Combined Joint Task Forces as an Instrument of European Security

Minot, Barksdale aircrews demonstrate elite, disciplined teamwork
Combined Joint Task Forces as an Instrument of European Security - Annand A. Perry


With the demise of the Soviet Union and political upheaval in Eastern Europe and the Balkans came the need to reevaluate existing European security arrangements. Although by 1998 many of the resulting adaptations and new forms have begun to assume recognizable shape, debate continues regarding the appropriate roles of key institutions: NATO, the European Union, and the Western European Union (WEU). These institutions seek, in addition to continuing the traditional armed defense of European territory, to assert their continued relevance in a changed security environment, to reach out to the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, and to preserve the security link with North America while enabling Europe to take greater responsibility for its own defense. NAT O has introduced, and the European Union and WEU have endorsed, a concept known as Combined Joint Task Forces, or CJTFs, as a means to these ends.

This paper will examine the possibilities and limitations of CJTFs as a means of achieving the last of those objectives, that of enabling Europe to assume a larger security role. This essay first provides background on European Union (EU) and WEU aspirations for and steps toward such a role and second it covers NATO decisions, starting with the Brussels Declaration of January 1994, intended to facilitate this approach. Third it examines CJTFs in practical detail, emphasizing the obstacles to their actual implementation and possible solutions thereto. The conclusion evaluates the likely outcome of the debate given current trends and offers a broader perspective on the difficulties of making CJTFs a shortcut to a European defense capability.

The European Union and the WEU


European integration had by the early 1990s reached the point where EU member states sought to advance the European Union as an actor not just in economic matters but in the security and defense spheres as well. The 1993 Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty) provided that the "Union and its Members shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy" (CFSP) covering "all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence body, which might in time lead to a common defence."1 The CFSP grew out of two decades of European Political Co-operation, and a desire to strengthen the European voice in security and foreign affairs in particular.

EU member states have designated the once-dormant WEU as the potential defense arm of the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty charged the WEU with elaborating and implementing the "decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications."2 The ten WEU member states further agreed in the Declaration on the WEU attached to the Maastricht Treaty to "build up WEU in stages as the defence component of the European Union" and "to develop WEU as a means to strengthen the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance."3

The enhanced role of the WEU raised the question of whether the WEU should be formally incorporated within the European Union governance structure, as suggested by the first phrase quoted from the WEU Declaration above, or retain its nominal independence, as the second phrase might suggest. The more integrationist states, among them France, Belgium, and Germany, favor the former option. The Atlanticists (Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands) and the four neutrals (Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Finland) have expressed varying degrees of opposition, generally believing that the WEU should not become a separate defense body rivaling NATO. The integrationists would thus prefer that the EU Council, not the WEU Council, exercise supreme political authority over defense questions. The EU would issue directives to the WEU, which would execute them in coordination with NATO.4 The opposing vision is of the WEU as the European pillar of NATO, independent of the European Union.5


The WEU (originally the Western Union Defence Organization) originated following World War II from the 1948 Brussels Treaty of Self-Defence between the United Kingdom, France, and the Benelux countries. It was intended to demonstrate West European resolve in security matters and, via its 1954 expansion, to integrate West Germany into a European defense network. For various reasons, including rivalry with NATO and lack of clear purpose, the institution fell into long disuse.6 It was reactivated in 1984 to help develop a European defense identity. Following this revival, the WEU Foreign and Defence Ministers issued the 1992 Petersberg Declaration, listing the WEU's possible military missions as humanitarian and rescue operations, peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace enforcement, and crisis management (the Petersberg Tasks).7

The WEU's current membership consists of ten EU states that are also members of NATO. Denmark and the four neutral EU states are observers. The three NATO states outside the EU (Iceland, Norway, Turkey) are associate members. The WEU is governed by a WEU Council similar to NATO's North Atlantic Council. The Brussels Treaty, like Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, obligates members to undertake collective territorial defense but there is no a priori geographical limit on WEU operations.8

