguese permanent representative to the requesting international organization then presents the national proposal via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Since 1994, Portugal has revised its key strategic documents several times. Reform of the 1994 National Defense Strategic Concept revealed new concerns with the adaptation of the national armed forces to the technical and operational parameters of other allied forces, such as NATO and the EU, a requirement to enable Portugal to comply with its foreign policy commitments. The same ideas were expressed in the revised 2003 Strategic Concept. More recently, however, peace operations were given greater priority for the armed forces as set out in the new Strategic Defense Concept approved in 2013.[4] Instead of ensuring the “military defense of the country” and the “achievement of the State’s aims” – as articulated in the 2003 Concept – the 2013 Concept stresses the objectives of defending the “international position of Portugal” and the need to “strengthen the foreign defense relations.” The Concept organizes the priorities of the armed forces according to a “geopolitical scale of priorities” wherein emphasis is placed first on participation in EU-led operations, second - NATO and lastly on UN peace operations (in that order of preference).


The 2009 Law of National Defence states that the most important function of the military at the international level is “to participate in international military missions to ensure the state’s international commitments in the military realm, including humanitarian and peace missions conducted by international organisations of which Portugal is a party.” (Article 4) Other references to the use of the armed forces in support of diplomatic activities can be found in the Military Strategic Concept, which is classified in governmental programs as the Grandes Opções do Plan’ or Ministerial Directives.


Part 3: Rationales for Contributing

Political rationales: UN peacekeeping has been viewed by Portuguese policy-makers as illustrative of their willingness to share responsibility for maintaining international peace and security under UN auspices. At the same time, given the value accorded to membership of, and influence within, organizations such as the UN, peacekeeping has also been viewed as a vehicle to amplify Portugal’s influence on the international stage in general and within such organizations in particular. Portugal’s policy of active involvement in peacekeeping operations has been pursued by various governments since the early 1990s. This is because Portuguese foreign policy-makers see benefits in such multilateral initiatives, including peace operations. Specifically, providing peacekeepers is thought to raise the profile of Portuguese foreign policy and diplomacy and increase Portugal’s international credibility and influence within the UN.[5]


These benefits have translated into the strengthening of Portugals negotiating capacity and political weight in international decision-making fora. Portugal’s participation in peace operations has yielded some important dividends, such as facilitating its election to the Security Council in 1996,[6] and again in 2010.[7] Another way of operationalizing Portugal’s involvement has been to demand from international bodies greater attention and intervention in territories where it had an historical presence.[8] Thus, through its policy on peacekeeping, Portugal aims to:

  • strengthen its position within the decision-making structures of international organizations by obtaining a larger national representation in the relevant organizational structures, including the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO);
  • acquire greater legitimacy by enabling the country to request international involvement, especially in Portuguese-speaking territories such as Mozambique, Angola, East Timor and Guinea-Bissau;
  • and encourage applications to managerial positions in high-level international institutions.


Portugal’s involvement in peace operations is also often the consequence of treaties and agreements entered into with the various regional and global collective security organizations. Portugal is keen to act on behalf of common commitments and aims, and participate in the collective effort to maintain peace and security. The constitutional reform of 1997, which broadened the scope of action of the armed forces to include the so-called “new missions,” enshrined the principle of upgrading Portugal’s international commitments in the military field, participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, and missions of public interest.


Economic rationales: Portugal has no significant economic incentives for providing peacekeepers, since reimbursement from the UN only covers a fraction of actual deployment expenditures. The UN reimbursement system does not influence Portugal’s institutional choices. However, Portuguese troops and police deployed abroad receive a per diem allowance and subsidy which might represent a significant economic inducement for individual personnel to serve as UN peacekeepers.


Security rationales: A major consideration is defending the national interest, which can also be read as the defense of projects in which Portugal is involved. Involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina under NATO, especially in the early stages, was an example of defense interests carried out within the European project, which consequently became a part of Portuguese national interests. Maintaining or restoring peace and security in areas of strategic interest for Portugal, such as the former colonies, might also be important but it is not a necessary condition for providing peacekeepers. The rationale for Portugal’s deployment in MINUSMA revolved around reinforcing security in North Africa, where Portugal has some important trade and energy partners, and contributing to conflict management in Africa: Portugal’s bilateral trade relations with Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia account alone for $2.9bn. Supporting the initial French intervention was also part of the calculation. So was partnering with some other European states that also deployed personnel.


