Center for Strategic Decision Research


The WEU Today and Its Relations with NATO

Mr. José Cutileiro
Secretary General of the Western European Union


Just as it is for NATO, the rationale behind WEU’s new and enhanced role as the tool for European crisis management is rooted in the changed security environment that has been in evidence since the end of the Cold War. And as we all know, modern-day crises such as Bosnia and Kosovo require more than collective defense; they require a comprehensive approach to security, one that combines political, humanitarian, and economic means with politico-military capabilities which, in most cases, remain essential..

To achieve and support that comprehensive approach, and to maintain and strengthen the transatlantic link, we are hearing a clear signal from the other side of the Atlantic that a more equitable sharing of risks and responsibilities must be evident in future Euro-Atlantic relations. This means, in real terms, that we Europeans must assume a greater and indeed the primary responsibility for managing crises that affect us directly.

I believe that the answer to taking on this responsibility and achieving a strong, comprehensive approach to security lies in the development of a European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) in NATO, the European Union, and WEU. ESDI means that Europeans will be politically and operationally ready to act in cases of distinct European responsibility. We will both share the transatlantic burden and be responsible for European interests.

Standing at the confluence of the transatlantic link through NATO and of European integration through the EU, WEU is uniquely placed to shoulder the responsibility for European crisis management operations that Europeans wish to undertake but for which North Americans—for whatever reason—wish not to accept the military and political lead. We would almost certainly take on such a role at the request of the EU, most probably using NATO assets and capabilities. As we build WEU, therefore, we are focusing on three areas: relations with the European Union, relations with NATO, and WEU’s operational development.


Effective crisis management requires that Europeans have at their disposal the full range of options—not only in the politico-diplomatic and economic fields but in the military field as well. The Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 and the attached WEU Declaration took the EU-WEU relationship to a new level by granting guiding status to the EU Council, by including WEU crisis management tasks—the so-called Petersberg Tasks—in the Treaty, and by providing opportunities for increasingly close cooperation. In concrete terms, the EU can now avail itself of WEU to carry out a mission in support of European interests and policies. Through WEU, the European Union has access to a politico-military crisis management capability.


Close practical cooperation between the WEU and NATO is now a daily reality at all levels as we continue to prepare for the use of NATO assets and capabilities to meet the needs of a particular European deployment. Over the last few years, WEU and NATO have worked hard at turning a theoretical possibility into this practical reality.

At present, work with NATO concentrates on three areas:

  • Defense planning. WEU participates actively in the force planning process with regard to the specific requirements of its future operations. The aim is to ensure that Europeans have the military forces and equipment required to handle the range of future crisis management tasks.
  • Operational planning. WEU and NATO are working hard on the issue of crisis scenarios that would employ WEU and NATO capacities in operations ranging from the lower to the higher end of the Petersberg scale. Our two organizations are nearing agreement on the general mechanism for consultation and institutional interaction in all stages of a crisis.
  • A framework agreement. We are working to draw up an agreement on the modalities of WEU use of NATO assets. Such an agreement will fix the technical and procedural modalities for the transfer, monitoring, and return of NATO assets and capabilities, enabling the two organizations to react rapidly if and when an operation must be launched.

WEU and NATO have agreed that the implementation of these key decisions on ESDI will be completed in time for the 1999 NATO Summit.


WEU has made good progress in developing its own operational means, which NATO’s capabilities are designed to complement. Over the last few years, WEU has developed a comprehensive set of instruments and procedures for conducting Petersberg operations. A permanent Military Delegates’ Committee is now operative and will provide constant and coherent military advice to the Council, a strong docking-point for national Defense Ministries and military staffs, and a clear counterpart to NATO structures. In short, we have the tools and the know-how to run WEU operations.


The WEU is making a positive contribution to European security and to the upkeep of the transatlantic link. It is also able to operate in partnership with the EU and NATO, the two organizations that are the basis of the European security architecture. WEU is ready, and putting it to work does not require further institutional engineering, a full-fledged EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, or further advances in the establishment of ESDI within NATO. While it is true that we are still working to clarify and agree on mechanisms and procedures to cooperate with the other two organizations, real crises do wonders to quicken the pace of things political and military. As it stands now, WEU could take care of a Petersberg operation at the request of the European Union using NATO assets and capabilities.

But now that we have a European crisis management instrument, we must be prepared to use it should this political-military option be chosen. The issue, however, is not one of decision-making mechanisms; WEU will be able to launch a military operation only with the consensus of its members. The issue is rather that European administrations—particularly the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense and general staffs—must become better aware of the existence of this crisis management tool at their disposal—one that was not there only two or three years ago. The alternative would be “coalitions of the willing,” which were used last year in Albania. But while such coalitions can certainly do the job in the technical sense, in my view they are politically risky instruments. If they are resorted to often, they will lead us to the renationalization of defense policies, foster disunity among Europeans, and take us back to undesirable ways that we thought we had abandoned.


There may come a day when the European Union and NATO will be able to work together directly. Then WEU will be superfluous. But we are very far from that day. In the meantime we cannot afford to lose the momentum gained over the last few years.

This takes me back to burden sharing. An organization can do no more than what its members are prepared to afford. A lot of institutional work has been carried out in WEU; many WEU nations have been rationalizing and modernizing their armed forces; and European multinational headquarters and forces have been set. Through subsidiary bodies WEU has also been making a contribution to much-needed European cooperation in armaments and is focusing on harmonizing operational requirements.

In other words, we are a politico-military tool for crisis management but we are also a framework that European nations can use to strengthen the capabilities needed for the proper use of that tool. The two roles are complementary and are indispensable to the building of a meaningful European Security and Defense Identity.


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