Accomplishments of the WEU include establishing a Brussels headquarters with a situation center and intelligence section and setting up a satellite data interpretation center in Torrejon, Spain.9 The WEU has also compiled a list of national military units answerable to it and has engaged in a number of missions of increasing importance, beginning with the 1988 dispatch of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War. The WEU subsequently participated in the naval blockade of Iraq during the Gulf War; the enforcing of sanctions against Yugoslavia; and the policing of the town of Mostar, Bosnia.10

Phillip Gordon discerns four potential functions for the WEU. First, it could help define a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI). It could reach out to the East via the participation of Central and East European "associate partners" in WEU missions. It could defend Europe, and it could perform external military missions (Petersburg Tasks) such as placing peacekeepers or observers in Central Europe, in former Soviet republics, in North Africa, or wherever the US opposes action -forcing the US to consider carefully its opposition to such missions.11

Potential aside, the WEU is still struggling to define its role.12 Gordon notes that the US - and thus NATO - would surely become involved in any major crisis, pre-empting WEU leadership, while minor crises, such as a need for small-scale humanitarian aid, are more likely to be handled by interested countries acting individually.13 Even the theoretical scope for WEU action would therefore be limited to missions of intermediate size. Concerning the WEU' s actual capabilities, for the it truly to become Europe's defense arm would require more military hardware than is now available to it and greater political will on the part of member states and the United States.14 As explained further below, European political will is needed to agree on a role for the WEU. While American political will is needed to provide the material support. The WEU cannot mount a large-scale mission without drawing on military infrastructure from elsewhere, including communications, intelligence, command, and transport capabilities. In 1995 the WEU Secretary General warned that without access to such equipment from NATO, the WEU would be '"reduced for a very long time to very modest activities.'" Is NATO's decisions and actions in support of the ESDI and WEU are accordingly considered below.

NATO Decisions of 1994-96


The Russian withdrawal from Eastern Europe appeared to nearly obviate NATO's raison d'etre. NATO's primary objective, the provision of collective territorial defense against armed attack as set forth in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (an "Article 5 mission"), became less compelling absent a serious foreseeable threat. This development could conceivably undermine the American commitment to European security and the relevance or even existence of NATO.

In response to this concern and the crisis in Bosnia, NATO member states have undertaken to redefine NATO's strategic concept in an ambitious adaptation of NATO to the new security environment. Their goals were threefold: 1) enable NATO to take on new types of missions, and thereby maintain its post-Cold War relevance, while retaining a collective defense capability; 2) afford the Europeans a greater political and economic responsibility within the Alliance while preserving the transatlantic security link; and 3) reach out to the new democracies to the East. The missions newly emphasized, by definition non-Article 5, included conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and provision of humanitarian aid. I6 NATO thus intended to join the WEU in addressing the growing number of Petersberg situations.

A Solution: CJTFs

The solution ultimately selected to serve all three NATO reform objectives was the notion of Combined Joint Task Forces, now considered central to NATO's adaptation.17 Before detailing NATO's official endorsements of this concept, however, it may help first to define it. In military parlance, a task force is a temporary force, usually operational, for carrying out a specific mission. A joint task force consists of forces from two or more armed services, and a combined task force involves forces from two or more countries. The North Atlantic Council accordingly describes a CJTF as a "multinational and multiservice formation established for specific contingency operations."18

The US first proposed the CJTF concept at a 1993 meeting of NATO's defense planning committee in Travemiinde, Germany. It was accepted and later included in the January 1994 Brussels Declaration of the North Atlantic Council: We...have the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces... as a means to facilitate contingency operations, including operations with participating nations outside the Alliance. We have directed the North Atlantic Council... to develop this concept and establish the necessary capabilities.19

According to Robert Grant, this Declaration "established the CJTF concept as the key instrument for updating the Alliance's military structures in order to deal more effectively with non-Article 5 missions and support ESDI's development." In effect NATO lent its support to the development of the ESDI, the US agreeing in principle to make NATO hardware available for purely European missions.20

