Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Western European Union Today

His Excellency Ambassador José Cutileiro
Secretary General of the Western European Union


The various organizations now involved in European security are adapting in response to the changes that have taken place in the European security environment since 1989. The reinstatement of democratic systems in Central and Eastern Europe has made enlargement a top priority for NATO and the European Union. At the same time, conditions have been created that enable the building of a European security order based on trust and cooperation, in which Europeans will play a more prominent role.

Although the threat of massive conflict in the heart of Europe has practically disappeared, new areas of instability have appeared in Europe and its periphery that may require us to intervene militarily to preserve or reestablish peace or to prevent human disasters. In organizations concerned with defense and security, such as NATO and WEU, much attention has been devoted to these new missions, the so-called Petersberg missions, to use the WEU term. These may range from humanitarian and rescue tasks to tasks involving combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.

As the only European organization empowered to carry out military operations, WEU has an important role to play in this new security environment: to endow Europeans with an institutionally based capability to carry out Petersberg tasks in which the U.S. does not wish to participate. WEU, however, is not an alternative to NATO and does not seek to duplicate NATO's structures. On the contrary, mechanisms are being created to allow WEU, if necessary, to draw on NATO assets and capabilities. This will allow Europeans to shoulder a greater responsibility in military matters.

Since I took office in 1995, WEU has concentrated on the development of its operational capabilities. Much has been accomplished. WEU is now ready to undertake Petersberg tasks on its own. At the same time, procedures and mechanisms allowing it to draw on NATO assets and capabilities, if warranted by the complexity and magnitude of an operation, are being finalized.


Links with EU. WEU's operational development has been underpinned by a strengthening of links with NATO and EU, which has made WEU better equipped to carry out its tasks. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that internal developments in these two organizations have a direct impact on WEU and the pivotal role it is called upon to play between them. The recent Amsterdam Summit clarified WEU's institutional position vis-à-vis the European Union by strengthening ties between WEU and the European Union's common foreign and security policy. The new treaty underscores these ties by stating that:

  • The European Council has the authority to establish guidelines for common foreign and security policy matters with defense implications. These guidelines will also apply to tasks for which EU avails itself of WEU, including Petersberg tasks.
  • WEU observers (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden) will be able to participate fully and on an equal footing in planning and decision making in WEU when EU avails itself of WEU.
  • A reference to cooperation in the field of armaments will be included.

EU will therefore foster closer institutional relations with WEU, but the integration of WEU into EU remains only a possibility. WEU retains its distinct and separate institutional character. Practical arrangements for cooperation between WEU and EU will need to be worked out within a year.

WEU and EU have anticipated these developments by studying the practical modalities of cooperation between them, focusing on the various phases of an operation to be carried out by WEU at the request of EU (i.e., emergence of a crisis and its evaluation; joint consultations and development of an operational plan; and operation execution and termination). This work will be carried forward in light of the conclusions reached in Amsterdam.

The new treaty will therefore set a new framework for WEU's relations with the European Union. This new framework should not unduly affect WEU's cooperation with NATO, which has progressed enormously.

Links with NATO. The focus of our joint work has been on the implementation of the decisions taken by NATO Ministers in Berlin and Brussels, and by WEU Ministers in Birmingham. For the first time ever, WEU has contributed to the NATO Ministerial Guidance on Defense Planning. WEU is now looking forward to being involved throughout the NATO defense planning cycle, with due account taken of the work done within WEU on the principles and modalities for such involvement, especially regarding WEU's requirements for Petersberg tasks.

Military planning for WEU-led operations is also well underway. WEU has forwarded illustrative profiles drawn from the spectrum of Petersberg tasks for which it may wish to engage NATO assets and capabilities. Some of these profiles have already been analyzed by NATO military authorities. An agreement should now be drawn up on the process for cooperation between WEU and NATO that will enable NATO to conduct military planning for illustrative WEU missions at the request of and in coordination with WEU

We have also started work on a consultation mechanism between WEU and NATO to discuss possible operations. Additional work may include the development of a flow chart to illustrate how NATO and WEU might cooperate in the context of a WEU-led operation using NATO assets and capabilities. Preliminary work has also begun to define the modalities for the transfer, monitoring, and return of NATO assets, which will result in a WEU/NATO framework agreement.

Finally, enlargement of NATO and EU may affect WEU membership: NATO enlargement may lead to an increase in the number of WEU Associate Members, and EU enlargement may lead to more Member-States and Observers. These developments could have an impact on WEU's functioning, including its decision-making process.


WEU brings together not only all European members of NATO and all EU members, but also the ten Central European countries that have signed an Europe Agreement with EU. Over the past months, all 28 nations have participated in a process of reflection on European security interests--a follow-up to the 1995 publication of the common concept on European security by the WEU nations. Among the topics that were considered, the follow-up reviewed recent developments in the European security architecture, their effect on the security of the 28 WEU nations, and the development of security relationships with neighboring regions.

Another part of our work with 28 nations is of a more practical nature and is actually a corollary to WEU's operational development. This work includes Associate Partners making information available on those forces they may wish to allocate for WEU operations, and the WEU Planning Cell making information on training facilities available to WEU for national or collective use by WEU nations. All WEU nations also recently took part in the first meeting of the annual exercise conference that defined objectives for an exercise policy and a draft program up to the year 2000.

These various developments illustrate that WEU constitutes a genuine framework for dialogue and cooperation among the 28 nations of the WEU family on broad European security and defense issues.


In 1995-96, WEU created the institutional framework for its relations with the Russian Federation and Ukraine. This framework, for the exchange of information and political dialogue, has led to greater transparency and enhanced mutual understanding. Currently, we are concentrating on developing practical forms of cooperation with these two countries, in particular in the area of long-haul air transport. An agreement with Ukraine will probably be signed by July 1997.


WEU plays a significant political role in the field of European security. Its main distinctive attribute, however, is the capacity to undertake military operations of its own volition or at the request of EU. The continued development of its operational capability is therefore essential. To this end, the first meeting of an annual exercise conference took place early in 1997, and a decision has been made to create a military committee under the council's authority that should be in place by the end of 1997.

WEU has also carried out a number of operations on our continent in recent years. Three operations involving the former Yugoslavia--Sharp Guard, Mostar, and Danube--ended in 1996, but WEU recently sent an advance party to Albania to prepare the way for a larger Multinational Police Element that will complement the action of the Multinational Protection Force and of the international community in general. The Multinational Police Element will give the Albanian police authorities information and advice on policing and restoring order, as well as on their responsibilities during the electoral process.

The situation in Albania illustrates how each crisis brings its own particular challenges, and how no ready-made solutions exist to meet them. The need to respond in an appropriate and timely way to a variety of challenges obliges us to stand ready for a variety of situations across the spectrum of Petersberg missions.


The Amsterdam Summit and the Madrid Summit may both be perceived as beacons pointing the way to the future not only of EU and NATO, but also of WEU. We can be reasonably confident that Europeans are gradually acquiring the tools for a more effective common foreign policy and for shouldering a greater responsibility in defense and security matters. Greater political cohesion within the framework of the European Union, strong and reliable military capabilities organized within the NATO framework, and effective tools for crisis management within WEU will give Europeans what they need to play a larger role in world affairs. The challenge now is to make sure these diverse contributions can be welded into a coherent whole, enabling Europe to undertake military operations and strengthen its contributions to the common defense without endangering the Atlantic Alliance, which remains the bedrock of our common security.


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