Experts & Staff


Nick Witney

Senior Policy Fellow

Languages: English, French, Arabic
Areas of Expertise: International relations; international security policy; European security and defence policy; military capabilities development; defence equipment cooperation; research and industry; Middle East and North Africa; the Middle East Peace Process

Nick Witney is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. His topics of focus range from the European Security and Defence Policy to the Middle East Peace Process. 

Witney previously served as the first chief executive of the European Defence Agency in Brussels. High Representative Javier Solana chose him in January 2004 to lead the project team charged with developing the concept and blueprint for the agency. The European Council approved the team’s proposals in July 2004, an achievement recognised by European Voice in nominating Witney as one of its 50 “Europeans of the Year”. After that, he was appointed to establish and run the agency for its first three years.

Witney's early career, after reading Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was spent in British government service, first with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and later with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). As a diplomat, he learned Arabic in Lebanon and Jordan, served in Baghdad, and spent four years as private secretary to the British ambassador in Washington, D.C.

Working with the MOD, Witney took on a wide range of responsibilities, including planning and finance, defence exports (the al-Yamamah programme with Saudi Arabia), nuclear policy, the defence estate (running the privatisation of the MOD's married quarters housing stock), the new Labour government's 1998 Strategic Defence Review, the forward Equipment Programme, and defence industrial policy. His last job before leaving for Brussels was as the MOD’s director-general of International Security Policy, where he was responsible for NATO and EU policy as well as missile defence.


Latest from Nick Witney

  • A hard Brexit looms (Commentary)

    Nick Witney - 21 October 2019

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to have the momentum to get his Brexit deal over the line – and to follow up with a general election triumph while the electorate are still sighing with relief.


    There’s only one way to “just get it done” (Commentary)

    Nick Witney - 07 October 2019

    The UK’s European partners should grant it another extension in the Brexit negotiations. The horror show of the last three years has deflated much of the public’s belief in British exceptionalism.


    European defence and the new Commission (Commentary)

    Nick Witney - 30 September 2019

    A new directorate-general for defence and space has a chance to make a difference, but only if it plays nice in the sandbox 


    Nothing to see here: Europe and the INF treaty (Commentary)

    Nick Witney - 05 August 2019

    Europeans have responded to the death of the INF treaty with seeming indifference - and are expressing their reluctance to accept that nuclear issues are back on the agenda


    Cover: Building Europeans’ Capacity to Defend Themselves

    Building Europeans' Capacity to Defend Themselves

    Mark Leonard launches ECFR’s special summer series on European sovereignty with a discussion of the continent’s security and defence policy. He is joined by Nick Witney, a senior policy fellow at ECFR with a wealth of experience in diplomacy and defence strategy. Witney discusses how today’s strategically-divergent Europeans can collectively bolster their defence capabilities to offset new pressures from Russia and the southern border as well as reduce their reliance on the Americans.

    This podcast was recorded on Friday, 12 July 2019.

    Listen online   


    Policy Brief

    Building Europeans’ capacity to defend themselves

    by Nick Witney - 25th June, 2019

    To hedge against US disengagement without precipitating it, Europeans should converge on “taking a greater share of the burden of defending Europe”

    PDF    


    Flash Scorecard

    Eyes tight shut: European attitudes towards nuclear deterrence

    by Manuel Lafont Rapnouil & Tara Varma & Nick Witney - 19th December, 2018

    Europeans remain unwilling to renew their thinking on nuclear deterrence, despite growing strategic instability. Their stated goal of “strategic autonomy” will remain an empty phrase until they engage seriously on this matter.

    This intellectual under-investment looks set to continue despite: a revived debate “German bomb” debate; a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; and the collapse of the INF treaty.

    Attitudes to nuclear deterrence differ radically from country to country – something which any new engagement on the nuclear dimension will have to contend with. And, while many governments and their voting publics are aligned in attitudes, in some crucial players like Germany the government and public are at loggerheads.

    No European initiative to declare strategic nuclear autonomy is yet practicable but a strategy to hedge for future uncertainties is available.

    As a first step, the UK and France should convert the idea of a European deterrent from mere notion into credible offer, by thickening their bilateral nuclear cooperation and sending growing signals that indicate their readiness to protect others.


    Fighting words: The risks of loose talk about a “European army” (Commentary)

    Nick Witney - 20 November 2018

    'European army' is an empty phrase; what is actually needed is less talk and more action - more concrete projects to integrate defence efforts while avoiding careless talk


Contact

Email: [email protected]
Mob: +44 (0)75 0316 6740