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by Sorin Lungu


Among the myriad complex issues raised by the end of the Cold War in Europe, the most confusing and frustrating by far have concerned the elaboration of an institutional security system consistent with the continent’s evolving strategic environment. Before the great changes in Europe began in 1989, things looked rather simple. Not only was the Atlantic Alliance the keystone of Western Europe’s security and defense posture, but it was also the mechanism through which the Western powers determined a common policy in the East-West dialogue. Most of all, however, NATO was a working decision-making body representing a nucleus of Western European and North American states combined under the leadership of the United States.After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the successful reunification of Germany, and the sweeping democratization of Eastern Europe, the Europeans found themselves being pulled in different directions by states whose interests often worked at cross-purposes to each other. The disappearance of the Soviet threat and the demise of the bipolar system threatened to lift the lid of a Pandora’s box of intra-European politics. Thus, a relatively tense and uncertain situation was reflected in the debates between the advocates of a revitalized NATO, on one side, and the proponents of a new European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI), on the other. To the British historian Michael Howard it was clear that “with the evaporation of the threat that called it into existence NATO is falling apart, and the rift between the Anglo-Saxon Atlanticists and European continentalists grows steadily wider.”1


The background to this debate could be summarized as follows: The integration of Western Europe benefited in the post-war period from U.S. leadership and protection. Since the Second World War the U.S. had generally supported the need for increased cooperation among European states, including in the area of security. This support was the result of conclusions about the latent dangers of European disunity. In this respect, it had become an accepted truth in the United States that Europe’s nationalistic fragmentation was at the root of the continent’s repeated wars.

The first attempt to construct a European Defense Community (EDC) was a response to U.S. insistence, following the outbreak of the Korean War, for West Germany to be rearmed so as to supply military manpower to meet the Soviet threat, thus reducing the necessity for large-scale U.S. forces in Europe (1950-1954). The collapse of this initiative left two lasting legacies: first, the weak Western European Union (WEU), with most of its security functions deliberately transferred to NATO; second, the sense that Western Europe could approach political union only indirectly, starting with economic and energy policies.

The Fouchet plans, and the French and German challenges to “Anglo-Saxon” dominance of the Atlantic Alliance in 1958-1963, left behind a further layer of inhibitions and institutions. In 1963 the Franco-German Treaty of Cooperation (Elysée Treaty) attempted to institutionalize a bilateral dialogue between Bonn and Paris in the area of defense. But all these projects were ill-fated, the EDC and the Fouchet plans being stillborn, and the last premature.


At the moment when President Kennedy used the expression “European pillar” (1962), calling upon Western Europe to share more equitably the “burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations,”2 the notion of a European defense identity—as opposed to the concept of the defense of Europe— lacked political currency, substance, and stated purpose. Furthermore, in the early 1960’s, the United States sought de facto to increase resource contributions from its European allies as individual nations. Far from sponsoring collective European burden-sharing, the Americans merely asked for greater contributions from each individual ally.3

The seventies witnessed the creation of the European Political Cooperation (EPC, in 1970) and the numerous resolutions of the European Parliament and several Community reports (from 1973). These began to call for the extension of the cooperative concept to defense and security policies. In the language of one of those documents: “In practice, cooperation in the field of foreign policy can hardly ever be separated from defense and security policy.”4 In sum, by the late 1970s, Europe’s defense identity began to acquire political visibility without having gained any corresponding substance.

In the same period, as was the case with the ill-fated EDC, the United States was both supportive and mildly wary of European efforts to coalesce institutionally, first in the EUROGROUP initiatives in 1968 and, in a more direct challenge to U.S. dominance in the armaments marketplace, in the Independent European Programme Group (IEPG) in 1976.5

The 1980s, in the context of a new, more assertive, American foreign policy and a parallel worsening of U.S-Soviet relations, witnessed three new initiatives to assert Europe’s distinctiveness in security and defense policy.

First, the French socialist government ultimately succeeded in revitalizing the long-dormant Elysée Treaty by creating the Franco-German brigade. Moreover, it formalized its bilateral defense relations with Spain and Italy.

Second, owing again to a French initiative, the WEU was reactivated in 1984, not as a decision-making body but as a forum where seven (and later ten) European countries might discuss defense and security problems among themselves.6

Third, the debate on security and defense was deepened in the European Community. With the signature and ratification of the Single European Act (SEA) in 1987, the EC became formally linked to the EPC. Furthermore, the Community recognized that it had a legitimate role in the area of defense industrial cooperation.7

As new concepts of a distinct European identity grew in the 1980’s, the United States was reassured by the Rome Declaration and Hague Platform8 documents that the WEU would become the European pillar only within and consistent with the NATO alliance. In addition, the Americans did not see the potential for a challenge to NATO’s exclusive role, for other two reasons.

