WEB EDITION
No. 5 - Oct. 1994
Vol. 42 - pp. 10-12

FRANCE AND THE WEU

Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Permanent Representative of France to the WEU


Ten years ago, the Rome Declaration, which was adopted on the thirtieth anniversary of the modified Brussels Treaty of 1954 - the original treaty dating from 1948 - marked the beginning of the reactivation of the Western European Union (WEU). This reactivation was endorsed in 1991 by the Maastricht Treaty on European Union which, for WEU too, was the beginning of a new phase marked by the transfer of the WEU Permanent Council from London to Brussels and a significant acceleration in the development of the organization.

Throughout this ten-year period, France has always encouraged the renaissance of the oldest European defence organization. Last January, at the Brussels Summit, the Atlantic Alliance confirmed the cogency of an approach that is now fully accepted on both sides of the Atlantic by giving its support to "strengthening the European pillar of the Alliance through the Western European Union, which is being developed as the defence component of the European Union".(1) Now, one year after the Maastricht Treaty has come into force, what are France's WEU-related objectives?

As regards policy, in calling on WEU to "elaborate and implement decisions of the Union which have defence implications", (2) members of the European Union have clearly mapped out the European perspective which alone can invest WEU with the dynamism and authority it needs to play a valid role among European security institutions. It is now time to give full scope to the clear-cut formulas adopted at Maastricht.

In giving WEU a renewed role, the signatories to the Maastricht Treaty have effectively discarded two other options for a European defence: that of immediately extending the competence of the European Union to include defence, and that of simply "Europeanizing" the Alliance.

The first of these options would have forced the European Union (EU) and the Atlantic Alliance immediately to define the framework for their relationship. Some members were not ready for that and, in retrospect, such a radical development might have been premature since it would have raised the question of whether the EU was ready, just as it was beginning to move into the sphere of foreign policy and common defence, to take such a giant leap forward and begin to tackle such new defence issues.

The second option, the "Europeanization" of the Alliance, was also rejected: it would have meant reducing a major political goal to a simple internal technical rearrangement in the Alliance. There can be no defence effort - no credible defence - unless public opinion and the community are mobilized, unless there is a political design. In today's Europe, the political design most likely to mobilize energy is still the European one, whose full potential can be realized only if it includes, in the words of the Treaty on European Union, "common defence".

This is what has led us to look to WEU, a WEU which would not be a mere working group of Europeans within NATO but which would give concrete form, in the area of defence, to the EU's political ambitions. For us, this means that the organic link between WEU and the European Union is vital: it gives WEU its raison d'être and legitimacy, and it should enable the EU gradually to construct a foreign policy that will be all the more effective if it is based on concrete military capabilities. The crisis in the former Yugoslavia serves to remind us that there can be no credible management of a crisis if the possibility of using military means cannot be contemplated in a timely manner.

It is also the link with the European Union that has enabled WEU to adopt a differential approach to Central and Eastern Europe. The purpose of the decision to grant nine Central and Eastern European countries associate status is to facilitate their integration into the EU, in sharp contrast with the rifts and exclusions of the Cold War. The emergence, through WEU, of a European pole of security based on links with the EU thus complements NATO's approach and, in a totally non-confrontational environment, prepares the ground politically for the future enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance.

This example clearly illustrates the complementarity that now exists, in the post-Cold War context, between the affirmation of Europe and transatlantic solidarity. The convergence that has emerged between the strategic interests of our North American allies and the countries most concerned about European integration, including in the area of defence, is no coincidence and reflects the new features of security in Europe. Even if no one is yet prepared to fully clarify the respective roles of the North Americans and Europeans, that is of NATO and WEU, it is already widely recognized that there is a fundamental difference between common defence, where solidarity among allies demands the equal commitment of all, and the management of post-Cold War crises, for in the latter case, a priority for the Europeans may not be a priority for our North American allies. It is vital that measures are adopted to ensure that, in the long term, the Europeans can take primary responsibility in this area, including on the military level. WEU cannot content itself with being a subsidiary body of NATO. That would be to no one's advantage, neither the Europeans, who would thus lose their authority, nor the North American allies, who would lose the solid partner they expect. In the interest of European security and transatlantic relations, WEU must enable Europeans to assume their responsibilities, in a rebalanced Alliance.

