Updated: 15-Apr-2002 NATO Review

No. 3 - Jun. 1992
Vol. 40 - pp. 3-7


Dr. Emilio Colombo

Dr. Colombo has been a member of the Italian Parliament since 1946 and was Prime Minister between 1970-1972; Minister in charge of relations with the UN from 1972 to 1973; an MEP since 1976, he was President of the European Parliament in 1977 and 1979; he was Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1980 and 1983. He is currently President of the European Union of Christian Democratic Parties, Chairman of the European Parliament's Delors II Committee on follow-up action to Maastricht, and Chairman of the Italian Atlantic Committee.

The European politico-strategic situation has radically changed over the past few years. We have seen the threat of massive attack from the USSR and its satellites recede and the emergence of new risks - the violent nationalist sentiments associated with instability and intrinsic to the historic changes that are taking place in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the Gulf crisis proved that the threats now facing Europe no longer come from only one direction, and has provided all too tangible evidence of the danger of a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Thus the need arose to build a framework of interlocking institutions defining a new European security architecture. The European Community (EC) in its process of integration, NATO and the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) have all responded in their own specific fields to the challenges posed over the past two years by Europe's new politico-strategic situation.

This European security is based on three mutually reinforcing pillars, which have been consolidated to provide the support for structured links and a process of effective, consistent cooperation in which NATO, in particular, the linchpin of the entire system, will interact with the other institutions involved - first and foremost with the Western European Union (WEU), and with the CSCE.

With the Maastricht Summit, the process of European integration has reached a decisive stage. The political and economic union of EC countries will be a model of integration, by which the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe may also be inspired. I should like to evoke here some personal memories of the early days in the development of Community institutions, a process that culminated in the Treaty of Maastricht.

The joint Italian-German initiative for the relaunching of the European Union, which emerged in 1981 as a proposal put forward by my colleague Hans-Dietrich Genscher and myself when Foreign Minister, suggested practical ways of overcoming the paralysis from which Community institutions were then suffering, bound as they were by the restrictions on their areas of competence imposed by the Treaty of Rome. The Colombo-Genscher Act led to the Stuttgart Solemn Declaration on European Union of 19 June 1983; its success was more limited than we had initially hoped, but the end results of the process then initiated have proved that we were essentially right. The drafting of the Solemn Declaration made the public aware of the need to take a fresh look at Europe and raised the inevitable issue of the Community's future development, thus serving as a springboard for the Single European Act of 1986.

By openly stating for the first time the principle that "by speaking with a single voice in foreign policy, including the political aspects of security, Europe can contribute to the maintenance of peace", the Stuttgart Declaration laid the foundations for closer political cooperation and also established the link between that political cooperation and the "coordination of positions of member states on the political and economic aspects of security, so as to promote and facilitate the progressive development of such positions ... in a growing number of foreign policy fields". This was, then, the first acknowledgement of the need to broaden common foreign policy to include security issues.

To some, those proposals seemed over-ambitious, but today, in the light of the results of Maastricht, we can, with legitimate pride, say that that was not the case. At Maastricht, another step has been taken towards the ever-closer union of European peoples and countries.

Process of interaction

Through the work of the WEU, the European Union will also develop the military component of a common foreign and security policy, laying the foundations for future common defence. And Maastricht was also the forum at which the criteria of complement-arity and transparency that should imbue day-to-day interactions between WEU and NATO were stated.

The first step in this process of interaction will be to harmonize working methods and the calendar of ministerial meetings, promoting closer collaboration among the European allies within NATO. The European pillar of the Alliance will thus be strengthened. But that is not all: WEU could well complement NATO by assuming responsibilities that go beyond the limits set by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. And here I am thinking in particular of the delicate problem of out-of-area activities and the long-running debate on this issue.

The complementarity of the Atlantic Alliance and the CSCE will also be fundamental to the new model of European security cooperation. At the Paris summit in November 1990, the CSCE launched a major process of institutionalization, beginning with the creation of the Conflict Prevention Centre, the Permanent Secretariat and the Office of Free Elections. This process was further stimulated by last January's ministerial meeting in Prague, which adopted specific initiatives to reinforce the emergency mechanism by, inter alia, conferring permanent status on the Committee of High Officials and the Conflict Prevention Centre, extending the powers of the Office of Free Elections (transforming it into the Office of Democratic Institutions) and allowing waivers, albeit limited, of the unanimity rule governing the adoption of measures against states in breach of the principles of the Helsinki Final Act or the Paris Charter. (1)

The Atlantic Alliance has played a vital role in guiding this development of the CSCE, serving as a source of ideas and diplomatic initiatives at both the London and Rome summits.(2) All the initiatives adopted with a view to speeding up the Helsinki process, for example, were proposed by NATO. And there may well be further NATO contributions in the near future as regards disarmament and arms control and in connection with verification, an area in which the Alliance could share the invaluable skills it has built up over the past few years.

Another of the Alliance's contributions to the CSCE is the new policy, launched at the Rome summit, for consultation and cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The aim of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, which met for the first time in Brussels on 20 December last year, and most recently in Oslo on 5 June, is to balance the security deficit of Eastern European countries and to share NATO's specific expertise during the delicate phase of consolidation of those countries' new democratic structures.

