Honourable Prime Minister
Honourable Minister of National Defence
Honourable Members of Parliament
Honourable Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff
It is almost 50 years since Portugal has shared the international effort in peacekeeping and security in various parts of the world. An effort which has combined capabilities, resources and generosity at the service of noble causes, answering friendly countries and allies or international organizations to which we belong.
The changes which, mainly from the nineties onward, were felt worldwide in terms of security, led to an ever greater international involvement in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. Portugal, as a member of the United Nations, of the Atlantic Alliance or of the European Union, engaged approximately 30,000 Portuguese, between diplomats, military and security personnel, to attempt the resolution of crises and to promote the values of peace, democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.
The national involvement in these missions consolidates Portugal’s condition as a “producer of security”, at a time when a growing and progressive internationalization of security and defence issues are being faced, and in which the protection of national values benefits, more than ever, from actions outside the geographic borders.
Accomplishing with exemplary behaviour the missions of sovereignty for which they are constitutionally responsible, as well as the activities inherent to other missions of public interest, the Portuguese Armed Forces have been a fundamental prop in aid of the State’s external policies, through their participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions and in actions of technical-military cooperation. They have done so in an exemplary and highly dignifying form, contributing to the prestige and credibility of Portugal in the harmony of nations.
And I, as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, have the privilege to share with you today, in this ceremony, the sense of duty accomplished in that which was the lengthiest national participation in a peacekeeping mission.
The significant national engagement in Bosnia-Herzegovina contributed directly and decisively for that country and its people to be able to enjoy the security and stability required for their development, progress and healthy relationship in the harmony of nations.
This mission equally contributed to the reinforcement of our own security and defence, since it strengthened the Portuguese position in the international organizations in which the Country is inserted, and allowed the reduction of a potential source of instability, with unforeseeable consequences for all Europeans.
Having visited our military forces in that theatre of operations and witnessed the high regard in which their work was considered, and having also taken part in the decision concerning their return to base, I am particularly pleased with the efforts of more than 11,000 soldiers and members of security forces who, throughout almost 15 years, in the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the skies of the Balkans or in the Adriatic Sea, as isolated units or included in military forces, served Portugal and the Portuguese, linking an internationally recognized competence with a very special kind of relationship with the local people.
Apart from their professionalism and military value, recognized by the allied commands, our military personnel had an outstandingly straightforward and sensitive relationship with the local people. Their human characteristics, so typical of the Portuguese, projected the image of our people as friends and peace loving people, as was anyway shown by the cherished feelings and sadness when the last national unit left for home.
It is absolutely certain that the term “saudade” (nostalgia) is now a part of the lexicon of the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The anguish and the anxiety of the families of our soldiers, resulting from their absence and distance, is now lessened with the comfort afforded by their return and with the vanity resulting from what they achieved.
The efforts of our military personnel are justly recompensed by the normalcy with which the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina now face their day-to-day lives, in the confidence with which that young Country visualizes its future and with the greater ease that Europe is able to enjoy.
The success of the national engagement in external missions depends largely upon the institutional support of the different sovereign bodies and on the wide political consensus these enjoy. In this sense we witness here today an example of political convergence which it is important should continue to guide future involvements in this type of missions.
The participation in peace keeping operations, of which this mission is a relevant landmark, had obvious influences in the structure, strength, equipment and active model of our Armed Forces, which are today a more versatile corps with vast international experience, ready to take across the borders not only its ethical code and its capability and resolute wish to enhance the name of Portugal, but also that of our own identity – our collective personality.
As such, the Armed Forces are, more than ever, part of a basic Institution of national identity and an indispensable prop of the State, deserving of the confidence placed on them by the Country and in which the Nation regards itself in great patriotic esteem.
At the time the International Community prepares to leave the theatre of operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Armed Forces return to Portugal, it is particularly important that the Portuguese become more aware of the duties of the National Detached Forces and the relevance that these missions have for the Country.
Portugal is represented here today at the highest State level, to witness the dignity of the deeds of its Armed Forces and to show them the respect and the esteem which they deserve.
It is also crucial that the Portuguese become equally aware of what is still taking place in such far away places as Afghanistan or East Timor, Kosovo or Lebanon, Iraq or the Congo Democratic Republic, where Portuguese soldiers continue, courageously, asserting Portugal.
The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces marks with special pride and satisfaction the return to base of its forces. Mission accomplished.