No. 6 - Nov. 1995
Vol. 43 - pp30-35


Anne-Else Højberg
of NATO's Political Affairs Division

The challenge of creating a system of mutually reinforcing institutions in the realm of European security is compounded by the number of organizations addressing security, and confusion as to their respective roles. Enhancing practical cooperation and reducing any rivalry between these organizations is essential. This article describes the background for the interaction between the various institutions engaged in European security and, while not attempting to cover the full range of actual contacts or goals which they pursue, offers some thoughts on what is required to achieve a cooperative European security structure.

The most common question asked concerning the European security order is why is it necessary to have so many institutions? Is it not an obstacle to efficient crisis management in Europe? Does it not produce an unnecessary overlapping and unreliable division of responsibility? Considered from the perspective of crisis resolution it would undoubtedly be more practical if there were fewer institutions addressing this issue. The conflict in former Yugoslavia has shown how difficult it can be for various international institutions to function together effectively.

It is important to recognise that the institutions in question have functions beyond handling open conflicts - it is just as important that they help prevent conflicts from breaking out in the first place. In other words, they must create a framework for the reciprocal balancing and reconciling of often divergent interests. While most successful institutions have developed internal mechanisms to minimize potential divisiveness, channelling divergences towards compromise and common purpose, there is no such mechanism performing this crucial role between institutions.

This makes it that much more important, therefore, to maintain the effort to turn the potential for mutual institutional reinforcement in the security realm into actual, functioning cooperation. To do so requires, as a first step, a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the institutions that address issues of relevance to European security (the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the EU, the WEU and NATO - see diagram). It is also important to understand the changes these institutions have undergone thanks to the end of the Cold War, and the main challenges they face today in their interaction.

The United Nations

The United Nations was established in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, with the primary purpose of avoiding a Third World War. It represents nearly all the nations of the world community in terms of its membership and its purview. For five decades, the UN has assumed broad responsibilities in the fields of security, socio-economic affairs, culture, humanitarian issues, and so on. During the Cold War, the East-West division caused a stalemate in the UNunctions in the security field but when the Cold War ended, the UN, and in particular the UN Security Council, began to play a more pronounced role in international security cooperation,including a widened role in Europe. While in 1990 the UN had 11,500 peacekeepers in nine operations, this had increased to 70,000 in 17 operations by 1994.

However, the handling of many new and extended tasks has not been without difficulty for the UN. Operations in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have caused considerable problems, and the UN was criticised for not being able to undertake operations in an effective manner.

In comparison with the Cold War era, peacekeeping has become much more complicated as the security environment has changed fundamentally. Post-Cold War conflicts are primarily of an intrastate nature and characterised by uncontrollable factors such as ethnic strife, religious clashes, nationalism, etc. Instead of operating between parties in the classical interstate conflicts of the Cold War, quite often peacekeepers are now operating in the middle of a conflict, even in an environment of continued fighting, such as in the former Yugoslavia. Also, the financial backing for operations has proved to be increasingly a problem.

In falling short of both financial resources and operational capabilities to carry out the requisite task, the UN has accepted that member countries may wish to implement Security Council resolutions by acting through regional structures. Since 1992, the Alliance member countries have used NATOtructures, procedures, and military forces to help implement such resolutions. NATOaritime operations in the Adriatic - enforcing the embargo/sanctions - and the Allianceir operations in the former Yugoslavia, are primary examples. NATO also had to change its policy to be able to respond positively to requests by the UN. During the Cold War, a political consensus existed amongst NATO nations that its structures should not be used beyond the territory of the member states. The agreement had been made to secure NATOefensive role and prevent member countries from being drawn into a proxy war that could lead to a superpower conflict. Today, NATO is prepared to make its contribution beyond its territory, but only if it has a mandate from the UN or the OSCE.

The present cooperation between the UN and NATO reflects the nature of the changed security environment after the Cold War. Whilst it lasted, it would have been impossible to reach agreement in the Security Council to request NATO involvement in the implementation of a resolution on the ground. Today, as we have seen in the former Yugoslavia, this has become attainable.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), formerly known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), was initially a political consultative process, which today involves 53 participating states (1). The CSCE, established in 1975 as a result of the Helsinki Final Act, was a product of the Cold War in that it was launched with the aim of providing a confidence-building mechanism to help overcome the East-West divide.

The OSCE's preventive diplomacy tools have been considerably strengthened since the end of the Cold War, beginning with the changes adopted in the Paris Charter of 1990. In Budapest, in December 1994, the transformation from a cooperation process to an organization began. Today, the OSCE has three main functions, including acting as:

  • a framework for the creation of norms in the OSCE area related to international law, human rights, minority rights, democracy, the rule of law and a market economy;
  • a framework for the process of arms control in Europe; and
  • a framework for early warning, conflict prevention and conflict resolution supported by confidence-building mechanisms and the appointment of a High Commissioner for National Minorities.
The scope of its membership, encompassing all European states and North America, and its status as a regional organization under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, confer upon the OSCE a unique form of legitimacy. The main focus of the organization lies in conflict prevention, not in the settlement of conflicts that have already broken out. It should therefore, in coordination with other structures, be able to develop a capacity in the field of defusing inter-ethnic strife and extreme nationalistic tendencies, possibly two of the biggest threats to stability in Europe today. But, the success of the OSCE finally rests upon the political will of the member countries to use the full capacity of the organization, and make up for any deficiencies it may possess through cooperation with other European institutions.

