The Role of WEU in theNew
EuropeanSecurity Architecture
General Horst Holthoff
Deputy Secretary General, Western European Union

My invitation to speak at the NATO Workshop is a tangible illustration of the close, transparent, and effective relationship between NATO and the Western European Union (WEU). My remarks will concentrate on the political military aspects of the role WEU is playing in the emerging European security architecture, pointing out the pivotal position WEU holds in strengthening the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance and as the defence component of the European Union.

I will speak on the following issues: the development of WEU since its reactivation in the mid 1980s; the operational development of WEU's crisis management capabilities; WEU's relations with NATO, including the implications of Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF); and WEU's way forward, including relations with the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).


The end of the Cold War compelled the Member States of the Atlantic Alliance, the European Union, and WEU to reexamine their roles in enhancing security and stability on the European continent. Created in 1948 as an intergovernmental organization, WEU was reactivated in the mid 1980s. After attempts to transfer security and defence responsibilities to the European community failed, Europeans felt the need for a forum to discuss defence and security issues, and took full advantage of the membership configuration that WEU offered.

The1987 Hague Platform on European Security Interests was the first concrete result of WEU's early period of reactivation. The Platform developed criteria on which European security should be based, and helped alleviate suspicions in the U.S. and NATO, since it subscribed to the need for a substantial U.S. presence. Combined with WEU's role in the Gulf, which helped the U.S. administration face a Congress that believed Europe was reluctant to participate in ensuring freedom of passage through an important international waterway, the Platform turned American opinion around in favour of the emerging European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI).

The policies of consultation and operational cooperation became the two pillars of WEU activity. These policies were confirmed by the decisions made at Maastricht in December 1991, which defined WEU's dual vocation as the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance and the defence component of the European Union. To reflect WEU's pivotal role between the EU and NATO, a choice of full membership or observer status was offered to members of the European Union who were not members of NATO; associate membership was offered to European NATO Allies who were not members of the European Union.

In June 1992, the Petersberg Declaration defined a way to strengthen WEU's operational role. The declaration stated that, apart from contributing to the common defence, military units acting under the authority of WEU could be employed for humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, and tasks for combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. Member States agreed to make available military units from the whole spectrum of their conventional armed forces. WEU soon stated that it was "prepared to support, on a case by case basis and in accordance with WEU procedures, the effective implementation of crisis management measures, including peacekeeping activities of the [then] CSCE or the United Nations Security Council."

The NATO Summit meeting in Brussels in January 1994 was the next landmark in WEU's political and military development. Politically, the Summit Declaration stressed the importance all Allies attached to the transatlantic link and to NATO's essential contribution to European security and stability. The declaration also established the Allies' support of a European defence scenario compatible with that of the Alliance. NATO leaders acknowledged that a stronger European defence role through further development of WEU would reinforce the transatlantic link and enable Europeans to take more responsibility for their common security and defence. Militarily, the Summit was important because it expressed the Alliance's readiness to make its collective assets available for WEU operations.

In recent years, WEU has played its part in efforts to project stability to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Currently, ten Central European countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia) have Associate Partner status on the basis of their objective to become members of the EU. Associate Partners are able to hold political-military dialogue on European security and defence matters, something which is not available to them in any other international forum. And through their participation in WEU activities and planning they learn more of our day to day work and help build the community of interests that is the indispensable basis of European integration. Like members of the Partnership for Peace programme, who learn more about the work of NATO, Associate Partners in WEU are investing in future EU membership.

To reach our goal of a consistent and stable European security architecture, WEU will continue to hold an open and ongoing dialogue with Russia and Ukraine on a variety of European security interests. These discussions will complement the policies of both NATO and the European Union.


WEU's capability to act collectively has been significantly enhanced in recent years because of the provision set out in the Petersberg Declaration to conduct crisis prevention and crisis management operations. This provision, called Forces Answerable to WEU (FAWEU), is based on the following principles:

Examples of multinational FAWEUs are the Eurocorps, the Multinational Division Central, the UK Netherlands Amphibious Force, EUROFOR, and EUROMARFOR. Such formations provide pre packaged capabilities with associated headquarters and are an important element of the overall set of forces from which WEU selects force packages to meet specific contingencies. The procedures necessary to generate forces as well as the rules for establishing operational budgets have previously been agreed to.