Furthermore, Allied Foreign Ministers in Oslo announced on 4 June, their preparedness to support, on a case-by-case basis, peace-keeping operations under the auspices of the CSCE. This will be a significant opportunity for NATO to contribute effectively, along with CSCE, to crisis management and the peaceful settlement of disputes thereby enhancing the stability of a free and democratic Europe.

Although their objectives may converge, however, NATO and the CSCE must preserve their own specific spheres of competence. NATO's primary mission will always be to guarantee the security of its member states by maintaining collective defence mechanisms; the CSCE, on the other hand, will be responsible for devising and implementing cooperative instruments for tackling the wider issue of security in the European continent. NATO and the CSCE, moreover, have different historical origins. NATO was created in 1949, on the basis of shared principles and ideals, as an alliance of Western democracies during the early years of the Cold War. By contrast, the CSCE was set up in 1975 by the two blocs, then diametrically opposed, with a view to gradually overcoming their differences by defining common principles and rules of conduct. The security of the area stretching from San Francisco to Vladivostok requires a broad range of instruments that bring the parties together to consolidate a new order of cooperation and stability. These instruments are the European Union (with WEU), NATO (complemented by the North Atlantic Cooperation Council) and the CSCE, all acting as autonomous organizations that have different roles but common objectives, within a framework of mutual reinforcement.

Guaranteeing Europe's stability

As I have already stated, the central pillar of the new European security architecture is provided by NATO, which is called on to guarantee the link between Euro-Atlantic defence and pan-European security. It is unthinkable today that we should give up the Atlantic Alliance - such is the opinion shared by the countries that are now creating the European Union and by the other members of the CSCE. NATO is the only organization for collective defence on the continent and, by maintaining a solid transatlantic link, it guarantees Europe's overall stability. Without NATO, the European Union could never counterbalance the residual - but still enormous - nuclear arsenal bequeathed by the USSR; nor can it do without NATO if it is to counter the dual danger of a return to American isolationism and a renationalization of European defence. At the same time, Eastern European countries, aware of the CSCE's lack of any means of coercion, are clearly showing their interest in the maintenance of the Atlantic Alliance as the basis for European security. They know it is an organization capable of forestalling potential conflicts and preventing a turning-back of the wheel of history to a policy of rival alliances and the balance of power.

I should like to comment here that careful attention should be paid to changing trends in public opinion in the NATO countries. Until recently, it might have been said that the main threat to the Alliance's cohesion was the burgeoning belief in neutrality voiced by certain sections of European society; now, we must rapidly learn to counteract such slogans as America first and face the fact that some sectors of public opinion - indeed, of the American political machine - are tempted by the idea of an American/European divorce. The strengthening of the European pillar depends on the European allies' more active, convinced defence of the rationale of the Alliance's existence, as well as a greater European commitment to the battle of ideas (which is, after all, part of the concept of burdensharing) to reinforce the transatlantic connection in a global security system.

The vital importance of the indissoluble bond established between the US and Europe in the immediate post-war period in improving the international situation since the Cold War, needs to be stressed. That bond is no less essential now that communism is gone and the Eastern bloc and the USSR itself have broken up. That bond has never interfered with the dynamics of European unity, now or in the past, nor will it do so when that unity is gradually extended to embrace security, as is the tangible prospect following Maastricht.

I attach absolutely no political significance to a few documents - apparently drawn up by technical people in the American Department of Defense - that argue in favour of strengthening America's position as the sole guide and leading power in the world following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And I give even less credence to the idea that America intends to oppose an extension of European integration to defence. These were merely rather ingenuous and unconsidered desktop exercises, irresponsibly publicized by the media at a time of election campaigns in the US, Italy, France and the UK. They are not views that undermine America's unwavering support of its friends and allies in the strengthening of European integration.

In short, the solid bond between Europe and the US should still be pursued and reflected in open, honest dialogue even when interests diverge (I am thinking here of major commercial and agricultural issues, as highlighted in the difficult GATT negotiations), a dialogue that will always clarify the common political interests that bond democracies together.

I well remember how, when Foreign Minister in 1982, with President Reagan in power and at a difficult moment for the Alliance, loyalty to this cause gave me, together with British and German colleagues, the opportunity of proposing to the Soviet Union, on behalf of both Europe and the US, a realistic option for the first reductions of nuclear missiles, at a key time when the USSR's military budget and its people's desire for greater freedom and well-being were beginning to clash.

It will be up to the Atlantic Alliance, in line with Europe's emerging security and defence identity, to support the process of change now taking place in the world. A transformed NATO has itself become an agent of that change, without in any way slackening in its role as guarantor of the security of the Euro-Atlantic community and as a pillar supporting the future European architecture, in which every state will enjoy equal liberty and security.


(1) See also "CSCE MARK II: Back to Helsinki from Paris via Berlin and Prague", Christopher Anstis, NATO Review, No. 2, April 1992, pp. 18-23.

(2) For text of London Declaration, see NATO Review, No. 4, August, 1990, pp. 32-33,. For the Rome Summit Declaration and other documents, see NATO Review, No. 6, December 1991, pp. 19-32.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1992.