  • First, the Soviet threat guaranteed continuing dependence on the strategic U.S. connection.
  • Second, “the U.S. saw little evidence that the new identity would have much substance for the foreseeable future.”9

It can be concluded that until the end of the Cold War the concept of ESDI was defined, for a variety of reasons, as a process for the development of some sort of convergence of West European security interests within NATO. The most prominent of those reasons were to balance American predominance, to better promote a policy of détente vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, and to tie Germany— supposedly vacillating between East and West—not only into an Atlantic, but also into a tight political European framework. It was a primarily political concept developed by West European member states in their search for greater convergence of identity of interests while not changing the basic political and military structure of the Alliance and Europe.10

In this context, at the end of the decade, with the notion of a European defense identity taking shape, not as an isolated concept but as a necessary complement to Western Europe’s desirable political and economic union, more countries became progressively more attracted to it. In addition, Europe’s security environment was about to change drastically, and West Europeans felt emboldened to express their beliefs in the emergence of a new, more autonomous, security system for the continent.

In this environment, the North Atlantic Alliance as a whole and specifically the American government had to recognize and adapt to the presence of this increasingly popular concept of European security. The post-1989 years witnessed an effort to define the ESDI on the basis of the European Union (EU) and the WEU. This has included the definition of a new type of relations between NATO and the WEU and, thus, three countries became strongly involved in this process: France, Germany, and the United States.

To understand ESDI’s true character, and further the German and American attitudes towards it, it is essential to examine, at a minimum, the following principal manifestations11—which are all intergovernmental:

  • The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the WEU, and the Eurocorps;
  • NATO’s 1994 Brussels Summit and the Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF) Concept; and
  • The 1995-1997 Developments.


Since the London Declaration in July 1990, the Alliance has repeatedly called upon the allies “to enhance the role and responsibility of the European members.” Furthermore, it has welcomed the “efforts of the EC to strengthen the security dimension in the process of European integration and recognized the significance of the progress made by the EC countries towards the goal of a political union, including the development of a common defense and security policy.”12

The Europeans took the initiative and, thus, the Treaty on European Union, finalized at the European Council meeting in Maastricht on 9-10 December 1991 and signed on 7 February 1992, declared as one of its first objectives “the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time led to common defence.”13 The Treaty further requested WEU (which it referred to as “an integral part of the development of the Union”) “to elaborate and implement decisions on actions of the Union which have defense implications.”14

In two “Declarations” attached to the Treaty, the nine nations that were then WEU members stated their aim “to develop the WEU as the defense component of the European Union and as [a] means to strengthen the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance.”15 Simultaneously, states which were members of the European Union and not, at that time, members of the WEU16 were invited to accede to the WEU17 and the WEU proposed that other European member-states of NATO18 become associate members of the WEU in a way that would give them the possibility of “participating fully” in its activities.19

The Maastricht Treaty was the outcome of fierce debates and battles within and among states, and the section dealing with the CFSP, which is riddled with ambiguous language and concepts, reflected the lack of consensus on Europe’s future role. It was clear that the twelve had not taken a significant qualitative step towards a common, integrated European policy on foreign and security matters. But the important contribution of the Treaty has been that the member countries of the Union started to work together in a tighter and more coordinated framework on CFSP matters.

At the same time, it may be well that Maastricht has marked a crucial shift in Western defense, from U.S. leadership within an integrated Atlantic Alliance towards an integrated West European pillar within NATO and towards an independent ESDI dimension.20 Thus, it is important to understand the motivations of the main protagonists (especially Germany and France) and the American perspective on this important event. In the negotiations, as during many previous attempts to define Western Europe’s international identity, “France and Britain represented initially opposing positions, with the U.S. an outsider and Germany attempting to hold close to France without losing touch with the others.”21

Specifically, the French retained their traditional suspicion of NATO, the integrated military structure and the institutionalized U.S. leadership within it. The Federal Republic of Germany shared not only the Atlanticism of some European capitals (such as London and The Hague), but also the French pro-European declaratory policy. Bonn wanted to reassure all its allies that “Germany was anchored firmly in the western community, as the process of unification was completed, as Soviet acquiescence was gained and as new links with the former socialist states were made.”22 In the German perception, a closer EU legitimized the pursuit of German aims in Central and Eastern Europe.23 Neither the French nor the German government had an entirely coherent position throughout the interconnected negotiations of 1990-1991.