On the military level, this political decision to renew WEU's role in European defence has three main consequences.

Firstly, the strengthening of WEU must depend partly on NATO and it would be neither realistic nor desirable to see the development of WEU as an alternative to a faltering Alliance. WEU and the Europeans must be able to count on a solid NATO, and the Alliance will be all the more solid when WEU has gained more cohesion. Maintenance, through NATO, of a strong alliance with the US and Canada is, for France, a fundamental political objective. France therefore very much welcomed the Alliance's positive response at the Brussels Summit last January, to WEU requests. In affirming that they were "ready to make collective assets of the Alliance available, on the basis of consultations in the North Atlantic Council, for WEU operations undertaken by the European Allies in pursuit of their Common Foreign and Security Policy", the allies created the potential for a new relationship between the two organizations. There now remains the task of defining the modalities for making available a broad range of the Alliance's collective assets, from command facilities (Combined Joint Task Forces) to communications networks. Less than six months later, WEU had already provided the Alliance, at a joint meeting with the North Atlantic Council, with a detailed document specifying the requirements that would have to be met by CJTFs if it were to offer a valid response to certain European requirements.

The second aspect on the military level is the fact that access to the Alliance's collective assets does not necessarily exempt the Europeans from making their own defence effort. Although too much duplication would be pointless, some may be necessary. The more the Europeans decide to depend on the Alliance's assets, the more they need to have assets of their own for certain key functions, so that recourse to NATO's collective assets does not lead to WEU and the European Union playing a purely superficial role. If they wish, within the framework of a common foreign and security policy, fully to exercise effective politico-military responsibilities,the WEU member states must provide themselves with, for example, military planning and intelligence facilities; they must strengthen their logistic capabilities, and develop the European armaments industry. The first two functions are an integral part of any policy decision, and it would be unreasonable to leave NATO and our North American allies entirely responsible for preparing any politico-military options that may be needed by European policy-makers. This concern explains France's wish to develop WEU's planning unit and make up for Europe's lack of capabilities in the areas of satellite observation - a national priority for France - and military transport. The creation of major European multinational units such as the European Corps, or Eurocorps, directly available to WEU but which can also be used by NATO, is part of the same logic, and demonstrates the Europeans' wish to give their solid commitment to the security of Europe concrete form in major multinational units with effective headquarters staffs.

Finally, WEU must, in developing its own capabilities, take account of the new security conditions in Europe. The most likely crises will not threaten the member states' own territorial integrity. However, as soon as one moves away from the collective defence undertakings under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and enters into the domain of preventive action, member states have complete freedom of decision, and it would be paralysing to attempt to impose a uniform reaction by transposing to WEU the principles of NATO's integrated military structure. In any future crises, variable geometry is not merely a necessity, it is one of the strengths of WEU, because it permits different levels of involvement by the various states. It is essential to find a good balance between the disadvantages of temporary coalitions and an integration that could be paralysing.

In developing its command facilities, WEU will, therefore, have to opt for cooperation rather than integration, and build permanent structures that are stronger than those currently in existence but are nonetheless sufficiently flexible to be adapted and strengthened by member states' national or multinational headquarters staffs in line with the political and military circumstances of each individual crisis.

The two years between now and the Intergovernmental Conference provided for by the Treaty on European Union will be decisive for WEU. Our hope is for a merger of these two organizations in due time. However, in the period leading up to this, the priority must be the operational development of WEU, so that, when the time comes, WEU will be able to provide the European Union with well-honed capabilities, as well as good working relations with NATO. By striking the right balance between the necessary strengthening of its own assets and trusting cooperation with the North American allies within the framework of NATO, and by facilitating Central Europe's politico-military integration in the European Union, WEU will be contributing both to the adjustment of the Alliance and the development of the European Union. In this respect, the success of WEU will be the best guarantee for the continuing existence of the transatlantic link. Europe must earn its North American allies' trust by being able, within a restructured Alliance, to affirm the cohesion of a European pole that is capable of exercising new responsibilities.

Notes:

(1) For the text of the Declaration of Heads of State and Government, see NATO REVIEW, No.1, February 1994, pp.30-33.

(2) Article J.4 of the Treaty on European Union.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1994.