The June 1996 Berlin Declaration of the North Atlantic Council carried forward the development of CJTFs. The Defense Ministers of the NATO member states expressed their desire to build an ESDI within NATO as part of the ongoing NATO adaptation and welcomed:

the progress achieved in the internal adaptation of [the] Alliance, ... in particular: the completion of CJTF concept. By permitting a more flexible ... deployment of forces ... for new missions, this concept will facilitate the mounting of NATO contingency operations, the use of separable but not separate military capabilities in operations led by the WEU, and the participation of nations outside the Alliance.21

They then requested NATO's Military Committee make recommendations regarding implementation of CJTFs.

The Declaration thus indicated how the CJTF, of necessity an omnibus concept, could in theory fulfill all three of NATO's fundamental reform objectives.22 CJTFs would help NATO accomplish its traditional defense mission and new missions in two ways. First, the flexibility and mobility of CJTFs allow for the out-of-area force projection required for the Petersburg tasks. Second, with the shift from a forward defense posture to reduced forward presence, including the decision not to station NATO troops on new members' territory, defending new members would involve out-of-area force projection just as would tasks undertaken outside NATO territory. In a December 1996 communiqué the Ministers accordingly noted that while intended primarily for non-Article 5 operations, use of CJTFs for Article 5 operations was not excluded.23 Regarding the desire to reach out to the newly democratic East, NATO CJTFs may include units from non-NATO states, particularly the Partnership for Peace states24 east of NATO. CJTF participation would also allow them to demonstrate membership potential. Finally, CJTFs help preserve the transatlantic link by obviating the creation of a costly and redundant European-only rival to NATO; now Europe can act on its own through, or in coordination with, NATO. CJTFs could simultaneously facilitate the development of a European security identity by allowing the WEU to lead all-European coalitions of the willing possible EU guidance. "CJTF is the practical means by which the ESDI within NATO will be given military expression."25

Implementing the CJTF concept as a means to developing an ESDI within NATO would, according to the Berlin Declaration, entail 1) identifying the Alliance troops, headquarters, and equipment needed for WEU-led operations, 2) elaborating European command arrangements within NATO to conduct those operations, and 3) double-hatting personnel in the NATO command structure rather than creating an entirely new command.26 The Declaration also put several conditions on the use of NATO assets in European CJTFs: 1) asset use subject to North Atlantic Council decision, monitoring, and review; 2) separable but not separate forces and command structure; and 3) involvement of (double-hatted) NATO command personnel.27

Theory notwithstanding, obstacles have blocked the smooth implementation of CJTFs as a tool of European security and defense. The remainder of this paper considers CJTFs in practice, focusing on obstacles to implementing WEU-led CJTFs and some proposed solutions.

CJTFs in Practice


The implementation of CJTFs has progressed since the Berlin Declaration. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, in a statement prior to the July 1997 meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Madrid, boasted that "the practical arrangements to enable NATO assets to be identified and transferred... in an operation led by the WEU have largely been completed."28 The ensuing Madrid Declaration noted substantial progress in settling the European command structure for WEU-led operations. A Capabilities Coordination Cell (Brussels) and Combined Joint Planning Staff (Mons) have been established. In addition, three NATO headquarters have been selected as parent headquarters for CJTF nuclei. NATO Review has claimed further that many (unspecified) aspects of the CJTF concept had been put into practice.29

Despite coherent theory and progress on paper, numerous obstacles remain. The four-year debate on CJTF implementation is indicative of the magnitude of the problem.30 The problems have been variously characterized as presenting serious difficulties, "considerable frustration," and even an "impasse," and have arisen from inter-institutional and inter-state disagreement over the details of implementation. Of the three types of CJTF anticipated - NATO-only, NATO plus other states, and WEU-led - it is the latter, the focus of this paper, that presents the most intractable difficulties.31


