American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

April 1999

Highlight map


Support American Diplomacy RSS Mailing-list Subscription Email American Diplomacy Facebook

by Sorin Lungu


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.


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.

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 manifestations
11—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.


  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.

white starAmerican Diplomacy white star
Copyright © 2012 American Diplomacy Publishers Chapel Hill NC