Thursday, May 16, 2019

European Cooperation after World War II

European Cooperation
The spirit of cooperation among the nations of Western Europe that had developed in the years after World War II continued to grow during the later part of the 1900s. Formal institutions, such as NATO and the European Economic Community, grew in both strength and membership. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe left the structure and purpose of some of these organizations open to question. At the same time, however, it opened the possibility of an even wider union of European nations.
European Cooperation
The Helsinki Accords. In 1975, representatives of 35 nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union, met in Helsinki, Finland, to discuss the topics of security and cooperation in Europe. The meeting resulted in a series of agreements known as the Helsinki Accords. These agreements specified ways of improving economic and technological cooperation between East and West, endorsing the use of peaceful means rather than force to settle disputes between nations. The accords also settled a major Cold War issue by recognizing the legitimacy of certain boundaries in Eastern Europe that were established after World War II but were disputed by some countries. Perhaps the most important part of the accords, however, concerned the protection of human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of worship. The Helsinki Accords called on all nations to respect the basic human rights of their citizens.

Although the Helsinki Accords provided for no real means of enforcement, they proved to be an important symbolic step. By showing little interest in complying with the human rights aspects of the accords, the Soviets and other Communist bloc countries undermined their own credibility in the international community. The accords also formed an important foundation for the democratic movement that ultimately swept across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, following the collapse of communism, European nations worked to reaffirm their commitment to the principles set forth in the Helsinki Accords.

NATO. Although the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remained the cornerstone of Western European security as the 1900s drew to a close, its policies and future role increasingly came into question. Friction between Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, led to Greece’s withdrawal from the alliance in 1974. Greece eventually rejoined, but its relations with other NATO countries remained strained. The deployment of American nuclear weapons in Europe during the Cold War proved especially controversial. Some member countries refused to allow American nuclear weapons on their soil; others expressed serious reservations. At the same time, the United States demanded that other members agree to take on a larger share of the burden of defending Europe.
NATO
NATO’s future grew increasingly uncertain following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. With the military threat from the Eastern bloc diminished, NATO seemed to many people to have outlived its usefulness. Others pointed out that threats to European security still existed, and that NATO provided a framework to deal with problems like containing the civil war in the countries of what had been Yugoslavia, or a possible revival of Russian military power. Many countries of Eastern Europe sought to join NATO. Critics argued that any expansion of NATO eastward would require a burdensome commitment from current members and might provoke Russian hostility. In 1997, despite Russian objections, NATO leaders agreed to invite Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance.

From EEC to EU. The late 1990s saw the evolution of the European Economic Community (EEC) into the even more closely knit European Union (EU). A general expansion of the EEC preceded this transformation.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the EEC grew from 6 members to 12. After lengthy negotiations, Britain finally joined in 1973. Ireland and Denmark also joined in that year. In 1981 Greece became a full member, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. In the early 1990s, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined.

As the EEC grew, it made headway toward setting common practices for its members in taxation, credit, and labor and monetary policies. In 1993 the EEC countries implemented the Maastricht Treaty, creating the European Union (EU). Under the terms of the treaty, they dropped trade barriers among themselves, agreed to pursue closer cooperation in defense and foreign relations, and accepted the idea of a common currency.

The implementation of the Maastricht Treaty had not come easily, however, and many problems remained unresolved in the mid-1990s. Several members of the EEC worried that the EU would undermine their sovereignty. British leaders in particular voiced misgivings. In Denmark, voters barely chose to ratify the Maastricht Treaty, but in Norway they rejected membership in the EU. As the century drew to a close, the future of the EU remained unclear. Aligning the economies of Western Europe was proving especially difficult, and the EU remained divided over whether or not to admit Turkey and various Eastern European countries. The nations of Western Europe had nonetheless achieved a real degree of unity in a century marked by two world wars.

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