Updated: 15-Apr-2002 NATO Review

No. 2 - Apr. 1992
Vol. 40 - pp. 13-17


Dr. Willem Van Eekelen,
Secretary General of Western European Union

Late in 1991, the Buffalo News published a cartoon in the form of a couple of maps. The first showed Europe before the 1989-1991 revolutions, a much fragmented Western Europe facing a compact Warsaw Pact. The second, depicting Europe after the revolutions, showed the reverse picture, a united Western and Central Europe facing the many republics and nations which had succeeded the defunct Soviet Union and Yugoslav Federation. Such a degree of unity may well correspond to the cartoon, provided Europe's move towards a Political Union with a common foreign and security policy quickly gathers momentum in the wake of the decisions taken by the European Summit in Maastricht in the Netherlands last December.

The Maastricht Summit has indeed opened up new prospects as well as new areas for the European construction process. But real success will depend on how the Treaty is actually implemented.

The reactivation of Western European Union (WEU) and the adoption of the Single European Act in 1986 have moved political and security aspects higher up the European agenda. The Maastricht Summit has taken the first steps to redress the balance between, on the one hand, economic and monetary aspects of the Community's tasks and, on the other, the emerging foreign and security policy. The principle of qualified majority voting now applies in the fields of:

  • pan-European security and cooperation;
  • non-proliferation, and
  • arms control and disarmament.
As far as security and defence are concerned, the compromise reached at Maastricht is based on a working document, released by WEU Ministers on 22 February 1991, on the role and place of Western European Union. Updated several times, it became the basis for the Maastricht "Declaration of the member states of Western European Union which are also members of the European Union (1) on the role of WEU and its relations with the European Union and with the Atlantic Alliance". The compromise also resulted from the convergence ofconcerns and aspirations expressed in two documents resulting from bilateral initiatives.

The Anglo-Italian Declaration

First, the Anglo-Italian Declaration on European Security and Defence of 4 October 1991, stressed the special relationship between Western Europe and North America, expressed through the Alliance, as "a key element of the European identity". NATO's reform and the development of a common foreign and security policy in the context of Political Union were described as complementary. It viewed the transatlantic relationship as an integral part of the broader concept of Europe, reflected in the CSCE process, and the key component in the development of a security system encompassing the whole of Europe.

From that perspective, WEU should be entrusted with the task of developing the European dimension in the field of defence i.e. embodying the defence component of the Political Union as well as the European pillar of the Alliance. In so doing, it would have to take into account both the decisions of the European Council and positions adopted in the Alliance, "bearing in mind the different nature of its relations with each body". WEU's activities would be guided by two fundamental principles:

  • openness in consultation;
  • complementarity in decision- making.
As a practical consequence, the Declaration proposed the creation of a European reaction force to respond to threats out of Europe.

Franco-German Letter

The second bilateral text is the Mitterrand-Kohl letter of 14 October 1991, on which paragraph 2 of Article J.4 relating to the common foreign and security policy of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union is largely based. It reads as follows:

"The Union requests the Western European Union (WEU), which is an integral part of the development of the European Union, to elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications. The Council shall, in agreement with the institutions of the WEU, adopt the necessary practical arrangements."

The Franco-German letter listed the main topics which could come within the competence of the Union and emphasized the need to build up WEU as the Union's defence component. An organic link was to be created between the Union and WEU through close cooperation between the relevant staffs, the setting-up of a military planning and coordination group and through closer military cooperation to complement and further develop the cooperation already existing in the Alliance.

As far as cooperation between the Alliance and WEU was concerned, it was to be developed according to NATO's Copenhagen Communiqué of June 1991 and the principles of transparency and complementarity. (2) Regular meetings of Chiefs of Staff of WEU member countries were proposed in the letter, as was the goal of creating a European armaments agency and transforming the WEU Institute for Security Studies into a European Academy for security and defence.

Several of the suggestions made in the letter were taken up in the Maastricht Declaration. The letter was more oriented towards European Political Union and stressed the need for WEU to play a role in the collective defence of its member states in continental Europe. For instance, it mentioned reinforced Franco-German military cooperation, which has led to the proposal for a corps based on the twinning of French and German units, including the Franco-German brigade, but which would be open to other member countries.

Points of convergence and divergence

It is useful to bear these bilateral texts of last October in mind when addressing the issue of the implementation of the WEU-related texts adopted at the European Summit. Their points of convergence and divergence provide a framework for the debate on the European security architecture and represent the two poles of the current negotiations concerning the precise arrangements for WEU's relations with the European institutions and the Atlantic Alliance.