The principle of cooperation with other institutions was agreed at the OSCEelsinki Summit in 1992. This is the background for NATOepeated offer of assistance, exemplified by Allied countries stating their readiness to support, on a case-by-case basis, peacekeeping activities under the responsibility of the OSCE. NATO has also contributed to the work of the OSCE in the security field, particularly in the development of its approach to conflict prevention and crisis management through participation in OSCE seminars and other conceptual inputs.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe (CoE) was established in 1949. Its core functions, which have remained constant since its inception, are those of upholding the principles of parliamentary democracy and providing a structure within which human rights issues can be addressed.

Today, the CoE contributes to overall European security by helping Central and Eastern European countries to form stable democracies. The Council of Europe is currently finalizing a Convention for the Protection of Minority Rights which will provide other organizations and states with an internationally agreed set of behavioural guidelines. This process of m creation necessary so that standards may be set, providing the means whereby actions can be objectively assessed and enforced. With the end of East-West confrontation, many more common fields of interest now exist between NATO and the CoE. Both institutions should be able to benefit from each otherxperience and expertise in situations where fundamental rights are bound up in the wider context of a situation which may possibly have a security dimension.

The statutes of the Council of Europe do not permit it to become involved in defence issues. Therefore, when the CoE was the first Western democratic institution to widen its membership to include the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, it was relatively non-controversial. It is obvious that NATO, in its enlargement process, can learn from the lessons of the CoE.

The European Union

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed as an economic and political framework. At the Maastricht Summit in December 1991, the European Community countries adopted a Treaty on Political Union, and a Treaty on Economic and Monetary Union, which together form the Treaty of European Union (EU). Today, the EU also has a number of functions of fundamental significance to European security. Internally, it serves to bind the European great powers together, and it provides stability through integration by offering a stable framework for democracies to develop and prosper. The EU member states have achieved a degree of integration which makes them dependent on each other. Externally, it contributes to a profound stabilisation process in Europe, through its means and resources - both political and economic - for example, in the form of the Europe Agreements with Central and Eastern European countries and the TACIS/PHARE Programmes, supporting the economic reform processes in these countries through technical assistance and aid.

With the adoption of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty, members of the EU committed themselves to a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which will include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might, in time, lead to a common defence compatible with that of the Atlantic Alliance. The Union would request the WEU (which is described in the Treaty as an integral part of the development of the Union) to implement Union decisions that have a defence element. The CFSP has, however, had difficulty in launching itself. Noteworthy positive initiatives on the broader security level have been the Stability Pactound Tables, which, since March 1995, now come under the responsibility of the OSCE, and the development of a peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In order to work efficiently both internally and with other structures, it will be important for the EU, during its Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) in 1996, to undertake institutional adjustments so that it is not weakened by an expansion of its membership. In the security field, the prospects for agreement on a revision of the Maastricht Treatyrovisions on the CFSP, including its extension to comprise a common defence policy, will, however, remain complicated and depend on an efficient division of labour with other organizations. NATO views its own enlargement and that of the EU as mutually supportive and parallel processes which together will make a significant contribution to strengthening Europeecurity structure. While no rigid parallelism is foreseen, each organization will need to consider developments in the other.

The Western European Union

The WEU grew out of the Brussels Treaty of 1948, a Western European initiative aimed at preventing the resurgence of military threats. Based on the 1954 modifications of its Treaty, the WEU evolved only in the 1980s into a framework aimed at reinforcing the European defence identity. The WEU is therefore called upon to have the dual role of enabling the EU to implement measures taken under its Common Foreign and Security Policy which have defence implications, while at the same time, strengthening the European pillar of the Alliance. The four membership categories of the WEU (see diagram) reflect this dual role:
  • full members are members of both the EU and of NATO;
  • associate members are the European members of NATO which are not members of the EU;
  • observers are (except Denmark) traditionally neutral countries, which are members of the EU, but not of NATO; and
  • associate partners are the countries which have concluded "Europe Agreements" with the EU, i.e., those Central and Eastern European Countries expected to become EU-members.
With the Maastricht Treaty, the WEU became an integral part of the development of the Union. In its dual role as defence component of the EU and a strengthening of the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance, the WEU brings an important additional dimension to European security. At the NATO Summit in 1994, NATO's Heads of State and Government acknowledged this dual role and contributed to its further development by expressing readiness to make collective assets available on the basis of consultations in the North Atlantic Council for WEU operations undertaken by the European allies in pursuit of their CFSP.