The first problem for European-led defense or security operations is the need for an identifiable voice, for effective decision-making mechanisms and institutional leadership. The European Union has taken a step in that direction by designating the WEU as its potential security and defense organ. Until the WEU becomes a credible actor in security matters, however, progress in CJTF implementation will be stymied; at this point the WEU has little in the way of military structure as compared for instance with NATO.32

Another obstacle, and inherent danger, is the possible institutionalization of zones of differential or ambiguous security. That is to say, due to the neutrality of some members, the European Union cannot offer the security guarantee that NATO can. If an EU member of NATO (e.g. Germany, or Poland in the future) were attacked, some EU members (e.g. Denmark) would be obligated to defend it while others (e.g. Austria) would not be. Furthermore, EU members of NATO are committed to defending some European states outside the Union (e.g. Turkey) but not some European states within the Union (e.g. Finland).33 Enlargement of the European Union and of NATO will extend this existing difficulty to additional states, especially given that the enlargements appear not to run in parallel. That it may be some time before these additional and historically insecure states can be fully integrated militarily with NATO only exacerbates the problem.

Two more difficulties are, first, the possibility that European states may renege on prior military commitments to CJTFs and second, the definition of the role of NATO commands in WEU-led (i.e., non-Article 5) CJTFs. Defining NATO's role is important as an attack on a WEU-led CJTF could threaten NATO territory, necessitating an Article 5 operation. The CJTF's lines of command would have to lead back seamlessly to NATO to avoid the military anathema of conflicting chains of command, here between Article-5 and non-Article 5 operations.34

The greatest obstacle to implementing WEU-led CJTFs, however, remains the lack of military hardware commensurate with the WEU's potential role. The air transport, intelligence, communications, and command capabilities necessary even for the Petersburg tasks are nonexistent. The two simplest solutions to this quandary are unlikely and unattractive. The first would be for European nations to simply build the necessary equipment themselves and lend it to WEU missions. Not only is this option unrealistic in an era of defense cuts, but it might also result in costly and competitive redundancy with NATO. The other obvious alternative is for Europe and the WEU to make do with forces they do have, foregoing aspirations to Petersburg-type missions for the foreseeable future. This modest approach, however, would severely constrain any significant European defense responsibility or burden-sharing.

Inasmuch as European and American interests now converge, for different reasons, in support of the ESDI, a third, more complex approach has prevailed. NATO member states have agreed to provide the WEU with the assets necessary for it to lead CJTFs. However, while NATO could offer air support, satellite intelligence, and as many as 70,000 combat troops -including U.S. technical experts -NATO does not itself own most of these assets. NATO's only assets are an air-defense system, command and communications systems (of little use in external intervention since immobile), immobile bunkers and oil pipelines shelters, and a few dozen AWA CS.35 The US, as the main guarantor of European security, currently earmarks for NATO the necessary communications, intelligence, and transport capabilities. In reality, then, the WEU would borrow these capabilities not from NATO but from the US.36

How might this provision of assets work? The North Atlantic Council, proceeding on the basis of unanimous (including U.S.) case-by-case approval, would first have to agree to provide a CJTF headquarters and supporting materiel. NATO would then direct one of its commands to prepare a CJTF for deployment. Finally it would transfer control of the CJTF headquarters to the WEU. The Eurocorps or a WEU member state's national headquarters could alternatively serve instead of the NATO headquarters. NATO logistics and infrastructure would follow and provide the same support as for a NATO CJTF.37

This putative solution, the lending of U.S./NATO assets to European CJTFs, unfortunately creates several new difficulties. Among those now partially resolved are the identification of 1) the specific troops and hardware upon which a WEU-led CJTF would draw, including the possible categorization of U.S. assets into those routinely available for European CJTFs and those available subject to special decision; 2) the NATO headquarters, if any, from which the CJTF would operate; and 3) the European command and decision-making arrangements to be employed within NAT0.38 Nevertheless, "the question of command continues to be the major stumbling block for reconciling under what conditions the American SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) will transfer command of one part of NATO forces" to a European officer.39 A further complication is that U.S. personnel, especially technical experts, will probably need to accompany weaponry loaned. Different levels of troop commitment, and hence of vulnerability to hostile forces, will generally yield differing threat perceptions and thus differing action preferences, as happened in Bosnia between the US on one hand and Britain and France on the other.40