To that first set of questions another is closely linked, namely the accession of all the remaining members of the European Community to the WEU's modified Brussels Treaty of 1954 (Denmark, Greece and Ireland). This calls for reflection on how to update WEU's acquis since the adoption of the Hague Platform in 1987, taking into account WEU's enlargement by the inclusion of Spain and Portugal in 1990, and its involvement in the Gulf crises of 1987-88 and 1990-91. Then there is the definition of the status of observers and, above all, of associate members, relationships which are being offered simultaneously to European NATO states not currently in WEU (Iceland, Norway and Turkey).

Finally, a third set of questions concerns the scope and instruments of WEU's future operational role. The central question here is whether a European command structure should be created, and how it would relate to the Alliance's own military structures.

I shall briefly describe WEU's role in the wake of the Maastricht Summit before considering the agenda for WEU intergovernmental consultation and cooperation in 1992.

At Maastricht, WEU's place between the Atlantic Alliance and the European institutions was clearly defined. It can best be summed up as follows:

WEU is both a part of the process leading to a European Union and firmly anchored in the Atlantic Alliance. Its institutional relationships will therefore be tailored to the specific characteristics and needs of these two fundamental elements of European security. Finding itself at the heart of a dynamic two-fold process, WEU will assert itself both as a partner and as an active player as soonas it moves from London and begins to operate in Brussels.

WEU's role will therefore be regularly reviewed in the light of changing requirements arising from a revision of existing and future treaties. And it will in no way prejudice decisions which have yet to be taken.

Relations with the Alliance

WEU's relations with the Alliance have taken a new and decisive turn. In Copenhagen in June 1991, the North Atlantic Council had already recognized that there was no contradiction between European integration in the field of security and the strengthening of solidarity between NATO partners. The Alliance's Rome Summit of last November further acknowledged the security identity and defence role of the Europeans, emphasizing three major points in its Declaration:
  • enhanced defence responsibilities for the Europeans within the Alliance;
  • compatibility of specific European defence arrangements with the Alliance's strategic unity and indivisibility of security for all its members;
  • conformity of concrete decisions with the principles of transparency and complementarity between NATO, WEU and other European institutions in the field of security and defence. (3)
The Alliance's Strategic Concept which was also agreed in Rome (4) recognized the future role of European integrated and multinational structures. This new concept provides a common framework for the Alliance and the Union member states in their future national and cooperative defence programmes. Without an adequate operational structure, WEU could not become an asset for the Alliance nor develop into the defence arm of the European Political Union. The WEU Council mandated its Defence Representatives Group to spell out and assess proposals in the military field, taking into account the new strategic environment. A military planning cell responsible for matching the forces answerable to WEU to the mission of WEU will be established in the course of this year. These missions will be in the fields of humanitarian action, peace-keeping and crisis management, and concentrate on contingencies where NATO is unable orunwilling to act, either inside or outside Europe.

WEU is only now beginning to develop structures which will be both complementary to, and compatible with, the Alliance structures and the Political Union mechanisms for political planning and decision-making. Commenting on the results of the Maastricht Summit, NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner rightly stated that the development of a European security and defence identity will indeed lead to a consolidation of the European pillar within the Alliance and represent a major contribution to the basic transformation of NATO. The necessary practical arrangements will now have to be worked out between the Alliance and WEU in line with the setting up of its operational structures.

The main questions to be answered before a viable working relationship can be created are:

  • how can WEU member states intensify coordination on Alliance issues?
  • how can WEU joint positions best be introduced into the Alliance consultation process for further discussion?
  • how can meetings be synchronized?
  • how can working methods and procedures be harmonized ?
  • what arrangements should be put in place for close cooperation between the Secretariats General of WEU and NATO, including on common training and headquarters exercises where appropriate?
Because WEU and NATO share the common purpose of ensuring collective defence and they will have to cooperate in a very practical way, the answers will probably be among the easiest to work out once the WEU intergovernmental institutions have settled into Brussels.

Relationship with European Union

As regards WEU's relations with the European Union, paragraph three of the Maastricht Declaration states:

"The objective is to build up WEU in stages as the defence component of the European Union. To this end, WEU is prepared, at the request of the European Union, to elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications."

WEU is therefore tasked to create the conditions for the development of a close working relationship with the Union in five fields:

  • synchronization of meetings and harmonization of working methods;
  • establishment of close cooperation between the Council and Secretariat General of WEU and the Council of the Union and the Council Secretariat General;
  • harmonization of the sequence and duration of Presidencies;
  • regular information and consultation with the Commission of the European Community on WEU activities in accordance with the Commission's role regarding common foreign and security policy as defined in the European Union Treaty;
  • and, finally, encouragement of closer cooperation between the Parliamentary Assembly of WEU and the European Parliament.
Again, the key words in the Maastricht balancing act are close cooperation, synchronization and harmonization, consultation and information.