When implemented, the concept of "Combined Joint Task Forces" will enable asset-sharing between the WEU and NATO to take place and allow the maximum possible use of forces that already exist.

However, the challenge for the WEU will lie in its future relations with the EU, including which of various models for closer cooperation it chooses. One possibility is that the WEU will continue its separate treaty status, while a more far-reaching model could consist of incorporating the WEU into a European defence dimension as the EU's fourth pillar.

Among the arguments for keeping the EU and WEU as separate institutions is, first of all, the fact that several EU member countries do not wish to seek full membership of the WEU. A further argument for retaining their distinctiveness is that it would make it possible to admit the Central and East European countries into the EU without there being any need to extend security guarantees to them. By contrast, because of the linkage between the security guarantees of the WEU and NATO, it is hard to imagine that a country could become a full member of the WEU without becoming, or already being, a member of NATO.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established in 1949 as a defence organization designed to strengthen democracy in Europe and collectively safeguard the member states' territory. The organization was established at a time of great tension. This is in contrast to the situation that exists today, where the threat of Communism has subsided, only to be replaced by an environment that is largely unpredictable, and where "the risks to Allied security that remain are multi-faceted in nature and multidirectional, which makes them hard to predict and assess." (2)

NATO's significance relies upon the fact that it is both an important political and military organization, the latter role resulting from close cooperation through NATO's integrated military structure. In addition to its traditional role of defending the territory of the member states, NATO has taken up new tasks: crisis management, including peacekeeping, and outreach to countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

In crisis management and peacekeeping, NATO is ready to respond to requests of the UN or the OSCE on a case-by-case basis. It is only with such a mandate that NATO is prepared to act beyond its territory.

Through the creation of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in 1991 and the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1994, NATO is actively building with CEE countries, the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and a number of neutral nations, the familiarity, trust and habits of cooperation which Allies have developed amongst themselves for many decades. PfP is much more than a means of preparation for countries that wish to join NATO. It is a key element of the new security architecture - closing the gap between Allies and Partners and providing a unique framework for contacts among military personnel on a day-to-day basis. It thus brings countries together in a nexus of cooperation - enhancing security for the whole of Europe, and complementing an eventual NATO enlargement.


In achieving a system of mutually reinforcing institutions responsible for security in Europe, it is obvious that adjustment following the end of the Cold War is a process that must continue. The UN is seeking to improve implementation of resolutions agreed by the Security Council; the OSCE is discussing its role in the 21st century; the CoE is enlarging with new democracies, still aiming at maintaining high standards of human rights; the EU is seeking a balance between the delicate compromise of the Maastricht Treaty and further enlargement to the East; the WEU is enhancing its operational capacity while discussing its future position in European security; and NATO is engaged in a process of enlargement while developing parallel relations with Russia, and taking developments within the EU and North America into consideration.

In improving coordination amongst organizations, the creation of various frameworks and forms of cooperation, such as the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and PfP, whose membership cuts across the traditional organizations, has proved extremely useful. Still, four general challenges can be identified in the functioning of the mutually reinforcing institutions.

First, there is still a certain degree of rivalry between the different organizations and it is obvious that there is still some way to go in defining how they are to interact together. This challenge also extends to the member countries themselves which are grappling with the twin problems of seeking to support the institution that they feel will be the most effective, while ensuring that their voice can still be clearly heard.

Second, it will be essential to match ideals and capabilities. Both the UN and the OSCE are able to legitimise actions but lack the operational and military structures to implement their decisions. Thus there must be strong ties between these organizations with the broader mandates - the UN and OSCE - and those with the capabilities, for example, NATO or perhaps the WEU.

Third, enhancing practical cooperation between organizations is essential. For example, the NATO and WEU Secretariats are working ever closer together and, although there is little formally structured cooperation between the UN and NATO, the ad hoc efforts in connection with the former Yugoslavia have significantly intensified practical contacts between these two organizations. The experience gained here will be invaluable in solving future challenges together.

Finally, there is a major process of adaptation and enlargement under way in all the organizations in an attempt to help stabilise the Central and Eastern European countries within the framework of a broad European security system. But the changes made in the individual organizations are complex and it is not always easy to benefit from the lessons learned.

The different organizations in the emerging European security architecture were all created with different agenda and in different situations. Thus work is under way on adaptation and cooperation amongst the organizations. NATO, for its part, is actively working with the UN, the OSCE, the WEU, the EU and individual countries in finding solutions to the multi-faceted and multi-directional risks to European security. The advantages of the different institutions must be exploited to the full whilst the search for pragmatic solutions is maintained. Even though the sheer number of organizations might seem overwhelming, we should not worry unduly because it is precisely their number that will ensure that no problem is left unaddressed and no country need feel excluded.


(1) Originally, 35 states participated. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montenegro) is presently suspended from activities, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Japan are observer.

(2) The Alliance's Strategic Concept, agreed at the Rome Summit in 1991. For text, see NATO Review No.6, December 1991.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1995.