At the same time, from the German viewpoint, certain factors promoted the development and implementation of an ESDI.

First, in the context of German unification, strengthening and enlarging cooperation within a West European structure24 would lock Germany into tight security framework.

Second, the future direction of U.S. policy towards Europe after the end of the Cold War did not appear to be outlined clearly.25 Europeans wanted to be prepared for a possible American withdrawal from Europe.

Third, Russia remained Germany’s main security concern in Europe. Russia’s view of NATO was always more critical than its view of the EU and ESDI. In the new European context, Western Europe could aim at balancing Russian and Western (implicitly German) interests.26

In this context, the Maastricht Treaty “has been approved by an overwhelming majority in the Bundestag, and no major political party has voiced substantial objections against a further strengthening of the EU, even in the field of foreign [, security and defense] policy.”27 The belief that a Germany more integrated into Europe could balance also the Euro-Atlantic disputes—especially by continuing its role as a mediator between France and the United States—was prominent in Germany’s post-Cold War political arena.

The U. S. position had similar inconsistencies. Repeated support for a stronger West European role within the Atlantic Alliance was matched by warnings about the adverse impact of moves towards a European caucus on America’s European commitment. Bilateral tours of prominent U.S. officials cautioned European governments against any practical steps towards a separate European Defense identity. The U.S. administration communicated its views more directly to a WEU ministerial meeting in February 1991, through the so-called “Bartholomew Telegram,” laying down U.S. preconditions for a European Defense Identity— although some officials were evidently embarrassed by such a peremptory intervention in the European debate.28

Preceding the Maastricht Treaty provisions, the most significant of the Franco-German initiatives on the European defense identity was the Kohl-Mitterrand proposal of October 14, 1991. Its purpose was to develop the existing Franco-German brigade into a complete European army corps.29 The Eurocorps plan reflected the willingness of France and Germany to move ahead of their partners in the EC, with the hope of subsequently drawing those partners in their wake. This proposal was a direct challenge to the NATO Rapid Reaction Corps30 and stimulated a debate about the WEU’s role between NATO and the EU.31

The NATO summit in Rome on 7-8 November 1991 brought some of these disagreements to a head. The United States was irritated by the different signals coming from European capitals. President Bush was reported to have said, “if your ultimate goal is to provide independently for your own defense, the time to tell us is today.”32 Furthermore, some U.S. officials arrived “enraged” by apparent French encouragement for the “development of alternative structures to NATO, interpreting this as a sign that Paris hoped and believed that the United States would soon leave Europe.”33

The German delegation at the summit was relatively silent. This silence reflected the inherent tensions in Bonn’s position; it wanted to retain a central role for the United States and NATO, while at the same time it wanted to cooperate with France in plans for a stronger European defense identity. At the summit, Chancellor Kohl had “stoutly defended the Franco-German proposals, hinting that Washington had been kept fully informed about these plans from an early stage, and affirmed his commitment both to the continuance of NATO and to the evolution of a common European security policy.”34

The attitudes of the Europeans discussed above throw light on some of the obstacles that have hampered progress towards ESDI. First, any positive development towards ESDI inevitably raises difficult questions concerning the responsibilities of Europe’s existing security institutions.

Before Europe can establish itself as an effective actor in international politics, the respective roles of the EU, the WEU, and NATO should be clarified. This argument would be inevitably linked with the possible risk of “regionalization” of European security, in the context of the simultaneous processes of “deepening” and “widening” the EU—that is, strengthening the EU’s supranational institutions and an ESDI and CFSP, while enlarging the EU. Last, but not least, the problem of resource allocation for the establishment of the autonomous defense structure would be another issue to be solved by the Europeans.

In this context, the WEU is playing the role of a passe-partout in European security and defense affairs: it could be considered both the possible defense arm of the EU and the European pillar within the Atlantic Alliance. Taking into account the fact that the WEU does not possess many assets that could be used as a framework for developing an ESDI, its role in crisis management and peace operations deserves analysis.


The author, a former diplomat in the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
holds advanced degrees from the University of Bucharest and the Naval
Postgraduate School at Monterrey, California. He recently immigrated
to the United States. ~ Ed.


