Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
Teaser Image

Western European Union (23 October 1954)

A defensive alliance formed by West European states in 1954 to establish a framework to make the controversial rearming of Germany more palatable. On 17 March 1948, the United Kingdom, France, and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) signed the Brussels Treaty (Treaty on Economic, Social and Cultural Collaboration and Collective Self-Defense), which created the European Union (EU). The formation of this alliance was a response to the extension of Soviet power in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to pledging mutual support in response to an attack on any member and agreeing to integrate their air defenses and command structure, the signatories agreed to work toward European integration. The EU was superseded by the broader military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), established in 1949.

When General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed NATO's first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) in late 1950, the members of EU merged their military organization into NATO. However, the EU continued to exist. When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, there was deep concern about the ability of the United States to fight a major war in Asia while simultaneously bearing the brunt of European defense. Thus, the rearmament of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) was perceived as critical, but there were misgivings, especially in France. The French were naturally wary of a rearmed Germany on its eastern border, having been invaded from the east three times since 1870. When a proposal to integrate the West German forces into a European Defense Community was rejected by the French parliament in August 1954, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden proposed including West Germany and Italy in the EU and changing its name to the Western European Union (WEU).

At a special conference in London in September 1954, the signatories to the Brussels Treaty and the United States and Canada agreed to invite West Germany and Italy to accede to the treaty. They did so on 23 October 1954, creating the WEU. West Germany thereby agreed to allow the WEU to exercise control over the size of its military. This concession on the part of the Germans and Britain's commitment to keep its forces in West Germany assuaged the French, who agreed to permit the entry of West Germany into NATO.

The eclipse of the WEU continued. NATO assumed its military role, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) replaced the EU's economic functions, and its social and cultural roles passed to the Council of Europe, which was initiated on 5 May 1949. Nevertheless, the WEU still existed and in fact played a role in the 1956 Saar settlement and continued to serve as a link between the European Economic Community (EEC) and the United Kingdom before Britain joined the European Community in 1973.

The moribund WEU was resurrected in 1984 in Rome to serve as a European counterpoint to NATO. It was viewed as a body in which European countries could consult and coordinate their responses to security issues. WEU members agreed that the foreign and defense ministers of the member states would meet twice annually to discuss the implications of ongoing crises. At a conference in The Hague in 1987, it was agreed that security issues were inseparable from the process of European integration. In effect, the WEU became the security component of the European Union (EU), which had developed from the European Community following the 1991 Treaty of Maastricht.

The WEU was expanded to include Portugal and Spain in 1990 and Greece in 1992. In 1992 Iceland, Norway, and Turkey became associate members of the WEU, and Denmark and Ireland became observers. In 1995 Austria, Finland, and Sweden became observers. In 1994 the category of associate partner was created for countries of Central and Eastern Europe that had signed the Europe Agreement with the EU. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia became associate partners in 1994, and Slovenia became an associate partner in 1996. In 1999 the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland became associate members.

Bernard Cook

Further Reading
Eekelen, Willem von. Debating European Security, 1948–1998. Brussels, Belgium: Center for European Policy Studies, 1998.; Rees, G. Wyn. The Western European Union at the Crossroads: Between Trans-Atlantic Solidarity and European Integration. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998.

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  About the Author/Editor
ABC-cLIO Footer