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NATO and the European Union – Strategic Partners or Polite Neighbours?

NATO and the European Union – Strategic Partners or Polite Neighbours ?

Article by Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Minuto Rizzo. Source: NATO. Brussels, March 16, 2004.

Today, security may be the first concern around the world. The evolution of the European Union, the role the United States is willing to play, the relationship amongst key security actors, how the international community is going to deal with future threats: these are the key questions which the international community must answer. To get the right answers – sustainable, effective responses to 21st century challenges -- it is vital that the international community arrives at common answers.

NATO remains the world’s most powerful and important security organisation. At the same time, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) of the EU are raising their visibility and relevance.

If the Western Democracies are to co-ordinate their resources – political, economic and military – in the most effective way, it is of the utmost importance that this process takes place in an orderly and co-ordinated manner, avoiding any unnecessary duplication and above all misunderstandings.

  • 1) The European Security and Defence Policy Starts Moving

To understand where this relationship is going, we must first understand its origins.

The term CFSP appeared officially for the first time in 1992, in the Maastricht Treaty. CFSP explicitly links Foreign and Security policy in a typically European way, which is to say by opening the possibility of new forms of collective activity, counting largely on the subsequent aggregation of common interests to provide substance.

That substance began to aggregate substantially towards the end of the 90s. It was sparked by the Kosovo campaign, which showed Europe’s military weakness and technical backwardness.

Kosovo encouraged the European Council in Cologne, in June 1999, to agree the creation of new European security bodies.

The French-British summit in St-Malo cleared the way, in spite of prevailing scepticism, for an European crisis management dimension, well co-ordinated with NATO.

The main focus of these efforts has been « capabilities first »; to spark a substantial increase in European operational capacities. The « Headline Goal « launched by the EU in Helsinki in December 1999, which foresaw the creation of a rapidly deployable Corps-sized European military capability, was the clearest manifestation of this objective.

The success of these European efforts is certainly not yet assured. There has, however, already been significant concrete progress. The Nice European Council in December 2000 is one example, approving a dozen important texts on security issues -- some dealing with committees and structures, others affecting CFSP and crisis management in general.

The EU’s Political and Security Committee was established with the mandate to provide strategic direction for EU-led operations. It relies on a Military Committee, which in turn is fed by the expertise of a Military Staff.

This structure reflects the broad lines of NATO, although on a smaller scale.

It should be noted that the EU is not engaged in “defence” in the strict sense of territorial protection. There is no EU “Article 5”, as there is in the Washington Treaty, engaging members to protect one another from armed attack from abroad.

The European Convention has now set more ambitious goals and established better integration of the institutional tools available to the Union.

These steps are being finalised by the Inter-Governmental Conference. The Union is also breaking new ground from a conceptual point of view, endorsing in December 2003 for the first time a “Security document” which could be the embryo of a “strategic concept” along the NATO lines.

The development of an enhanced security culture in the European Union is certainly a welcome development. It recognises the requirement to deal effectively with external threats, and takes steps to ensure that the EU can be an effective security actor in its own right, as well as a true partner to NATO and the US.

  • 2) NATO – A Different Organisation

NATO is obviously a very different organisation. The Alliance has a mandate focused on Defence and Security; it certainly does not have the EU’s “federal” ambitions.

The Treaty of Washington of 1949, NATO’s basic charter, is only a couple of pages long, so the Organisation has developed in a very pragmatic way. It does not have a developed juridical culture.

What NATO does have, however, is an unique civilian-military relationship. It is also oriented towards “doing things”, rather than focusing on the development of elaborate conceptual and institutional frameworks. Its evolution has been driven by requirements, rather than by doctrine.

Common costs for running the headquarters and the International Staff are very limited. The general rule concerning operations is that the costs fall where they lie. In other words, each country pays for its own participation in a mission led by NATO. In the European Union, by contrast, countries try to achieve a comparative advantage by drawing on substantial common funds.

