Central Treaty Organization

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Central Treaty Organization
CENTO flag
CENTO's flag
Cento zoom.svg
CENTO members shown in green
Abbreviation CENTO
Formation 1955
Extinction 1979
Type intergovernmental military alliance
Headquarters Ankara
Region served
Middle East and Europe

The Central Treaty Organization (CENTO); originally known as the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) was formed in 1955 by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom through the Baghdad Pact. It was dissolved in 1979.

U.S. pressure and promises of military and economic aid were key in the negotiations leading to the agreement, although the United States could not initially participate. John Foster Dulles, who was involved in the negotiations, ascribed this to "the pro-Israel lobby and the difficulty of obtaining Congressional Approval."[1] Others said the reason was "for purely technical reasons of budgeting procedures."[2] In 1958, the United States joined the military committee of the alliance. It is generally viewed as one of the least successful of the Cold War alliances.[3] The organization's headquarters were initially located in Baghdad (Iraq) 1955–1958 and Ankara (Turkey) 1958–1979. Cyprus was also an important location for CENTO due to its positioning within the Middle East and the British Sovereign Base Areas situated on the island.[4]


A view of three F-4 Phantom II aircraft parked at Shiraz Air Base (Iran) during exercise Cento

Modeled after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), CENTO committed the nations to mutual cooperation and protection, as well as non-intervention in each other's affairs. Its goal was to contain the Soviet Union (USSR) by having a line of strong states along the USSR's southwestern frontier. Similarly, it was known as the 'Northern Tier' to prevent Soviet expansion into the Middle East.[5] Unlike NATO, CENTO did not have a unified military command structure, nor were many U.S. or UK military bases established in member countries, although the U.S. had communications and electronic intelligence facilities in Iran, and operated U-2 intelligence flights over the USSR from bases in Pakistan. The United Kingdom had access to facilities in Pakistan and Iraq at various times while the treaty was in effect. In addition, Turkey and the U.S. agreed to permit American access to Turkish bases, but this was done under the auspices of NATO.

On July 14, 1958, the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in a military coup. The new government was led by General Abdul Karim Qasim who withdrew Iraq from the Baghdad Pact, opened diplomatic relations with Soviet Union and adopted a non-aligned stance. The organization dropped the name 'Baghdad Pact' in favor of 'CENTO' at that time.

The Middle East and South Asia became extremely volatile areas during the 1960s with the ongoing Arab–Israeli Conflict and the Indo-Pakistani Wars. CENTO was unwilling to get deeply involved in either dispute. In 1965 and 1971, Pakistan tried unsuccessfully to get assistance in its wars with India through CENTO, but this was rejected under the idea that CENTO was aimed at containing the USSR, not India.

Universal Newsreel about the Baghdad Pact

CENTO did little to prevent the expansion of Soviet influence to non-member states in the area. Whatever containment value the pact might have had was lost when the Soviets 'leap-frogged' the member states, establishing close military and political relationships with governments in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. By 1970, the USSR had deployed over 20,000 troops to Egypt, and had established naval bases in Syria, Somalia, and P.D.R. Yemen.

The Iranian revolution spelled the end of the organization in 1979, but in reality, it essentially had been finished since 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus. This led the United Kingdom to withdraw forces that had been earmarked to the alliance,[citation needed] and the United States Congress halted Turkish military aid despite two Presidential vetoes.[5] With the fall of the Iranian monarchy, whatever remaining rationale for the organization was lost. Future U.S. and British defense agreements with regional countries—such as Pakistan, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf states—were conducted bilaterally.

With the withdrawal of Iran, the secretary-general of CENTO, Turkish diplomat Kamran Gurun, announced on March 16, 1979, that he would call a meeting of the pact's council in order to formally dissolve the organization.[6]


  • 1954 February: Turkey signed a Pact of Mutual Cooperation with Pakistan.
  • 24 February 1955: A military agreement was signed between Iraq and Turkey, and the term "Baghdad Pact" started to be used. Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom join the Baghdad Pact.
  • 1959 March: The new republican regime of Iraq withdrew the country from the alliance.
  • 1965: Pakistan tried to get help from its allies in their war against India, but without success.
  • 1971: In a new war with India, Pakistan again tried unsuccessfully to get allied assistance. (The U.S. provided limited military support to Pakistan, but not under the rubric of CENTO.)
  • 1979: The new Islamic regime of Iran withdrew the country from CENTO.

Secretaries General[edit]

A Secretary General, appointed by the council of ministers for a renewable three years, oversaw CENTO activities. Secretaries general were:[7]

  • Osman Ali Baig (ʿOṯmān-ʿAlī Beyg; Pakistan)
  • Abbas Ali Khalatbari (ʿAbbās-ʿAlī Ḵaḷʿatbarī; Iran)
  • Turgut Menemencioğlu (Turkey)
  • Naṣīr ʿAṣṣār (Nassir Assar; Iran)
  • Umit Haluk Baylken (Turkey), and
  • Kamuran Gurun (Turkey)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Selwyn Lloyd; Suez 1956: A Personal account
  2. ^ Hadley, Guy. CENTO: The Forgotten Alliance ISIO Monographs, University of Sussex, UK (1971): 2.
  3. ^ Martin, Kevin W. (2008). "Baghdad Pact". In Ruud van Dijk et al. Encyclopedia of the Cold War. New York: Routledge. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-415-97515-5. Retrieved 2009-01-30. Thus, the Baghdad Pact is widely considered the least successful of the Cold War schemes engendered by the Anglo-American alliance. 
  4. ^ Dimitrakis, Panagiotis, "The Value to CENTO of UK Bases on Cyprus", Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 45, Issue 4, July 2009, pp 611–624
  5. ^ a b George Lenczowski, American Presidents and the Middle East, 1990, p. 88
  6. ^ "CENTO pact members to dissolve alliance soon". The Gazette (Montreal). AP. 1979-03-17. p. 46. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  7. ^ From Encyclopedia Iranica. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/central-treaty-organization-cento-a-mutual-defense-and-economic-cooperation-pact-among-persia-turkey-and-pakistan-wi

External links[edit]