WEU in Europe

Description of WEU (Western European Union)

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes weu (western european union) in the following terms: [1] More or less defunct for some 45 years, the WEU was designated in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty as the future defence component of the Eu (see more in this European encyclopedia). It originated in 1948 as the Brussels Treaty Organisation, of which Britain, France and the Benelux countries were the signatories, changing its name in 1954 with the addition of West Germany and Italy. The stimulus for change was the collapse of the European Defence Community, Jean Monnet’s dream of a European army, but the WEU’s military function was made irrelevant by NATO, and any broader political or economic role was overshadowed by the emergence of the Common Market. With the ending of the Cold War, however, the EU (and especially France) has become more assertive, doubtless calculating that it now has less need of NATO’s protection. Hence a revived interest in developing an independent European military capability, albeit partly under the NATO umbrella, building on the newly formed 60,000-strong Eurocorps and the institutional framework of the WEU.

Portugal and Spain joined the WEU in 1988, and Greece in 1995. In 1992 Iceland, Norway and Turkey became ‘associate members’ and Austria,Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Sweden (all except Denmark neutrals) became ‘observer members’. In 1994 the Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria were made ‘associate partners’. But in real terms this amounted to little more than bureaucratic fodder for the meetings of the WEU’s Council of Ministers, Permanent Council and Assembly of member state parliamentarians. For despite aspirations of a more cohesive European defence identity, the 1991 Gulf War, the 1992-5 Bosnian crisis and the 1999 Kosovo crisis showed that there were not enough shared aims to underpin a common security policy. Moreover, in an emergency only NATO and individual nations (chiefly the USA, but also France and the UK) could muster the resolve and fire power to take resolute action. Even the limited peace-keeping objectives set out in the Petersberg Declaration of 1992 seemed to stretch the WEU’s capacities to the limit.

You can call it Margaret or Mary-Anne if you like, but it is still a European army. Commission president Romano Prodi, 2000

The relationship of the WEU to NATO is ambivalent. NATO’s success in deterring Soviet aggression for half a century was based not just on weaponry but on sophisticated command and control systems tested in numerous military exercises. European forces could not mount any sustained action without the help of US surveillance and logistics, a dependence recognised in the Luxembourg Declaration of 1993, in which the WEU defined itself as the European pillar of NATO. It was notable that in the Kosovo conflict, in its own backyard, the Europeans were only able to deploy some 10% of the effective strike capacity of the combined force (see more in this European encyclopedia). Yet the EU longs to prove that it is a genuine world power, with a Common Foreign and Security Policy to match its economic weight and a military arm in support.

Historically, Britain’s attachment to NATO and scepticism over the WEU have been both a bulwark of the Atlantic Alliance and a microcosm of the long-running debate about whether the EU is to become a federal state or to remain a confederation of independent democracies. But Prime Minister Tony Blair’s gesture of Anglo-French solidarity in 1999, when he offered British support for the Eurocorps and echoed French language about ‘autonomous’ European forces, set alarm bells ringing (see more in this European encyclopedia). Washington was concerned lest the WEUdevelop less as a welcome burden-sharing arm within NATO than as a rival, duplicating costs and sowing confusion – after all, France remained even now outside NATO’s integrated command structure (in the Gulf War, French airborne capabilities were crippled by not being networked into the allies’ enemy-recognition system). The Treaty of Amsterdam had held out the prospect of incorporating the WEU into the Eu (see more in this European encyclopedia). These were the sort of developments that could fuel isolationism in the USA.

As a compromise, NATO chiefs had worked out the idea of Combined Joint Task Forces, in which WEU forces could act independently, using US NATO-assigned logistics and lifting capacity, in cases where the alliance as a whole was not involved. It was, however, all too easy to see the potential flaws in this arrangement. The Pentagon would not share intelligence with the WEU – and how would it respond to WEU actions with which it disagreed? From a practical standpoint, recurrent cuts in European defence budgets and the fact that Britain had shared so many dangerous conflicts with the USA probably assured the continuance of NATO-based defence for the EU in the medium term. But the longer term prospects in an increasingly proud and integrationist Europewere difficult to read.

Common Foreign and Security Policy, NATO and WEU and the European Union

WEU and the European Union


See Also

  • Western European Union


See Also

  • Defence policy


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

See Also

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