Fundamentally, NATO is a political-military Alliance where “political consultation” is one of the main systematic activities. All decisions are taken by consensus, and enormous effort goes into diplomacy and negotiation to achieve it. While this can be time -consuming, consensus ensures that all Allies are on board once a decision is taken, making the Alliance very effective indeed. NATO can also take decisions on short notice: the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest political body, can be called on at any time.

As we know, NATO has transformed fundamentally over the past couple of years.

NATO’s history started with the Cold War: four decades of a static, territorial concept of security.

Stage two, in the decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, was a period in which NATO became an agent of political change, by looking into the wider Europe: opening to new members, and bringing the Alliance’s political and military resources to bear to bring peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia (1).

Since 9/11 NATO has now entered stage three: transforming rapidly into an Alliance which is fully geared to the new security environment of the 21st century.

The Alliance is developing a new set of tools to meet modern requirements: from a new command structure, to a series of initiatives to improve military capabilities, to the NATO Response Force, etc..

In doing so, the Alliance is building on its comparative advantage as the only multinational organisation in the world devoted to security and defence.

NATO’s take-over, in August 2003, of the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan – thousands of kilometres from Europe, and with strong support from the UN -- illustrates NATO’s new missions, and its new engagement beyond its traditional borders.
While the full implications of these new roles are not yet clear, one thing is certain: In the 21st century, NATO remains as essential to defending Euro-Atlantic security, interests and values as ever.

  • 3) The Practical Relationship

International security is best served by a coherent, co-operative approach. It was true before 9/11, even more so since then.

If you take the Cold War as a reference point, NATO is less central than it used to be. But today its relevance must be measured by its added value in addressing security in a broader way. The Alliance offers military experience, command arrangements and interoperability that no other organisation can match. Security today is a global issue like the environment or energy. Each actor on the international scene has to contribute according to its specific added value – and that includes Europe working together with NATO, in the most efficient and effective way possible.

The relationship between the North Atlantic Council and the Political and Security Committee of the EU is a new one. It suffered, in its early days, from difficulties in finding a formula for the “participation” by European-non-NATO Allies in future crisis – a formula that was found, and agreed, in spring 1993, and which has allowed for the EU to make use of NATO assets and capabilities for EU-led operations..

There is still undoubtedly some ambiguity and lack of clarity in important areas of cooperation between NATO and the EU, for instance, on the scope of the political dialogue. Should it include crisis management? Military crisis management? Conflict prevention? How broad should the interface be?

Another logical area of common interest is in capabilities and armaments. Each EU and NATO country has only set of forces and one defence budget. In an era of stretched defence funds, it only makes sense to ensure that NATO and the EU develop capabilities in a way that is fully transparent, coherent and complementary.

  • 4) A Search for Partnership

The potential of NATO-EU cooperation to deliver security is already clear.

The first High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security in Europe, Javier Solana and the Secretary General of NATO, George Robertson worked closely together to defuse an incipient conflict in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia .

NATO launched its third Balkans operation in this country in August 2001. It was the first successful example in the Balkans of a preventive action by the international community to avoid a civil war. It was too quickly forgotten, but it remains very important.

The political leverage of the European Union and the military expertise of NATO helped this country in a decisive way. A similar case of successful co-operation was when the two organisations helped to defuse tensions in Southern Serbia, close to Kosovo, in 2001 and 2002.

The EU launched its first military operation in March 2003, taking over from NATO in Macedonia while making recourse to NATO assets. It was the first case of practical military co-operation between the two organisations – cooperation so profound that the operational Commander of the EU-led mission was NATO’s Deputy SACEUR, the number two of the NATO military chain of command, wearing a second, European hat.

This cooperation, including the use by the EU of NATO’s assets and capabilities, was the first successful test of agreements reached on March 17, 2003, by the two organisations (after many observers had given up the hope of arriving at an acceptable formula). This set of agreements (about 12 texts all together), known as “Berlin Plus” by the specialists, sets the stage for the future of practical NATO-EU cooperation.

The principles of Berlin+ reflect those set out at NATO’s Washington Summit in 1999, with four main elements: to ensure European Union access to NATO operational planning capabilities; the presumption of availability of NATO’s capabilities and common assets; command options and a role for the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (an European by tradition);

The adaptation of the Defence Planning System of NATO was also adapted to take account of EU-led operations.

