Council of Europe at 72: Defusing the Defence Clause, Engaging the Acquis

This post was written by Dr Andrew Forde

Winston Churchill caused quite a stir in 1950 when he used the platform of the Council of Europe’s (CoE) then Consultative Assembly (now Parliamentary Assembly) to call for the creation of a European Army. The Committee of Ministers (CM) politely but firmly rebuked the Assembly’s proposal on the basis that ‘decisions on matters of national defence do not fall within the scope of the Council of Europe’, but went on to express hope that ‘the problem of the defence of free Europe may be satisfactorily dealt with in the near future by decisions of the Governments and the competent international organisations’.

Their dismissal was based on Article 1.d of the Statute (hereafter the ‘Defence Clause’) which provides that ‘[m]atters relating to national defence do not fall within the scope of the Council of Europe’. Over time, whilst discussions on sovereign matters of national defence such as defence expenditure, weaponry, alliances and so on have remained largely taboo based on the exclusionary Defence Clause, it has become accepted practice that this does not, in any way, rule out political engagement by the CoE on matters of peace and security particularly when framed in the context of the protection of human rights. And rightly so. To do otherwise, would be to fundamentally undermine the object and purpose of the organisation.

As we recently marked the 72nd anniversary of the CoE Statute, in this piece I will briefly discuss why a more restrictive reading of the Defence Clause would be deeply problematic and that CoE Member States should significantly enhance the organisation’s engagement with emerging and legacy conflicts.

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