Select Committee on European Union Fifteenth Report


20. There have been many attempts before to create a European defence capability. This chapter aims briefly to describe the history of these attempts.

European defence in the context of the Cold War

21. Under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty[9], which paved the way for the foundation of NATO, the members of the Transatlantic Alliance were bound together by the principle of collective security, and an attack on one was to be regarded as an attack on all. Despite this, the development of a European defence capability was considered from time to time. Most notably, in 1952, five years before the Treaty of Rome, the six countries[10] that would eventually found the European Economic Community signed the European Defence Community Treaty. Previous attempts to overcome the distrust of post-war Germany's rearmament had failed, not least because they were over-complicated and ran up against the resistance of smaller countries—particularly the Netherlands—which had suffered under German occupation. Nevertheless, the two Treaties of Paris of 1954, one recognising the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the second providing for a right for West Germany to participate in the European defence system against what was perceived to be the Soviet threat, allowed negotiations to proceed to establish a European Defence Community (EDC).

22. The EDC was an attempt to organise European defence on a pan-European basis. It envisaged a supranational European army of 100,000 troops, financed by a common budget and placed under the command of European ministers of defence and responsible to a council of ministers and a parliamentary assembly. It was encouraged by the US Government which offered to increase its European defence commitment if European NATO governments agreed to allow West Germany to make a military contribution within an integrated European force. The British Government also supported this initiative and signed a Treaty of Association in May 1952. The project initially made good progress, being ratified in all the signatories' parliaments except France, where it floundered on the inability of the then French Government to persuade the French National Assembly even to consider ratification of the European Defence Community Treaty. In an effort to push the project through, the United States had promised an "agonising reappraisal" of their commitment to European defence. In the event, the result of the failure of the EDC was that West Germany was admitted as a member of NATO, with authority to rearm. Thus, in practice, the episode reinforced the American and British commitments to the defence of the territorial integrity of Western Europe. Nevertheless, the United States felt from then onwards that there was little political will in western Europe to play a full role in its own defence, even after ten years of relative peace under the American guarantee. The seeds were sown, even then, for a movement in the United States to withdraw from ground defence in Europe and to rely on the nuclear threat as a deterrent to any Soviet attack.

23. Consequentially the six, together with Britain, revised the Brussels Treaty which had been signed in 1948 as a mutual defence pact between Britain, France and the Benelux[11] countries to encourage the United States into negotiations to form a transatlantic alliance. The Brussels Treaty was modified and expanded in 1954 to include Italy and West Germany. At the same time West Germany joined the North Atlantic Alliance and NATO and was, subject to certain controls and limitations including a commitment never to develop nuclear weapons, allowed to rearm. The Brussels Treaty Organisation was renamed and reconstituted as the Western European Union (WEU). The WEU had a ministerial council, a small secretariat, an Assembly and an armaments agency to monitor German rearmament. The WEU was, however, overshadowed by NATO and its military functions were explicitly integrated into NATO. Nevertheless, the Brussels Treaty did retain a tighter commitment to come to the assistance of signatories than the Alliance (article V of the modified Brussels Treaty), and unlike the Washington Treaty remained geographically unconstrained to a particular area. In spite of this, however, the WEU lay moribund for many years.

24. During the Cold War NATO developed its political and military structures in preparation for a major conflict in Europe with the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. The United States accepted that with the leadership of the alliance came the responsibility to underwrite it both technically and financially. A culmination of President de Gaulle's challenge to US leadership came in 1966 when he announced French withdrawal from NATO's integrated military command structure (but not from the Washington Treaty) and the removal of NATO headquarters from French territory.

25. The confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact powers undoubtedly contained smaller conflicts and prevented their further escalation, although there was an era of tense stalemate across Europe and elsewhere. Despite continuing disagreements, no NATO troops were engaged in military action with Warsaw pact forces during the Cold War.[12]

26. By the late 1970s and early 1980s some pressure for a distinctly European defence identity re-emerged. A Franco-German defence dialogue was relaunched in 1982[13]; at the initiative of the British Government WEU meetings were revived in 1983; and WEU membership was expanded to include Spain and Portugal in 1987. However plans to develop West European capability floundered and the WEU remained little more than a talking shop, though it did conduct some limited military missions in the Gulf where NATO could not act. For most European governments it was unrealistic to contemplate options for European defence integration without first establishing how these might affect the relationship between the Atlantic Alliance and the EU. Governments retained strong reservations concerning supranational integration in such a sensitive area as defence.