The arrangements prove to be working well: these ingenious formulas help to ensure good co-ordination, and to avoid unnecessary duplication. The presence of neutral countries in the EU does not seem to constitute a problem.

(Of course, the option exists for EU-led operations without recourse to NATO’s assets and capabilities. A first case was in Congo in summer 2003, when a French-led EU force intervened to restore order. )

NATO-EU interdependence is clear in another important area as well: that of capabilities. Indeed, NATO’s expertise and long experience in this field can be very relevant to the European Union.

The Defence Capabilities Initiative launched at the Washington Summit in 1999 and the Prague Capabilities Commitment agreed in November 2002 are designed to improve overall Alliance military capacities – but of course, European forces have the most catching up to do.. They have lagged behind US defence development since the end of the Cold War, when many countries reaped the “peace dividend” and slashed defence budgets.

In conclusion, there are obvious linkages and inter-relations between the two organisations. NATO-EU cooperation therefore clearly makes sense, to reinforce planning, capabilities, inter-operability or even strategic outlook.

The overall aim is as clear as it is important: to enhance the effectiveness of Western democracies to contribute to security together.

  • 5) The Transatlantic Link and Effective Multilateralism

An analysis of this kind cannot avoid looking at the larger picture. The political added value of NATO lies in its experience, the mutual defence commitment, and above all in the transatlantic dimension. So the obvious question is, is this dimension maintaining its relevance today?

Even if perfect equilibrium between the US and Europe is not foreseeable, NATO is still an organisation which can achieve “effective multilateralism”.

History shows that North America and Europe, working together in security, were a winning ticket in the last century. Are new threats such as terrorism, proliferation and failed states making this teamwork less relevant?

This is perhaps the hottest topic in conference halls and academic circles. Ideas such as a possible division of labour between NATO and the EU, functionally and geographically, are constantly debated. So are proposals to streamline decision-making in the Alliance to adapt to the speed of response required to meet modern challenges, and to allow progress in meeting politically divisive operations.

The key, however to effective transatlantic security cooperation, both NATO and US-Europe, will be to foster open strategic discussions on controversial security issues. NATO-EU cooperation is here to stay. What we need is the political will, the courage and the vision to chart a course together towards a shared future.

In Brussels, the relationship between Evere (NATO) and Cortenbergh (EU) is going to be there for many years and probably it will go trough cycles. Which is only natural because co-ordination between two entities so relevant and proud cannot be easy by definition. Military contacts are good and the potential for co-operation is intact. A first common exercise has taken place in November 2003.

  • Conclusions

NATO today is not only transformed – it continues to evolve. In 2004, the operational focus of the venerable Alliance is now in Afghanistan. NATO has opened its door to countries of Central and Eastern Europe, it has a close working relationship with Russia, and works closely with the United Nations, the OSCE, and a huge range of international organisations and NGOs .

The European Union, for its part, is also going through a very profound evolution. Indeed, it is an institutional construction site. ESDP is part of that.

Our challenge is to ensure that these two important organisations develop, and work closely together, to enhance our common security in real, concrete ways. Symbolism and institutions are important, but they are no substitute for real political influence and effective military forces.

The EU’s relationship with NATO is essential in many regards, not least as a link to the United States and to a larger security framework. Indeed, through the North Atlantic Alliance and its broad agenda, Europe can count for more in the world.

There is simply no alternative to this relationship. – a relationship from which both partners benefit.

The EU’s development as a security actor has depended heavily on NATO – as a model for construction, and as a resource on which to draw.

At the same time, Europe has blossomed increasingly into a security actor able to deploy significant economic, political and military tools to manage crises. A win-win scenario for both organisations, as long as they cooperate in an open and transparent manner, and unnecessary duplication is avoided.

No institutional agreement between the two Organisations will ever be perfect. A culture of collaboration amongst all governments involved, however, is the key ingredient to serve NATO, the EU, and our common security.

(1) Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia by its constitutional name.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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