Even more controversial are the terms and procedures according to which NATO would monitor and review European use of its forces. The Berlin Declaration admitted the need to "clarify North Atlantic Council 'monitoring' and 'review"' of WEU use of NATO assets. Although the 1997 Madrid Declaration claimed progress in developing "the necessary practical arrangements for release, monitoring, and return of NA TO assets and exchange of information between NATO and WEU," the controversy continues.41 According to NATO Secretary-General Solana, NATO would naturally prefer to retain at least a right to inspect, if not continuously monitor, the use of its weapons and personnel. Do NATO's legitimate interests extend also a right of veto-of indirect control-over WEU operations?42

This question goes to the heart of the dilemma embedded in the loaning of U.S. troops and weaponry to the WEU: political control over the CJTF.43 According to the Berlin Declaration, European CJTFs come under the "political control and strategic direction of the WEU." This could in time imply the EU Council of Ministers, rather than the WEU Council, if the EU absorbed the WEU. The WEU Council could remain as an additional ministerial filter or the chain of command could bypass it altogether.44

In practice, however, the US may not always be inclined to relinquish its control of the necessary supplies. The US would almost certainly not commit them automatically, but rather retain the right to decide each case on individual merit. Even if the US supported an operation politically, it might still be reluctant to transfer political control from the North Atlantic Council to the WEU Council. U.S. support for an ESDI is not after all unqualified. It would in fact be highly improbable for the US to surrender control with U.S. weaponry and personnel at stake, especially if it perceived a likelihood of the WEU-led CJTF needing additional assistance to extricate itself. The Pentagon reportedly desires near-continuous control of U.S. assets and their use. Within NATO itself the Secretary-General argued that it is only natural for an alliance to retain an interest in the use of its capabilities. One begins to comprehend that the issue of political control and the potential US/NAT O veto will indeed be nettlesome, elaboration of the practical procedures needed to make CJTF a reality requiring some years.45

It seems, then, that an enduring U.S. veto power over European security missions will be the unintended by-product of this "solution" to the WEU's lack of equipment. Analysts' opinions vary concerning the extent to which the veto would hinder development of a truly European security identity. Perhaps the most positive interpretation is that, since the interests of the US regarding European security and European responsibility therefor will generally coincide with European interests, the veto poses no real limitation on European autonomy .46 Grant and Paul Comish take less sanguine views by saying the veto is "illogical" and should create "unease" among integrationists. Comish comments even more darkly that CJTFs seem "as much about restraining a European defence identity as enabling one." At the extreme, the American veto is considered incompatible with a European defense identity -"it is difficult to imagine a U.S. veto being part of a permanent solution" for the ESDI - and the CJTF concept consequently useless for developing the same when its price is a U.S. veto.47

Given the severity of the above-enumerated difficulties with this solution, especially the issue of political control, one may well inquire whether there are any solutions to the problems it creates. How best to balance the European interest in autonomy with the American interest in how its assets are used? For one, the WEU could force the issue by threatening to supply its hardware needs from elsewhere. It has already attempted to do so, requesting transport aircraft from Russia and the Ukraine.48 If successful, this would certainly eliminate the NATO veto - as long as the WEU's threat were credible. Another possibility is a division of labor within non-Article 5 operations (as opposed to between Article 5 and non-Article 5 operations), the WEU taking humanitarian and rescue missions, NATO combat missions.49 However, being excluded from a specific pre-determined category of operation (here combat missions) is just as limiting as being excluded from operating when the US disapproves.

A more realistic alternative might be to work out, in advance, agreements on the situations and uses for which various types of materiel would be made available. Assuming the agreements were binding and sufficiently unambiguous, the WEU could undertake those operations without fear of a situational veto. While this option may sound more attractive than the last, the two are essentially the same: the only differences are how far in advance of actual missions the US exercises its veto power and whether it exercises it with general or specific applicability.

