Explain the Changing Significance of the Western European Union (Weu)

Topics: NATO, European Union, Cold War Pages: 6 (2102 words) Published: September 11, 2013
EXPLAIN THE CHANGING SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WESTERN EUROPEAN UNION (WEU) When the subject of the Western European Union and its position in the evolving European security environment was raised at a discussion of current issues at NATO in 1993, it was described simply as being a "paper tiger" incapable of responding to future crises 1 However the status of the WEU has changed rapidly, particularly with the European Community (EC) agreement at Maastricht defining new responsibilities for the organisation, as witnessed by WEU operations involving NATO seconded personnel and equipment for mine detection in the Persian Gulf, and for the naval blockade of former Yugoslavia in the Adriatic sea 2 In this essay it is my intention to concentrate particularly upon post-Maastricht developments in the role of the WEU and its future prospects, but first I shall briefly provide a background to the institution, and its development during the cold war period. Formed in 1948, a year before NATO, the Western Union as it was then called comprised five members, France, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux countries. The institution was rapidly eclipsed by the formation of the Atlantic Alliance which had both the backing of American politicians and American Dollars, Marshall Aid it could be suggested ensured the attention of European politicians to American concerns. Through the cold war period, the institution was very secondary to NATO, efforts such as the European Defence Community proposals in the early 1950s being stillborn. The WEU did however serve as a European security think-tank, and as an alternative structure to NATO, having both a complex bureaucratic organisation, and committee structures, Although it had no forces of its own until the formation of the Franco-German Corps, or "Euro-Corps" as the media dubbed it 3 A significant consideration in the cold war survival, and flourishing of the organisation (which now has ten members) could be suggested as being the location of its main headquarters in sight of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The De Gaullist dream of a Europe free from American influence, and especially from the conspicuous military presence elsewhere in Europe guaranteed French political support for the institution. The rehabilitation and transition of the WEU from European think-tank to a credible institution for the future management of European defence has its roots in two phases, the first in the mid 1980s, and the second in the agenda set by the Maastricht Treaty of 1991. By the mid 1980s several factors in the European security environment were in a state of change. Firstly the Glasnost and Perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union were beginning to change European perceptions about the nature of the Soviet threat as new information became available. Secondly, and of key significance for the Atlantic Alliance was the Superpower summit at Reykjavik, Iceland. Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev sent ripples through the European NATO members when the American President was prepared to make sweeping cuts in the nuclear arsenal without consulting the allies, these talks in time were to lead to the INF Treaty. Between Reykjavik and the signing of INF it could be observed that the American members of NATO sought to implement a damage limitation exercise in order to reaffirm the credibility of the commitment to the defence of Western Europe. Thirdly, the political leadership of NATO was under strain from domestic anti-nuclear pressure groups which were informing their peoples of the effects of even a limited nuclear in Europe. It could be suggested that although INF would have seemed a solution to the European nuclear question, in fact it could be suggested it spelled out the writing on the wall, that European defence could in the final analysis only be guaranteed by Europeans. The final factor in the mid 1980s environment was the European Community and its Single Market Act, a milestone in the on-going integration of Europe, which saw...
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