Heedless of the controversy nuclear arms are generating in other countries, Portugal has refused to impose any restrictions on the passage of such weapons through its territory.
The decision, contrasting with the row over nuclear arms in Japan and the growing trend toward neutralism and disarmament in northern Europe, reaffirms this small but strategic country in its role among America's allies as a bastion of loyalty to the United States.
The ruling Democratic Alliance, consisting of Social Democrats, Monarchists, and Christian Democrats, defeated both an opposition attempt to declare a total ban on nuclear weapons and another which would have made their presence in Portugal conditional upon specific defense treaties.
Instead, the coalition opted for the status quo. Nuclear weapons go back to being an issue officially left entirely in the hands of the military, who discuss it only with their NATO partners and never inform the opposition of what is or is not in the holds of alliance aircraft carriers or submarines calling at Portuguese ports.
The Portuguese hope the firmly pro-NATO stand taken by the ruling coalition during last week's parliamentary debate on nuclear arms will strengthen the hand of their defense minister, Luis Anilal de sa de Azezed Coutinho, who is on a 12- day visit to the United States.
The mission of Mr. Azezed Coutinho, who had a preliminary meeting with US Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger in Lisbon last month, is to discuss both US requests for increased military facilities in Portugal and new US weapons for the poorly armed Portuguese armed forces.
With the United States asking to beef up the Lajes base run by the US Air Froce in the Azores and expressing an interest in sharing the Beja base operated by the West Germans in southern Portugal, left-wing military and opposition parties are warning the Portuguese they could one day wake up like the Greeks and discover that nuclear weapons were secretly stored on their soil.
The government of Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemao dismisses these fears as nonsense and says it has never received any approach to station nuclear arms in this country, the farthest removed in NATO from any Soviet border.
The Portuguese opposition is not giving up on the nuclear arms issue, however. A whole series of meetings is being organized by the various parties of the left throughout the country this summer to swell the tide of antinuclear sentiment.
As long as the ruling Democratic Alliance stays in power, the opposition's efforts do not appear to pose a real threat, but the coalition, torn by internal squabbles, seems increasingly shaky only eight months after winning a general election. In view of one Western diplomat's comment that had the vote on nuclear arms gone the other way, Portugal would have ceased to be an effective member of NATO, i t makes a sobering thought.