The end of the Cold War and the search for a European defence capability

27. The Cold War contributed to three factors in European defence politics. First, it presupposed a two-sided military scenario, NATO against the Warsaw Pact, dominated by the need to ensure territorial defence. Secondly, the strength of the Soviet Union and Tito's control over Yugoslavia contributed to the relative peace in the Balkans and the Caucasus and other areas of nationalist tension within central and eastern Europe. Finally, and most importantly, it guaranteed the strategic engagement of the United States in European affairs.

28. With the end of the Cold War it became clear that European defence arrangements would require re-appraisal. This re-appraisal coincided with increasing European integration, following the Single European Act 1987, and the Treaty on European Union agreed at the Maastricht European Council in December 1991 by the then 12 governments of the European Community. They agreed to establish a Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the Maastricht Treaty boldly stated that 'A common foreign and security policy is hereby established.' The Benelux, French and German governments saw a commitment to a CFSP as an integral part of their broader commitment to "ever closer union". Although some EU governments advocated the incorporation of the WEU within the EU, the Maastricht Treaty fell short of this objective. The WEU was stated to be "an integral part of the development of the Union" and was specifically tasked with elaborating and implementing decisions and actions of the Union with defence implications.[14] An accompanying Declaration by the then 9 EU members of the WEU envisaged a strengthening of the role of the WEU as the defence component of the EU, to be achieved by developing a close working relationship between the two institutions. But it was the task of the WEU, not the EU, to "formulate common defence policy and carry forward its concrete implementation through the further development of its own operational role"[15].

29. New political commitments were accompanied by new military challenges to old security arrangements. The Gulf war diverted American troops from Western Europe, accelerating an already planned process of partial US withdrawal from Europe; following the collapse of Yugoslavia, conflict in the Balkans emerged first between Serbia and Croatia, and then in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The American troop withdrawal from Europe, the decline in the relative importance of territorial defence compared with new security challenges, and problems on the EU's borders where NATO was not mandated to act, led to the strengthened support for a WEU solution to the new European defence requirements. The WEU now had to define its new role, and did so in the Petersberg[16] declaration of June 1992, which stated what have now become known as the "Petersberg tasks". The declaration said:

    "Apart from contributing to the common defence in accordance with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and Article V of the modified Brussels Treaty respectively, military units of WEU member States, acting under the authority of the WEU, could be employed for:

    humanitarian and rescue tasks;

    peacekeeping tasks;

    tasks of combat forces in combat management, including peacemaking."

30. However, despite the claim by the Luxembourg Foreign Minister, Jacques Poos, that this was "the hour of Europe" the EU's failure to act quickly, decisively and effectively in Croatia and Bosnia confirmed a dangerous gap between the expectations of European governments and their capabilities. The EU was not yet able to deal with such tasks without resort to the leadership and military capabilities of the United States. Whilst EU governments did not have the political will to confront Serbia, as it would later become clear in Kosovo, in respect of some Petersberg tasks NATO rather than the EU and WEU had the command and control capability necessary to act effectively.

31. The experience of the crisis in the Balkans, the perceived failure of the EU to deal with the crisis in Croatia and Bosnia and the growing willingness of governments to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states all contributed to the adoption of Petersberg-style missions by NATO, first in Bosnia itself and later in Kosovo. The framework to allow such missions to be undertaken by NATO was established at the 1994 NATO Brussels summit when it was agreed that NATO assets could be made available for the purpose of WEU operations. At the same summit, the concept of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) was established. This allowed NATO assets and forces to be employed for missions such as crisis management and peacekeeping operations. These assets could also be made available to the WEU. According to the declaration of the 1996 NATO summit in Berlin, the virtue of the CJTF was that

    "By permitting a more flexible and mobile deployment of forces, including for new missions, this concept will facilitate the mounting of NATO contingency operations, the use of separable but not separate military capabilities in operations led by the WEU, and the participation of nations outside the alliance in operations such as IFOR."

32. However, while the role of NATO expanded, the WEU remained inadequate for leading many Petersberg tasks. NATO undertook the major tasks in Bosnia and Kosovo by enforcing the no-fly zone, conducting the air strikes and commanding IFOR and KFOR[17], the multinational troop forces. The WEU's only roles were to co-ordinate the naval blockade of the Adriatic and to police the Danube and Mostar. Its capabilities and planning facilities were too small and its command and control structures too weak, and without relying on US and/or NATO assets it would have been ineffective.

33. The weakness of the WEU as an institution made it increasingly clear that it was unlikely to become a suitable vehicle for European military action even though it had expanded, through different levels of associate and observer membership[18], to include countries outside NATO and the EU, reaching a membership of 28 in 1996. Even though the 1996 NATO Berlin summit, acknowledging the role of the WEU, sought to develop a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) within the alliance through the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces by making its assets available for WEU-led operations, in practice WEU governments were reluctant to use the WEU in this way. For example, the WEU did not formally consider taking action in Albania in 1998 when the US government indicated this was a European problem best handled by European governments.

