West Europe moves to strengthen NATO's 'European pillar'
The Western European Union has been duly revived - to the cheers of Paris, the reservations of London and The Hague, the wary approval of Washington, and probably the relief of Madrid.
Its resurrection after 30 years of slumber has just been effected in Rome. Foreign and defense ministers of the WEU's seven member-states - France, Britain , Italy, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg - met Oct. 26 and 27, followed by a meeting of parliamentarians from the seven nations Oct. 29 and 30.
It is all part of an effort to make the European ''pillar'' of NATO as strong as the American pillar. This effort in turn is stimulated by US complaints that Europe is not pulling its proper weight in the defense of Europe - and by European complaints that the United States is throwing its weight around too much in NATO.
With these mixed motives a certain ambiguity is inevitable. In their ''Statement of Rome'' on Oct. 27, the European ministers hailed the new European solidarity and agreed to gather twice a year from now on. But various spokesmen felt bound to reassure Washington that the WEU is not directed against the US.
The reason for the resuscitation of the WEU, which everyone forgot about after it was expanded in 1954 to include the former enemies of West Germany and Italy, is to be found in Paris.
President Francois Mitterrand is much more alliance-minded than any of his predecessors since Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO's military command two decades ago. But French pride decrees Paris not come back under the NATO military command.
Under these circumstances Europe sees these advantages in the WEU:
1. It binds members to come to the military aid of European allies in case of foreign attack. NATO planning presumes this obligation, but the NATO treaty is not so explicit. And France has for 20 years stated that as a member of the NATO political alliance it would decide how to react to a Warsaw Pact attack on West Germany only after an attack occurred. France's specific readherence to its WEU obligations is therefore especially welcome in Bonn.
2. NATO troublemakers (in the eyes of the main NATO allies) are excluded. Greece, which exempts itself from NATO reproaches to Soviet military threats and mounts filibusters against Turkey in NATO councils, is absent. So is Denmark, which keeps shaving its NATO commitment.
3. The WEU ministerial council formally removed, effective Jan. 1, 1986, the last restrictions on West German production of conventional weapons - restrictions that were part of the price of Bonn's joining NATO in the 1950s. Bonn is gratified by such equality at long last, though Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher again made clear that Bonn has no intention of producing the long-range rockets or surface ships of 6,000 tons displacement that would now be permitted.
4. The WEU embeds the growing security cooperation of France and West Germany over the past two years in a European institution that will include British and Italian counsel. London has been applying some brakes to the WEU - as has Bonn - to make sure it doesn't turn anti-American. Italy is glad to be assured of a major voice in Europe's defense decisions despiteFrench desires to keep Rome in a second-class status; Italy also hopes to acquire a claim to larger participation in joint European arms production.
5. The WEU's parliamentary assembly provides the only pan-European channel for informing and responding to public opinion on issues of European defense. This is regarded as crucial following the threat of breakdown in the security consensus in the NATO missile deployments that began at the end of last year.
The British, Dutch, and to a certain extent the West Germans are wary of potential disadvantages of the WEU, however. Among them:
1. The WEU could enervate rather than energize NATO. Concerned that defense ministers might be diverted from the more essential job of coordination in NATO, London and The Hague opposed the inclusion of defense ministers in the biannual WEU council meetings.
2. The WEU excludes such staunch NATO allies as Norway and Portugal. Portugal has applied to join, but it is not clear that the WEU wishes to enlarge itself. Joining would be more problematical for Norway, which once voted down membership in the European Community and has to balance off delicate Nordic foreign relations.
3. By adding another bureaucracy the WEU might impede rather than promote the joint European production that is essential if Europe is to compete with the US in supplying NATO's new generation of smart conventional weapons in the 1990s. Britain and the Netherlands prefer that such coordination come under NATO's Eurogroup or the Independent European Program Group.
The WEU has set as its tasks an assessment of the Soviet threat, an increase in European arms collaboration, and formulation of European views on arms control and East-West dialogue.