Institutional rationales: From the military perspective, there are several good reasons for joining peacekeeping operations. These include direct overseas experience for troops, training in the absence of war, military intelligence gathering, the possibility of acquiring new equipment and resources, gaining additional professional skills, providing experience and sometimes satisfying promotion requirements for soldiers who have not experienced an interstate war. Participation in peace operations is seen as a valuable opportunity for the armed forces to conduct tasks widely supported by public opinion and that receive generally positive media attention. It is also valuable in terms of sharing experiences with other armed forces and international organizations. On the other hand, UN peacekeeping is seen as fraught with coordination problems, as it lacks the strongly integrated command and control mechanisms of NATO and some EU missions. Overall, participation in peace operations has had a substantial impact on Portuguese security policy by generating changes in the political discourse and bureaucracies. The modernization of Portuguese armed forces now proceeds with peace operations in mind.


Normative rationales: Portuguese policy-makers view participation in peacekeeping as part of their normative responsibility for maintaining international peace and security as a UN Member State.


Part 4: Barriers to Contributing

Financial and operational constraints represent the most obvious limitation to Portugal’s contribution to military operations abroad. Since 2011, the Government instituted strict austerity measures resulting in the significant decline of Portuguese military expenditure. The total projected for the Ministry of Defence for 2014 is $2.63bn. In 2010, the three branches of the armed forces comprised 34,605 troops. However, ongoing reform aims to reduce the number of troops to 30,000 to optimize the defense budget structure at approximately 1.5% of Portugal’s GDP. While the European Defence Agency (EDA) estimated in 2012 that Portugal could sustainably deploy 1,798 troops abroad, fiscal pressures are pushing this number down. The problem of Portugal´s capacity to deploy is thus not related to a lack of personnel or institutional strutures in place to sustain them outside of the national territory, but rather with severe defense budget cuts.


Alternative political or strategic priorities: While Portugal might have strong trade ties with some neighbours to countries in which UN-led operations are located, most current missions are located in areas that are not of primary national strategic relevance.


Alternative institutional preferences for crisis management: At current, NATO and the EU are more institutionalized vehicles for Portuguese crisis management initiatives, than UN-led operations. For example, NATO procedures constitute reference doctrine and, as such, are the core of the military education and training, given the Targets that are assigned to the Alliance, and following initiatives such as, for example, the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI).

Cooperation with other EU countries is another important element of Portuguese defense policy. Portugal has always supported the strengthening of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Lisbon is committed to EU operations and also to enhancing military capabilities at EU level, emphasizing the need for synergies between NATO and the EU, and therefore seeking opportunities for working together to achieve a better development and use of European defense capabilities. Currently, the largest share of operations is allocated to the national involvement in the NATO missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and in the Mediterranean (Operation Active Endeavour).


Financial costs: There are two different kinds of costs related to UN peacekeeping: those derived from Portugal’s assessed contribution to the peacekeeping budget (approximately 0.474% of the overall UN peacekeeping budget, amounting to US$35.7 million in 2014), and those incurred by the Portuguese contingents that deploy. The latter is directly determined by the number of Portuguese troops, and therefore represents an obvious limitation.


Discomfort with the expanding UN peacekeeping agenda: This is not relevant, since Portugal has consistently supported the expansion of mandates of UN-led operations.


Exceptionalism: Not relevant.


Difficult domestic politics: Not relevant, since the government’s support for UN peacekeeping is deep, and builds on a strong, decades-long, bipartisan effort to improve these operations’ effectiveness.


Resistance in the military: Not relevant.


Part 5: Current Challenges and Issues

Broad, solid political support for UN peacekeeping is not expected to weaken in the foreseeable future, even beyond the terms of the current legislature. Instead, public finance constraints and the planned restructuring of the Army will shape Portugal’s future participation in UN peacekeeping. The drawdown in Afghanistan is expected to take place in 2014 as ISAF comes to an end and might leave room for a larger Portuguese presence within UN operations, depending on the strategic relevance of the location of deployment. The Portuguese deployment to MINUSMA is explained by the priority of maintaining or restoring peace and security in areas of strategic interest for Portugal, such as North Africa, where Lisbon has some important allies, as well as out of solidarity for France, which started military operations to defend Mali’s sovereignty and restore its territorial integrity, as well as other European partners involved in the mission. Besides the possibility of larger numbers of Portuguese “blue helmets,” participation can be focused on specialized units providing niche capacities in many areas, particularly on the increased provision of tasks normally performed by Portuguese personnel in multilateral missions, in terms of mobility, enabling units, formed police units, rule of law functions, and stabilization and reconstruction teams.