  1. Michael Howard, “Europe’s Phoney Warlords,” The Times, 29 July 1992.
  2. Although the pillar metaphor is widely thought to have been contained in President’s Kennedy speech, there is no explicit reference to it in the text. See “The Goal of an Atlantic Partnership,” Department of State Bulletin 47 (23 July 1962), pp. 131-133.
  3. The U.S. took the position that the Europeans must do more as they emerged from the devastation of the war and re-established strong (and) competitive economies. Especially in the Congress, there seemed to be no justification for the U.S. to continue to bear defense burden as it had in the early 1950’s. See Charles Barry, “ESDI: Toward a Bi-Polar Alliance?,” in Charles Barry, ed., Reforging the Trans-Atlantic Relationship (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1996), p. 73.
  4. European Parliament, Session Documents 1973-74, doc. 12-73, p. 3. As quoted in Michael Fortman and David G. Haglund, “Europe, NATO and the ESDI debate: In Quest for Identity,” in David G. Haglund, ed., From Euphoria to Hysteria: Western European Security after the Cold War (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), p. 26. However, Article 223 of the Treaty of Rome has still not been modified.
  5. See NATO Facts and Figures (Brussels: NATO Information Service, 1989), pp. 20-22.
  6. With the October 27, 1984, Rome Declaration the WEU was reorganized as a “light” structure comprising: (1) a council, which meets regularly at the ministerial and ambassadorial level; (2) a staff and several working groups, which assist the council; and, (3) a parliamentary assembly that gathers four times a year.
  7. See David Owen, “Disarmament, Détente and Deterrence,” European Affairs 1 (Summer 1987), pp. 12-13.
  8. 27 October 1987.
  9. Barry, p. 73.
  10. Peter Schmidt, “ESDI: A German Analysis,” in Ch. Barry, Reforging the Trans-Atlantic Relationship (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1996), p. 37.
  11. A complete analysis would include also the debate concerning the common defense policy and the cooperation in the field of the armaments industries.
    1. “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance, 5-6 July 1990,” NATO Review 38 (August 1990), pp. 32-33.
    2. Article B, Title I of Treaty on European Union, Maastricht, 7 February 1992. Available [On line]: []. [10 February 1998]. The signing took place some eight weeks later because of the need to consolidate and translate the text properly.
    3. Ibid.
    4. Treaty on European Union, Final Act, Declaration on Western European Union, Declaration I, par. 1. Available [On line]: []. [10 February 1998].
    5. Greece, Denmark, and Ireland.
    6. Treaty on European Union, Declaration II.
    7. Turkey, Norway, and Iceland.
    8. Treaty on European Union, Declaration II.
    9. However, only the broadest outlines of such a pillar were defined at Maastricht.
    10. Anand Menon, Anthony Forster and William Wallace, “A common European defence?,” Survival, vol. 34, no. 3 (Autumn 1992), p. 104.
    11. Menon, Forster and Wallace, p. 105.
    12. If a decision were to be forced, Paris was more important to Bonn than London, because France was the preferred (if difficult) partner with which Germany had worked closely for more than 30 years. However, Washington was as important as Paris, because the United States offered a special relationship for global economic cooperation, as well as for European security. Ibid., pp. 105-112.
    13. This was seen, at that time, as the only real alternative to NATO.
    14. Some speculated that the United States might adopt a Pacific orientation or domestic policy as its priority. For a complete analysis of the impact of the possible U.S. orientation toward the Pacific on the transatlantic relationship, see Robert O’Brien, “Manifest Destiny and the Pacific Century: Europe as No. 3,” in Jarod Wiener, ed., The Transatlantic Relationship (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), pp. 95-127.
    15. Schmidt, pp. 38-40.
    16. Ibid., p. 52.
    17. Menon, Forster and Wallace, p. 105.
    18. The original proposal was, in fact, no more than a two-line footnote at the end of a long letter on political union, but it soon took on larger proportions. The text can be found reprinted in Europa Archiv, vol.46, no. 22 (1991), pp. 571-574. The text called for expanding the joint brigade into “the basis for a European corps, to which the armed forces of other WEU member-states could be added.”
    19. The ministerial meeting of the NATO Defense Planning Committee on 28-29 May 1991 agreed on and announced a NATO command structure review, which involved the creation of the multinational Rapid Reaction Corps for ACE, under British command. This multinational corps brought together British, Dutch, Belgian, and German troops.
    20. Britain wanted agreement on a statement setting the future role of the WEU and its links with the EU before the Maastricht summit; France wanted the grandes lignes alone to be outlined. Germany was generally supportive of the French position.
    21. Robert Mauthner and Lionel Barber, “Bush calls on Europe to clarify role in NATO,” Financial Times, 8 November 1991.
    22. Information from European participants at the NATO summit, as presented in Menon, Forster and Wallace, p. 111.
    23. The Franco-German letter of 14 October 1991 had specifically identified political and economic relations with the former members of the Warsaw Pact as a priority area for the CFSP of the EU.




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