EXPLAIN THE CHANGING SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WESTERN EUROPEAN UNION (WEU) When the subject of the Western European Union and its position in the evolving European security environment was raised at a discussion of current issues at NATO in 1993, it was described simply as being a "paper tiger" incapable of responding to future crises 1 However the status of the WEU has changed rapidly, particularly with the European Community (EC) agreement at Maastricht defining new responsibilities for the organisation, as witnessed by WEU operations involving NATO seconded personnel and equipment for mine detection in the Persian Gulf, and for the naval blockade of former Yugoslavia in the Adriatic sea 2 In this essay it is my intention to concentrate particularly upon post-Maastricht developments in the role of the WEU and its future prospects, but first I shall briefly provide a background to the institution, and its development during the cold war period.
Formed in 1948, a year before NATO, the Western Union as it was then called comprised five members, France, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux countries. The institution was rapidly eclipsed by the formation of the Atlantic Alliance which had both the backing of American politicians and American Dollars, Marshall Aid it could be suggested ensured the attention of European politicians to American concerns. Through the cold war period, the institution was very secondary to NATO, efforts such as the European Defence Community proposals in the early 1950s being stillborn.
The WEU did however serve as a European security think-tank, and as an alternative structure to NATO, having both a complex bureaucratic organisation, and committee structures, Although it had no forces of its own until the formation of the Franco-German Corps, or "Euro-Corps" as the media dubbed it 3 A significant consideration in the cold war survival, and flourishing of the organisation (which now has ten members) could be suggested as being the location of its main headquarters in sight of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The De Gaullist dream of a Europe free from American influence, and especially from the conspicuous military presence elsewhere in Europe guaranteed French political support for the institution.
The rehabilitation and transition of the WEU from European think-tank to a credible institution for the future management of European defence has its roots in two phases, the first in the mid 1980s, and the second in the agenda set by the Maastricht Treaty of 1991.
By the mid 1980s several factors in the European security environment were in a state of change. Firstly the Glasnost and Perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union were beginning to change European perceptions about the nature of the Soviet threat as new information became available. Secondly, and of key significance for the Atlantic Alliance was the Superpower summit at Reykjavik, Iceland. Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev sent ripples through the European NATO members when the American President was prepared to make sweeping cuts in the nuclear arsenal without consulting the allies, these talks in time were to lead to the INF Treaty.
Between Reykjavik and the signing of INF it could be observed that the American members of NATO sought to implement a damage limitation exercise in order to reaffirm the credibility of the commitment to the defence of Western Europe. Thirdly, the political leadership of NATO was under strain from domestic anti-nuclear pressure groups which were informing their peoples of the effects of even a limited nuclear in Europe. It could be suggested that although INF would have seemed a solution to the European nuclear question, in fact it could be suggested it spelled out the writing on the wall, that European defence could in the final analysis only be guaranteed by Europeans.
The final factor in the mid 1980s environment was the European Community and its Single Market Act, a milestone in the on-going integration of Europe, which saw a beginning of the revitalisation of the WEU when the concept of a common defence policy entered the political forum. It is somewhat significant at this time, that the official NATO publication NATO REVIEW begins to include articles pertaining to the WEU in its contents 4 as well as articles describing the "Continental Drift" 5 between Europe and the USA, as well as strategy debates reaffirming the "nature and scope of the threat" 6 These articles could be suggested to be setting the agenda which would follow for the European members of NATO, only to be catalysed by the changes associated with the cessation of the cold war and Maastricht.
Between the mid 1980s and the Maastricht Treaty of 1991, the word change cannot adequately describe the shift in the environment in which the WEU as well as the other components of Europe's security architecture would function. The collapse of Eastern Europe in 1989 and German reunification resulted in European anxieties about the role of a unified Germany in the new Europe, providing an impetus for the Maastricht negotiations, a Treaty which could set a future agenda for integration, and as some have noted, a means of involving Germany fully in the future of Europe. A second element was the success of the CFE talks to reduce the levels of conventional forces in the European theatre as far east as the Urals.
The success of this Treaty can be seen as enabling America to reduce its presence in Europe in order to curb its astronomical defence budget, resulting somewhat ironically in Nato’s future being brought into question by its most successful negotiations, this also at a time when the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (WTO) voted itself out of existence - Nato’s undeclared Raison D’etre.
Also at this time the WEU commanded a mine clearance operation in the Gulf using NATO personnel and equipment subordinated to the organisation, a significant development, and an opportunity to test the organisation. The Gulf conflict of 1991 highlighted the political discord among the Europeans, Jacques Delors the EC President declaring that (the Gulf war) "provided an abject lesson on the limitations of the EC" 7 The period between the Gulf conflict and the Maastricht Treaty saw bureaucratic politics move to the centre of the debate on the future structure of European security.
At a WEU Council meeting in February 1991 the Americans interrupted with what has become known as the "Bartholemew Telegram" spelling out US pre-conditions for any European security mechanism 8 NATO during this time launched its Strategic Concept as part of its Rome Declaration in November 1991 which devoted 10 of its 21 points to the "European Security Identity" 9 It could be suggested that NATO had attempted to pre-empt any Maastricht developments by defining its new roles in conflict resolution, crisis management and peacekeeping, in order to minimise the rationale for an independent.