Once the WEU's ministerial organs have settled down in Brussels, a triangular relationship will evolve which will generate a European strategic environment and gradually lead to the setting up of the institutional mechanisms needed for the development of the defence component of the European Union. Whether directly in a WEU framework or, under a different name, within the European Union institutions, the elements of European defence will always simultaneously constitute the European pillar of the Alliance.

This will be made easier once WEU has the same member countries as European Union and once the European members of the Alliance, which are not members of WEU, are associated with WEU's work. Two key issues are therefore now on the WEU Permanent Council's agenda:

  • a reappraisal of the composition and role of the WEU Permanent Council in Brussels;
  • WEU's enlargement to embrace new full members, associate members and observers, with a definition of their relevant rights and obligations.
Answers to the questions concerning the Council's role in Brussels and who will be appointed as Permanent Representatives, have a bearing on other issues, such as the division of labour with the European institutions, the introduction of policy positions into the Alliance framework, and the synchronization of meetings. Most member states see the Permanent Council in Brussels as the central, high-level policy-making body of WEU able to deal on a continuous basis with the politico-military issues of the day. Responsible to the Council of Ministers, it would direct the work of WEU as a whole. While specifically representing WEU, the Council would foster closer relationships with the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance and its structure would allow for a smooth, effective introduction of the results of WEU discussions into the European and Atlantic consultation processes. As to the question of representation, several options have been proposed. In the final analysis, it is the sovereign right of each member state to choose its representative although the need for homogeneity is largely recognized. The priority is to search for a compromise formula.

Associate members and observers

The problems concerning WEU's future enlargement are by far the most sensitive which WEU has to solve in applying the Maastricht decisions. The proposal to create a new status through associate members and observers in order to allow for the existence of a European pillar associating all NATO member countries is something of a novelty for a security organization. Since WEU member states assume that: "Treaties and agreements ... will be concluded before 31 December 1992" they have given themselves a challenging deadline, and the issue is the most urgent on the Permanent Council's agenda.

The first point on which the Council will have to reach agreement concerns Article V of the modified Brussels Treaty. The security guarantees given by the respective Articles V of the Brussels and Washington (NATO) Treaties are complementary and should not be invoked separately. This has to be specified using a credible formula and without singularizing any state. Moreover, a reappraisal of WEU's role since the beginning of its reactivation, and an assessment of its impact on the Brussels Treaty by the current nine WEU member states, are unavoidable in this context. It is generally recognized that an associate member, while attending meetings, would not vote, and although able to support a decision could not block a consensus. The detailed provisions of the status of associate members and observers are under discussion. Agreement among the Nine is a prerequisite for the beginning of negotiations on accession. Discussions will begin and conclude at the same time with all categories of applicant states.

It is worth recalling that the Anglo-French Treaty of Dunkirk of 1947 paved the way for Western Union's Brussels Treaty of March 1948, which in turn preceded NATO's Washington Treaty of 1949. By deciding to be bound together by collective security arrangements, the five Western Union states made the Atlantic Alliance possible, as well as a continued American presence in Europe. In so doing, they devolved part of their sovereignty to intergovernmental structures. Forty-three years after European initiatives paved the way for an American underpinning of Europe_s security, the Alliance's new strategy, agreed in Rome last November, created an opportunity for Europeans to regain the ground which had been lost when the European Defence Community failed in 1954. The Maastricht Summit succeeded in seizing this opportunity. On that basis, Europeans could very quickly move ahead in the defence field without relinquishing any more sovereignty than had been done at the time the Brussels Treaty was signed.

The linking of the European Union and Western European Union, as well as the consolidation of the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance, open new constructive avenues for defence cooperation. At a time of shrinking defence budgets, Europe should now be in a position to better pool its resources and to use them more efficiently. Europeans can move ahead and create the political and military apparatus commensurate with a forward-looking foreign and security policy which is compatible with that of the Alliance and responsive to risks from all quarters, in Europe as well as beyond it.


(1) European Community leaders adopted at Maastricht a Treaty on Political Union and a Treaty on Economic and Monetary Union which, together, comprise the Treaty on European Union.

(2) Text of Communique published in NATO Review, No. 3, June 1991, p. 31.

(3) For text of Declaration see NATO Review, No. 6, December 1991, p. 19.

(4) Op cit p. 25.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1992.