Part 6: Key Champions and Opponents

There are no major, significant opponents to UN-peacekeeping, which, on the contrary enjoys broad and bi-partisan political support and widespread favor among the public. But nor are there any institutes or think tanks that work explicitly to support Portuguese peacekeeping.


Part 7: Capabilities and Caveats

As noted above, Portugal is focusing more on providing niche capabilities that can enhance its impact with a relative economy of resources. The tendency now is to choose where to deploy to fulfil Lisbon’s international military commitments and assert its presence and engagement in the international organizations and alliances that it considers a priority. When it comes to peace support operations, humanitarian operations, and other kinds of operations Portuguese defense plans, forces and capabilities remain in line mainly with NATO’s priorities and missions. Portugual has a long-standing commitment to the concept “together in, together out” in NATO operations, emphasizing that Portugal does not have any political caveats concerning the military use of its forces.


Part 8: Further Reading

Fundação Mário Soares/CIFCP, “A participação portuguesa em missões de paz – Relatório final,” Dec. 2006.

GOMES, J.M., “O Envolvimento Diplomático de Portugal na Bósnia-Herzegovina,” Nação e Defesa, No.92, 2000.

GORJÃO, Paulo, “Portugal and the Security Council: Is This Seat Taken?IPRIS Policy Brief, 2010.

MONTEIRO, António, “A presença portuguesa no Conselho de Segurança em 1997-1998,” Política Internacional, 19:3 (1999).

MOREIRA, A. et al., Portugal e as Operações de Paz. Uma perspectiva multidimensional (Lisbon: Prefácio/Fundação Mário Soares, 2010).

PINTO, Maria do Céu, “A Small State’s Search for Relevance: Peace Missions as Foreign Policy”, International Peacekeeping, 21:3 (2014).

PINTO, Maria do Céu, O papel das Nações Unidas na criação de uma Nova Ordem Mundial, Lisboa, Prefácio, 2010.

PINTO, Maria do Céu, “Portugal: An Instrumental Approach to Peace Support Operations,” Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 2014, pp.1–22.

TEIXEIRA, N.S., Sessão de abertura solene do ano lectivo do IESM, in MDN (Ed.) Contributos para uma Política de Defesa (Lisbon: Ministério da Defesa Nacional, 2009), pp.37-44.

VITORINO, A., “Nos Cinquenta Anos da NATO: Algumas Reflexões sobre a Operação de Paz na Bósnia-Herzegovina,” Nação e Defesa, No.92, 2000.

VITORINO, A., “Uma questão de credibilidade a participação portuguesa na IFOR,” Política Internacional, 1:12 (1996), pp.94-95.



[1] Unless otherwise stated, data is drawn from IISS, The Military Balance 2015 (London: IISS/Routledge, 2015).

[2] Armed Forces Spending is a country’s annual total defense budget (in US dollars) divided by the total number of active armed forces. Using figures from IISS, The Military Balance 2015.

[3] N.S. Teixeira, Sessão de abertura solene do ano lectivo do IESM, in MDN (Ed.) Contributos para uma Política de Defesa (Lisbon: Ministério da Defesa Nacional, 2009), pp.37-44.

[4] Resolução do Conselho de Ministros n.º 19/2013, Diário da República, 1.ª série, no. 67, 5 April 2013, p.1982.

[5] Maria do Céu Pinto, “A Small State’s Search for Relevance: Peace Missions as Foreign Policy,” International Peacekeeping, 21:3 (2014).

[6] See Ibid; António Monteiro, “A presença portuguesa no Conselho de Segurança em 1997-1998,” Política Internacional, 19:3 (1999), p.164; J.M. Gomes, “O Envolvimento Diplomático de Portugal na Bósnia-Herzegovina,” Nação e Defesa, No.92 (2000), p.58; A. Vitorino, “Nos Cinquenta Anos da NATO: Algumas Reflexões sobre a Operação de Paz na Bósnia-Herzegovina,” Nação e Defesa, No.92 (2000), p.32; A. Vitorino, “Uma questão de credibilidade a participação portuguesa na IFOR,” Política Internacional, 1:12 (1996), pp.94-95.

[7] Pinto, “A Small State’s;” Paulo Gorjão, “Portugal and the Security Council: Is This Seat Taken?,” IPRIS Policy Brief, 2010, p.5.

[8] Freitas do Amaral quoted in Fundação Mário Soares/CIFCP, “A participação portuguesa em missões de paz – Relatório final,” Dec. 2006, p.645.

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