Central Treaty Organization
Formation24 February 1955
Dissolved16 March 1979
TypeIntergovernmental military alliance
HeadquartersBaghdad (1955–1958)
Ankara (1958–1979)
Region served
5 states

The Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), formerly known as the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) and also known as the Baghdad Pact, was a military alliance of the Cold War. It was formed on 24 February 1955 by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The alliance was dissolved on 16 March 1979.

U.S. pressure and promises of military and economic aid were key in the negotiations leading to the agreement, but the United States could not initially participate. John Foster Dulles, who was involved in the negotiations as United States Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, claimed that was due to "the pro-Israel lobby and the difficulty of obtaining Congressional Approval."[1] Others said that the reason was "for purely technical reasons of budgeting procedures."[2]

In 1958, the U.S. joined the military committee of the alliance.[3] It is generally viewed as one of the least successful of the Cold War alliances.[4]

The organization's headquarters was in Baghdad, Iraq from 1955 to 1958 and thereafter in Ankara, Turkey from 1958 to 1979. Cyprus was also an important location for CENTO due to the British military bases in Akrotiri and Dhekelia along with the island’s location in the Middle East.[5]


Three U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II aircraft parked at Shiraz Air Base, Iran, during exercise Cento, 1 August 1977

Modeled after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), METO 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 Soviet Union's southwestern frontier. Similarly, it was known as the 'Northern Tier' to prevent Soviet expansion into the Middle East.[6] Unlike NATO, METO did not have a unified military command structure, nor were many American or British military bases established in member countries, although the United States had communications and electronic intelligence facilities in Iran, and operated U-2 intelligence flights over the Soviet Union from bases in Pakistan. The United Kingdom had access to facilities in Pakistan and Iraq at various times while the treaty was in effect.

On 14 July 1958, the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in a military coup. The new government was led by military officer Abd al-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 unsuccessfully tried to get assistance in its wars with India through CENTO, but this was rejected under the idea that CENTO was aimed at containing the Soviet Union, 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, South Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. By 1970, the Soviet Union had deployed over 20,000 troops to Egypt, and had established naval bases in Syria, Somalia, and South 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 - Nos 9 and 35 Squadrons flying Avro Vulcan bombers,[7] and the United States Congress halted military aid to Turkey despite two Presidential vetoes.[6] With the fall of the Iranian monarchy, whatever remaining rationale for the organization was lost. Future U.S. and British defence 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 Kamuran Gurun, announced on March 16, 1979, that he would call a meeting of the pact's council in order to formally dissolve the organization.[8]



Secretaries General

A Secretary General, appointed by the council of ministers for a renewable three years, oversaw CENTO activities. Secretaries general were:[15][16]

Name State In office
Awni Khalidy  Iraq 1955 – December 31, 1958
Osman Ali Baig  Pakistan January 1, 1959 – December 31, 1961
Abbas Ali Khalatbari  Iran January 1962 – January 1968
Turgut Menemencioğlu  Turkey January 1968 – 1 February 1972
Nasir Assar  Iran February 1, 1972 – January 1975
Ümit Haluk Bayülken  Turkey January 1975 – August 1, 1977
Sidar Hasan Mahmud  Pakistan August 1977 – March 1978
Kamuran Gürün  Turkey March 31, 1978 – 1979

CENTO railway

CENTO sponsored a railway line, some of which was completed, to enable a rail connection between London and Tehran via Van. A section from Lake Van in Turkey to Sharafkhaneh in Iran was completed and funded in large part by CENTO (mainly the UK). The civil engineering was especially challenging because of the difficult terrain. Part of the route included a rail ferry across Lake Van with a terminal at Tatvan on the Western side of the lake. Notable features of the railway on the Iranian side included 125 bridges, among them the Towering Quotor span, measuring 1,485 feet (453 m) in length, spanning a gorge 396 feet (121 m) deep.[17][18]

Cultural and research institutions

Like its counterparts NATO and SEATO, CENTO sponsored a number of cultural and scientific research institutions:

The institutions supported a wide range of non-military activities, with a particular focus on agriculture and development, In 1960, for example, CENTO had funded 37 projects covering agriculture, education, health, economic development and transportation.[24] It also arranged at least one symposium on the problem of foot-and-mouth and rinderpest.[25]

The organization that became the CENTO Institute of Nuclear Science was established by Western powers in the Baghdad Pact, as CENTO was then known.[26] It was initially located in Baghdad, Iraq, but was relocated to Tehran, Iran in 1958 after Iraq withdrew from CENTO.[27][28] Students from Pakistan and Turkey as well as those from Iran were trained at the Institute.[29]

CENTO Scientific Council

The CENTO Scientific Council organized a number of scientific symposia and other events, including a meeting in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1962, entitled "The Role of Science in the Development of Natural Resources with Particular Reference to Pakistan, Iran and Turkey".[30]

