The Revolution of 1974 did not merely transform Portugal's domestic politics, but led to a transformation of its foreign relations, as well. For centuries Portugal's foreign relations were directed away from Europe, first down the South Atlantic and to Africa, then to Brazil and the Orient. Lisbon's relations with Europe were limited to an alliance dating from 1386 with Britain, another Atlantic country, that was intended to protect it from Spain and any other European power that might threaten Portugal's independence and its vast empire. Over the centuries, much of this empire was lost. Preserving what remained of this empire, the country's African colonies and a few other small entities, became the core of Portuguese foreign policy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Moreover, the Portuguese saw themselves as a people with an "Atlantic vocation" rather than as an integral part of Europe.
Postwar developments for a time buttressed this traditional attitude that Portugal's true concerns and interests lay in the South Atlantic and beyond and away from Europe. Portugal became a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) not for what its army could do in Central Europe but for the importance of the Azores as a site for military bases. Other than permitting the United States access to these islands, Portugal's contribution to the alliance was negligible.
The wave of anticolonialism that swept through the Third World after World War II sparked rebellion in Portugal's African colonies. Lisbon's great efforts to quell these struggles for independence intensified the metropole's traditional interest in Africa. In the end, however, Portugal was not strong enough to put down these wars of independence. In fact, the great expenditure of manpower and revenue in the African wars was the main cause of the Revolution of 1974. The revolution brought to power members of the military who were determined to end the fighting, and within a matter of eighteen months Portugal's empire was gone.
Shorn of its colonies, Portugal was forced to concede that its future lay in Europe, a revolutionary change in the country's view of its place in the world. It became a member of the EC in 1986 and enjoyed the benefits and endured the change that this membership entailed. Portugal's most important foreign relationship, its relationship with the United States, changed only in degree, not in kind. In other respects, however, Portugal began a whole new era in its foreign policy.
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