As of this date, WEU has acquired a basic crisis management capability. The decision making structures at Council level and their essential means of support are presently being tested and will, if needed, be further refined. In Spain, WEU's Satellite Centre has been receiving images from the Helios satellite since May. This development reflects our move towards an independent European intelligence and crisis monitoring capability. Also in May, a Situation Centre was established at WEU Headquarters, providing direct crisis monitoring for the Council and its working groups.

Practising, testing, and streamlining our procedures are key requirements for establishing WEU as an efficient and credible operational tool. To this end, a coherent exercise policy has been developed. A planning conference will take place each year to coordinate the aims of the exercise programme. We will also coordinate with the NATO exercise calendar. Presently, we are in the second phase of the first major WEU exercise.

In addition to our exercise programme, other initiatives the Strategic Mobility Concept, Operational Sea Training, generic planning and African Peacekeeping, are all contributing to reinforcing WEU's operational capability. Although much remains to be done, many of the basic elements of operational capability are now or will shortly be in place.

Currently, WEU is conducting three operations in connection with the former Yugoslavia:


Cooperation between WEU and NATO will help considerably to reinforce European peacekeeping efforts and other contingency missions. Closer links will allow WEU to make use of key capabilities in the fulfilment of its role. The recent decision in Berlin on furthering the development of ESDI within the Alliance, the adoption of the CJTF concept, and the support for WEU-led operations will also make a vital contribution towards providing WEU with a wide range of operational multinational command capabilities.

While the definition and development of the European Security and Defence Identity is taking place in NATO as well as in the EU and WEU, its realization requires not only internal NATO adaptation but also a close, transparent, and effective relationship between WEU and NATO. Considerable progress has been made towards that goal in recent years. Our Joint Councils now meet regularly every three months, and our level of cooperation and interaction, including the joint operation in the Adriatic, continues to grow.

Finally, the 1995 Security Agreement between WEU and NATO as well as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) linking WEU to NATO's communications systems enable us to intensify efforts already under way, such as the exchange of documents and intelligence sharing.

The Implications of CJTF

The Combined Joint Task Force concept, with its flexible and deployable multinational triservice headquarters capabilities, will facilitate the dual use of collective assets and capabilities. It will also enable WEU to conduct larger scale Petersberg type operations. For WEU-led operations, the concept is based on non duplication of personnel and assets that are separable but not separate; such personnel and assets should be used in the same way that they would be employed by NATO. Access to NATO's collective assets is of particular importance for WEU, especially intelligence gathering and analysis, observation capabilities, AWACS, communications systems and transport.

The implementation of the CJTF concept will be the touchstone of NATO WEU cooperation. The Berlin decision details the point of departure for an intense process of consultations, a process characterized by compatibility and reciprocity.

Areas on which work is likely to focus in WEU and NATO are: identification of illustrative scenarios for a WEU operation; practical modalities for the transfer of assets, which might lead to a joint concept of how NATO and WEU can interact in crisis management; financial implications; proposals to study how NATO defence planning could support all Allies with respect to WEU-led operations; and a CJTF exercise based on a WEU-led operation.


The relations between WEU and EU are an important item on the agenda of the IGC. Last year WEU presented to the IGC three options for future EU WEU institutional relations.

Option A proposed maintaining WEU as an autonomous institution. Links between WEU and EU would be strengthened with back to back summit meetings.

Option B proposed progressive integration of WEU into EU. This could be handled in a number of ways, for example, establishing a political commitment enabling the EU Council to instruct WEU, or defining a legal framework that would commit WEU to implementing all EU decisions and actions with defence implications.

Option C proposed merging WEU with EU. In this case, close working links between EU and NATO would be essential. A merger of the two organizations would imply a certain number of exceptions for European countries that are members of NATO but not of EU.

While the three options vary widely, all three recognize that the links between WEU and EU must be strengthened to ensure a coherent, timely, and efficient response to the risks and dangers facing Europe.


The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy needs efficient and credible military underpinning. While this can be achieved only gradually, I am optimistic that it will happen. WEU should be capable of conducting Petersberg type missions at the lower end of the spectrum by the end of the year. And once the CJTF concept is implemented, WEU will be able to carry out all types of Petersberg missions.

Through close links with the Atlantic Alliance, WEU will achieve its goal of providing a genuine military tool that is part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. Political conditions are now ripe for WEU to make further, decisive progress within the framework of transatlantic security and solidarity, and the development of the European Security and Defence Identity.

Go to top of page
Return to Warsaw '96
Return to Home Page