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Flag of CENTO
Map of CENTO members

The Central Treaty Organization (also referred to as CENTO, original name was Middle East Treaty Organization or METO, also known as the Baghdad Pact) was adopted in 1955 by Iranmarker, Iraqmarker, Pakistanmarker, Turkeymarker, and the United Kingdommarker. 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 Statesmarker could not initially participate "for purely technical reasons of budgeting procedures." 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. The organization's headquarters were initially located in Baghdadmarker (Iraqmarker) 1955–1958 and Ankaramarker (Turkeymarker) 1958–1979.


A view of three F-4 Phantom II aircraft parked at Shiraz Air Base (Iran) during exercise Cento.
Modeled after the North Atlantic Treaty Organizationmarker (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 Unionmarker (USSRmarker) 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. 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 USSRmarker 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 from the Baghdad Pact, opened diplomatic relations with Soviet Union and adopted a non-aligned stance; Iraq quit the organization shortly thereafter. 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 Indiamarker through CENTO, but this was rejected under the idea that CENTO was aimed at containing the USSRmarker, not India.

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 Egyptmarker, Syriamarker, Iraqmarker, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, Somaliamarker, and Libyamarker. Indeed, by 1970, the U.S.S.R. 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 Cyprusmarker. This led the United Kingdom to withdraw forces that had been earmarked to the alliance, and the United States Congress halted Turkish military aid despite two Presidential vetoes. 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.


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

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