The Western European Union as NATO’s Successor

September 18, 1995 • Policy Analysis No. 239

Washington unwisely clings to outdated Cold War policies instead of devising new policies that better address America’s security requirements in the post‐​Cold War era. Nowhere is that more evident than in the effort to maintain or even expand NATO, even though the enemy it was created to face, the Soviet Union, no longer exists, and the United States and Europe now have relatively few common security interests.

The Western European Union, the security arm of the European Union, should replace NATO as the primary guarantor of European security. A robust WEU would have a number of advantages over NATO. WEU member states have many common security interests, in contrast to the increasingly divergent U.S. and European perspectives that have already produced serious disarray in NATO. The West European nations have ample economic resources and are capable of providing for their own defense without a U.S. subsidy. Finally, Moscow is likely to view the WEU as less provocative than a U.S.-dominated NATO–especially an enlarged version that expands to Russia’s borders.

Maintaining NATO as the primary European security institution both is expensive and risks drawing the United States into military entanglements even when no vital American interests are at stake. Replacing NATO with the WEU would emphasize that most disputes in Central and Eastern Europe are more relevant to the European nations than to America and that dealing with such problems is properly a European responsibility. Moreover, once the West Europeans develop a full independent military capability, the WEU would be a strong partner for the United States in the event of a future threat to mutual U.S.-European security interests.

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