34. European governments wanted to establish a European military capability, but the WEU was by itself too weak. In practice the WEU was dependent on NATO command and control structures, communications systems and national forces assigned to NATO. Access to these assets required consent from the United States and the 7 other non-EU members of NATO.

Amsterdam, St Malo and Helsinki

35. At the July 1997 Amsterdam summit, EU Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the role of the WEU as "an integral part of the development of the Union". An accompanying Declaration by the WEU Council of Ministers reiterated the objective, agreed at Maastricht in 1991, "to build up the WEU in stages as the defence component of the European Union"[19]. The Declaration set out a range of measures to establish "enhanced co-operation" between the EU and the WEU. The focus was therefore still on the WEU but differences between Britain and France over the nature of Europeanisation of the Alliance, neutral (non-NATO) countries' concerns with some of the Petersberg tasks (notably active peacemaking) and the position of Denmark (the only European NATO member not a full member of WEU) limited progress. Article 17(3) of the Treaty on European Union, as amended at Amsterdam, required the Union to "avail itself of the WEU to elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications". Under Article 17(1), the Union was encouraged to "foster closer institutional relations with the WEU with a view to the possibility of the integration of the WEU into the Union, should the European Council so decide." Article 11 defined CFSP as covering "all aspects of foreign and security policy". Article 13 underscored the pre-eminent role of the European Council in defining "the principles and general guidelines for the common foreign and security policy, including for matters with defence implications". This "guidelines" competence of the European Council also extends, under Article 17(3), to the WEU in respect of matters for which the Union "avails itself" of the WEU.

36. In November 1998, the French and British governments met at St Malo and agreed that the EU needed "the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to military crises". At the same time they acknowledged that collective security was a matter for NATO, and that NATO had a predominant role in the territorial defence of Europe.

37. St Malo marked two compromises. The British accepted the need for an EU involvement in defence; the French accepted the need to involve NATO both at the level of collective security and in support of Petersberg missions. The Union had a need for suitable structures but "without unnecessary duplication". In taking this initiative, the British Government has moved from a position of laggard in the debate to leader in actively promoting its vision of a European defence capability. The Franco-British agreement has set a framework for the negotiations: the basis of decision making on defence must be intergovernmental; governments must retain their national veto; and the EU's supranational institutions (the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice) must be prevented from interfering in decisions related to military operations. It has also demonstrated the British and French governments had sufficient common ground to launch an initiative.

38. Since St Malo there has been an acceleration in the tempo of the negotiations. At the NATO summit in Washington in April 1999, the commitment to the transatlantic alliance was reaffirmed, but at the same time the principles of St Malo were accepted. In June 1999, in Cologne, the European Council collectively endorsed the Anglo-French initiative.

39. In December 1999, the European Council met in Helsinki and defined the headline goals, which we have listed in the paragraph 3 of the Introduction. Since then, the European Union has established interim bodies—a military committee and a political and security committee (PSC)—and an interim military staff. We will discuss these goals and interim arrangements in Parts 4 and 5 of this report.

9   Technically known as the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington in April 1949. Its original signatories were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the US. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, West Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982 and the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999. NATO, the military organisation of the North Atlantic Treaty, was created in 1950. Back

10   Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Back

11   Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Back

12   For example the Soviet Union crushed uprisings in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), with assistance from other Warsaw Pact states in the latter two cases. There was Western involvement in covert European operations, the most famous of which was the betrayed mission to overthrow the regime of Enver Hoxha in Albania. Back

13   This revived arrangements set out in the Franco-German Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation, also known as the Elysée treaty, signed between President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1963 and which included articles concerned with defence co-operation. Back

14   Treaty on European Union, Article J.4.2. Back

15   Declaration (No. 30) on Western European Union. Back

16   The Petersberg declaration, and hence the Petersberg tasks, are named after the Hotel Petersberg near Königswinter, near Bonn, where the WEU Council met in June 1992. Back

17   IFOR , the Implementation Force in Bosnia, was deployed in Bosnia-Herzogovian from December 1995-December 1996. The Stabilisation Force (SFOR) has been deployed there since December 1996. KFOR is the name for the forces currently deployed in Kosovo. Back

18   See Figure 1. The non-NATO members of the EU have Observer status in the WEU, as has Denmark, which is a member of both the EU and NATO but which has elected not to take up full membership of the WEU. The non-EU members of NATO have Associate status. 7 countries that are members of neither NATO nor the EU have Associate Partner status. Back

19   Declaration of the WEU on the role of the WEU and its relations with the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance. Back

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