THE European Community is considerably closer to establishing its own military capabilities, but whether it can agree on how to use them is another question.
At a Friday meeting of the Western European Union (WEU), General Secretary Willem van Eekelen said that "gigantic steps" had been taken toward turning this paper military organization into an operational body that will eventually - as designated in the Maastricht Treaty - become the EC defense wing.
On Friday, at the Petersberg mansion perched high above the Rhine River here, the nine-member WEU agreed that military units of member states could be used for humanitarian tasks, peacekeeping missions, and even peacemaking in combat situations such as the Gulf war.
Mr. Van Eekelen said that member states would decide soon which of their forces would become "answerable" to the WEU, which does not have its own soldiers or commanders.
In their "Petersberg Declaration," the WEU defense and foreign ministers also said that a "planning cell" will be established in Brussels on Oct. 1. It will prepare contingency plans on possible missions for forces made available to the WEU and make recommendations for their coordinated command.
In theory, the Petersberg Declaration would allow the WEU to be peacekeepers or peacemakers in Yugoslavia, but only under the directive of the United Nations.
However, whether the WEU could reach the consensus needed to make such a decision is in doubt. In the case of Yugoslavia, for instance, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said Friday that sending WEU troops to "fight their way to a political solution" is not an option.
On the other hand, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said that military intervention in Yugoslavia could not be ruled out, though he emphasized the importance of giving sanctions more time to work. The Germans would not deploy troops to Yugoslavia anyway, because of constitutional restrictions and the memory of German aggression in the Balkans in World War II.
In a separate statement on the Yugoslav crisis, the WEU said it is setting up an ad hoc group to examine ways in which it can support the UN embargo of Serbia.
As outlined in the Petersberg Declaration, each situation will be looked at on a case-by-case basis and each member country has the right to withhold its troops from any given engagement.
All WEU members are simultaneously NATO members, and the foreign and defense ministers emphasized that the group's highest priority is still to fulfill its NATO commitments. It did, however, set up guidelines for more countries to join the WEU. At present, the WEU includes all EC states except Ireland, Greece, and Denmark.