See also


  1. ^ Selwyn Lloyd; Suez 1956: A Personal account
  2. ^ Hadley, Guy. CENTO: The Forgotten Alliance ISIO Monographs, University of Sussex, UK (1971): 2.
  3. ^ Wragg, David W. (1973). A Dictionary of Aviation (first ed.). Osprey. p. 88. ISBN 9780850451634.
  4. ^ Martin, Kevin W. (2008). "Baghdad Pact". In Ruud van Dijk; et al. (eds.). 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.
  5. ^ Dimitrakis, Panagiotis, The Value to CENTO of UK Bases on Cyprus", Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 45, Issue 4, July 2009, pp 611–624
  6. ^ a b George Lenczowski, American Presidents and the Middle East, 1990, p. 88
  7. ^ Lee 1989, pp. 180, 192–3.
  8. ^ "CENTO pact members to dissolve alliance soon". The Gazette. Montreal. 5=AP. 1979-03-17. p. 46. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  9. ^ Jasse, Richard (Winter 1991). "The Baghdad Pact: Cold War or Colonialism". Middle Eastern Studies. 27 (1): 140–156. doi:10.1080/00263209108700852.
  10. ^ "The Baghdad Pact (1955) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO)". 2001-2009.state.gov. 7 January 2008. Retrieved 2023-07-10.
  11. ^ "Records of International Military Agencies". www.archives.gov. Retrieved 2023-08-31.
  12. ^ CENTO nation help sought by Pakistan. Chicago Tribune. September 7, 1965 [1] Archived 2015-09-09 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ The India-Pakistan War of 1965. Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State [2] Archived 2015-07-08 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Ambrose, Stephen E. (1989). Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962–1972. Vol. II. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-72506-8.
  15. ^ 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 Archived 2013-11-17 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Cahoon, Ben. "International Organizations A-L". www.worldstatesmen.org.
  17. ^ Geneva Times, 15 April 1971. p9 http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2011/Geneva%20NY%20Daily%20Times/Geneva%20NY%20Daily%20Times%201971%20Mar-Apr%201971%20Grayscale/Geneva%20NY%20Daily%20Times%201971%20Mar-Apr%201971%20Grayscale%20-%201035.pdf
  18. ^ Along the Path of a CENTO Railway: A Narrative with Text and Photographs Telling how Iran and Turkey, with the Support of CENTO Associates, are Repeating History by Linking Their Countries with a Modern Railway. Central Treaty Organization, Public Relations Division. 1960.
  19. ^ Kashani-Sabet, Firoozeh. OUP (2011) Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran. p. 291.
  20. ^ See, for example, in "Solo exhibitions": http://www.bengalfoundation.org/old/index.php?view=artist/ArtistProfile.php&artistID=100&page=5 Archived 2017-03-21 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Video: Sadik Kakaç, 2013 Honorary Membership". www.asme.org. Retrieved 2023-08-31.
  22. ^ Beeman, William O. (1986). Language, Status, and Power in Iran. Indiana University Press. p. 226. ISBN 9780253113184. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  23. ^ Amad, Mohammad Javad (2011). Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran. Routledge. p. 172. ISBN 9780415614382. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  24. ^ CIA memorandum, released under US Freedom of Information provisions. "EIGHTH CENTO MINISTERIAL COUNCIL SESSION TEHRAN, APRIL 28-30, 1960 U.S. POSITION ON THE TURKISH- IRANIAN RAILWAY LINK". http://www.foia.cia.gov/document/eighth-cento-ministerial-council-session-tehran-april-28-30-1960-us-position-turkish Archived 2015-06-18 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Lawrence, Mary Margaret (21 September 1973). "CENTO Seminar on the Control and Eradication of Viral Diseases in the CENTO Region: With Special Emphasis on Foot-and-mouth Disease and Rinderpest and Renderpest-like Diseases; [papers". Central Treaty Organization – via Google Books.
  26. ^ Restivo, Sal P. (1982). Science, Technology, and Society. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195141931 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ Sahimi, M. Website. "Iran's Nuclear Energy Program. Part V: From the United States Offering Iran Uranium Enrichment Technology to Suggestions for Creating Catastrophic Industrial Failure". http://www.payvand.com/news/04/dec/1186.html Archived 2015-09-07 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Orr, Tamra B. (15 August 2009). Iran and Nuclear Weapons. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. ISBN 9781435852815 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ Entessar, Nader. Middle East Policy Council website. "Iran's Nuclear Decision-Making Calculus". http://www.mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/irans-nuclear-decision-making-calculus?print Archived 2015-06-18 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Smith, M. L. (2013-10-22). The Role of Science in the Development of Natural Resources with Particular Reference to Pakistan, Iran and Turkey: A Symposium Held Under the Auspices of the CENTO Scientific Council, Lahore, January, 1962. Elsevier. ISBN 978-1-4831-8518-7.

Further reading