European security organisation at this time, halting any expansion of the WEU. The Maastricht agreement emphasised the link between the WEU and European Union, calling for other EC members to join, whilst bringing the Franco-German Corps under WEU control, and creating a military planning cell (which commenced operations in April 1993) in order to enhance its credibility as an effective security organisation. Since the Maastricht agreement, the WEU has undergone considerable transformation, controlling the Adriatic blockade under similar constrictions of the 1990 Gulf operation, executing a UN security council resolution.
Significantly in this period, the WEU secretariat moved to Brussels, home of the EC and NATO in 1993, and WEU leaders took part in joint meetings with the NATO council where agreement was reached on "ensuring close and smooth interaction between the respective secretariats" 10 PostMaastricht the WEU has it could be suggested taken on a character similar to that of NATO mirroring developments of the organisation and evolving forums such as the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG) which aims to provide co-operation in the field of armaments, similar in principle to the NATO Military Agency for Standardisation.
Having assessed the key developments in the development of the WEU, the second part of this essay will attempt to explain the significance of the changing WEU and its role in the changing European security environment. The 21st century has been declared as the "Pacific century", and the US hosting of the ASEAN conference in Seattle during 1993 shows the increasing importance placed by Washington in the region.
When considering this with the increased co-operation with Russia and the Ukraine, has arguably given America the confidence to draw-down its forces stationed in Europe. It could be asserted that, major crises aside, this decade will see the De Facto withdrawal of US servicemen from Europe which in turn raises the fundamental question of how the common future defence of Europe will be managed, as highlighted through the earlier discourse on NATO/WEU relations NATO itself could be suggested as being in decline, attempting to arrest its fall by creating forums such as the North Atlantic Council (NACC) which superficially is very similar to the CSCE framework.
To the observer it would appear that there is considerable overlap between the structures of the CSCE, NATO and the WEU, complicating the ability of Europe to manage its own security.
The significance of the WEU is that it appears to be preparing itself as an effective, credible successor to NATO for the Europeans, and this along with the WEU adoption of roles such as arms control verification, out-of-area crisis management and conflict resolution suggest that the NATO/WEU relationship in the contemporary environment is a "zero-sum" game. In its infancy the WEU was sidelined in favour of the Atlantic Alliance, but today I would assert that the reverse is true. In the future European security architecture, the CSCE will remain the political "bridge" across the Atlantic, whilst tried NATO military procedures transferred to the WEU can provide common links between the military establishments of North America and Europe. NATO in a drastically reduced role could, as the WEU has done, serve as a transatlantic security policy think-tank and consultative forum serving to reinforce academic links between the continents.
However in some quarters this view is regarded as undesirable, in March 1992 the pentagon released a draft document which stated that "we must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO" 11 In summary what then has been the changing significance of the WEU and what are its future prospects ?
From the mid 1980s through the Maastricht negotiations, this analysis has underlined two key themes, firstly that of resistance to a revision of the institutions which manage European security, and secondly the search through the EC for a common future defence policy. The WEU has succeeded in overcoming the first obstacle, establishing it as effective in carrying out UN operations overseas, though it has yet to achieve the latter theme, that of implementing a common defence policy which even through the most optimistic lens could be suggested as being a decade away at minimum. NATO is currently at the height of its success, but has lost the American support by virtue of its partial military withdrawal, and more critically, its re-focusing of vision toward the Pacific. For a collective security organisation it could be suggested that such a blow is critical.
For the WEU today, its proximity now to the EC headquarters in Brussels is indicative of its position of ascendancy in any developing European security architecture of the 21st century. FOOTNOTES (1) Briefing on current issues at NATO Headquarters (30. 03. 93). (2) NATO Review Vol. 41 No. 5 "WEU Prepares the Way for New Missions". (3) Times (19. 06. 92) "Fresh Doubts Emerge over Euro Corps Membership". (4) NATO Review Vol. 35 No. 3 "The Atlantic Alliance and the Security of Europe". (5) NATO Review Vol. 35 No. 5 "Transatlantic relations - a case of continental drift ? ". (6) NATO Review Vol. 35 No. 5 "Nato’s Strategy". (7) Survival Vol. 34 No.
3 (Autumn 1992) "European Security - A Common European Defence ? " p. 106. (8) ibid. (9) NATO November 1991 The Rome Declaration on Peace and Co-operation p. 3. (10) NATO Review Vol. 41. No. 1. "NATO and WEU secretaries-general meet at NATO Headquarters" p. 15. (11) Op. Cit. Survival Vol. 34. No. 3. p. 117. BIBLIOGRAPHY Booth K, New Thinking about Strategy and International Security (Harper Collins 1991) Ch. 10. Pugh (ed. ), European Security - Toward 2000 (Manchester UP 1992) Ch. 1, 8. NATO Review (Various Editions). Rome Declaration on Peace and Co-operation (NATO November 1991). Survival Vol. 34. No. 3 (Autumn 1992). The Strategic Concept (NATO November 1991). The Times.