A more probable (because more viable) option takes the Americans partially out of the NATO loop. At the troop level, the training of Europeans on American weapons systems could begin now, so that when a crisis occurs there would in theory be no need for American soldiers to operate them, eliminating any American veto with respect to personnel. At the command level, the duties of a Deputy SACEUR (or Deputy SACLANT) would be refined to make one of those European officers also the European commander of WEU-led CJTFs. In the event of a WEU-led CJTF, the Deputy SACEUR would control the operation and by virtue of his office also control access to the NATO supplies that the CJTF needed. This would to an extent leave the NATO veto in European rather than American hands and would also preserve unity of command in case an Article 5 situation arose, as described earlier. SACEUR rather than a Deputy SACEUR would command regular NATO (i.e., non-WEU) CJTFs, and the WEU would command internally those missions to which NATO lent no assets. 50 This option would go partway toward resolving the crucial issue of political control over WEU-led CJTFs that draw on NATO materiel.

Having explored in depth the possibilities and limitations of CJTFs as originally conceived, it is now possible to step back and evaluate the potential of the CJTFs as a means of devolving upon Europe greater autonomy and responsibility in its defense and security without undermining the transatlantic link.

Assessment and Conclusion

Rapid resolution of the foregoing difficulties of CJTF implementation appears unlikely. In the absence of an immediate Soviet threat or functional equivalent, European cooperation has lost much of its air of urgency. Lack of a pressing reason to compromise makes compromise less likely. Past and future expansions of the European Union further complicate the matter, as the Union must accommodate states with significantly differing opinions on the proper extent of European integration in security and defense matters. Without substantial willingness to compromise or immediate threat, the four-year delay in implementing WEU-led CJTFs may foreshadow the future pace of progress. The WEU could act using NATO arms in consensus situations where the US approves or acquiesces in European operations and remain inactive when there is no agreement. But assuming continued European resistance to major increases in defense outlays - as seems likely unless by inaction Europe should find itself impotent in some vital crisis in the near future -it would be surprising if the combination of insufficient resources and a NAT O-U .S. veto on WEU operations did not guarantee a relatively modest role for the WEU.

CJTFs are therefore no palliative for the European security dilemma. But recall that CJTFs were only a shortcut anyway, a seemingly painless way to confer on Europe a defense capacity it lacked. It is perhaps unrealistic to expect from what is in essence a loan the resolution of long-term and fundamental imbalances. As Gordon has pointed out:

since automatic access to U.S. national means is out of the question -no country will make its national assets automatically available to an alliance without a veto over their use - Europe must accept [this] dilemma: it must either put the resources behind developing independent capabilities or accept dependence on the United States. This is a reality that CJTFs cannot be expected to resolve.51

The dilemma can be stated even more generally. The basic difficulty is a symmetrical unwillingness on both sides of the Atlantic to face up to one unpleasant verity: everything worthwhile requires sacrifice. In international affairs, the privilege of control exacts a burden of responsibility. Within the context of European security, Europeans52 seek control without burden: they would act by borrowing U.S. assets rather than providing their own. The US similarly seeks control without burden. It would renounce - to a degree - the burden of European security, by distributing more evenly either the necessary armament or its cost, but without in the end relinquishing the control that must accompany such a burden.53

The dilemma reduces, then, to the question of whether Europeans and Americans are collectively willing to pay the inevitable price of some form of autonomous European defense capability. Assuming they are, who will pay: the Americans by relinquishing control, or the Europeans by shouldering burden? The former option (Europe deploying American assets) would yield greater transatlantic ties, the latter security independence (Europe self-sufficient). The choice ultimately depends on each side's relative discomfort with, thus readiness to change, its current position. Which will be renounced first: American burden or European dependence'? The answer will largely shape the future of European security and its transatlantic link.


Armand A. Perry is currently working toward a Master of Arts in International Relations at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is a graduate of Princeton University, with a degree in Politics.