Cooperation? NATO and EU must leave behind theories and institutional interests

NATO-EU cooperation is moving on on issues like countering of hybrid threats but also others, see the declaration from the Meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers. How do you see the future of NATO-EU cooperation in the situation when we have on one hand the discussion about deepening the defense cooperation in the EU and on the other hand with uncertainty created by the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections? Read few comments.

Joint press conference by NATO Secretary General with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Credit:

Joint press conference by NATO Secretary General with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Credit:

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

EU-NATO cooperation (or the lack of it) has been on the agenda for a number of years. The reason traditionally given for has been to ensure that the work of the two organisations does not clash; NATO has been developing roles in ‘new’ security areas such as as terrorism, cyber, conflict management – ‘soft’ security areas where the EU has been more generally active. At the same time, however, the EU has been trying to develop roles in more traditional, or ‘hard’ security areas traditionally associated with NATO, including the creation of EU Battle Groups.

Madeleine Albright famously spoke of the need to ensure that the EU and NATO were ‘separable but not separate’ but this was often challenging, especially given the number of Member States shared by the two organisations. For example, the EU’s first naval mission (ATALANTA), which sought to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia, was ran from the United Kingdom’s naval headquarters in Northwood, while the UK also provide ships to NATO’s own (and separate) anti-pirate mission off Somalia. In this context, it only makes sense that there is more ‘dialogue’ between the two Brussels-based organisations.

The current debate, especially in the wake of Brexit and the US Presidential elections has two crucial problems. Firstly, there is a widespread belief that the EU is about to create a new army. Of course, it is not, but the talk of EU military command headquarters does make some people over-excited. To some extent, this is partly a fault of the EU Member States for toying with such ideas. The EU does not need a headquarters. In fact, the EU already has command structures (called the EU corps) which are not being utilised. Therefore, an additional headquarters would merely create new structures, but without an actual army to command.

To this comes the debate about the US President-elect Trump, whose words about NATO have shocked so many people. Trump eventually tuned down his rhetoric, but it seems he will retain a transactionist attitude towards NATO – if the Europeans want the security NATO provides, they too must be able to provide resources. The fact, however, is that whether we like it or not, Trump has a point. Yes, NATO is about mutual security, but that does not mean that all the responsibility should rest on one country alone. European leaders are making much ado that they are increasing spending, but this is still not enough. European countries still lack basic capabilities. Let us remember that in 2011, after a no-fly zone was imposed on Libya, even the most powerful European militaries (Britain and France) proved incapable of launching operations without US support.

In other words, the problem is neither the President-elect nor enhanced EU defence cooperation. The problem, rather, is how the Europeans spend their defence budgets, and what practical steps they can take. Therefore, future cooperation between EU and NATO must ensure not only institutional cohesion, but also to encourage its Member States to be more serious about the various security threats facing the transatlantic community. The EU will not become a military superpower. In fact, the currently proposed EU spending on defence-related matters is still smaller than that of Estonia. However, the diverse expertise of the two organisations in different security areas would no doubt benefit transatlantic security if they worked more closely together, especially in encouraging its Members to take steps practical stes on defence matters. Again, this does not mean creating additional and unnecessary defence structures but focusing on capabilities, training and interoperability – focusing on how its Members’ capabilities can move, act, react, not on which headquarters gives the orders. So far, the debate in Brussels about the future of cooperation remains vague and largely hypothetical, while suspicions between the bureaucracies of the two organisations still remains. With on-going threats in and around Europe, however, there has never been more important time to leave behind theories and institutional interests.

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute

I think NATO-EU defense cooperation is certainly a useful thing, especially when it comes to hybrid threats. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that these two organizations have mostly the same membership. As such, I’m not convinced that more or better cooperation between these two intergovernmental entities is the entire answer — so, to phrase this academically, NATO-EU cooperation is necessary but not sufficient.

Instead, what may be both necessary and sufficient is increased capabilities on the part of European states in combination with more efficiencies within European defense acquisition. These will both be political difficult things to do, but if carried out in conjunction they may be easier to accomplish.

Without a doubt, they’ll both be made easier to accomplish if European economies are more robust — after all, the key to a robust defense and security posture is a robust economy. European leaders would therefore do well in terms of security if they continued to free up labor market regulations. For example, although I disagree with Fillon’s views on Russia, his labor market reform proposals should help to rejuvenate and strengthen the relatively weak French economy.

Reinvigorating their economies, breaking down the nationalist barriers in defense acquisition, and investing more in capabilities should also help Europe vis-a-vis Trump administration policies. I suspect that a President Trump will eventually make a strong commitment to the NATO alliance, but European states would do well to get their economic houses (and hence their defense houses) in order in the meantime.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government

Garret Martin, Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, Editor at Large at the European Institute, American University

In any case, the recent NATO-EU agreement to increase cooperation in a number of fields, especially countering hybrid threats and improving cyber-defense, is a small step, but nonetheless a step in the right direction. It has been a long source of frustration that these two organizations were unable, for a variety of reasons, to work closer together. That being said, one has to be careful not to overstate the importance of this agreement. NATO-EU cooperation at a higher level, such as the EU gaining access to NATO assets in certain operations, is still blocked by Turkey and the unresolved Cypriot question. Moreover, future effective NATO-EU cooperation might depend greatly on the extent to which the incoming Trump administration is committed to NATO. And that remains very unclear at this stage.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: