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Getting Cinderella to the ball

Robert E. Hunter examines the potential of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and proposes that it play a greater role in Euro-Atlantic security.

Ministerial meeting: the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council has the potential to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security in a way that no other institution can match ( © NATO - 103Kb)

When created in May 1997, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) was NATO's poor stepchild. It lacked, then and now, the decision-making power of the North Atlantic Council, which is limited to the 19 NATO Allies. Initially, it had no role in managing the practical work of the Partnership for Peace, with which it shares almost the same membership. Even its semi-annual ministerial meetings and occasional summits have tended to be long on speeches and short on substance. But this Cinderella of an institution has the potential to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security in a way that no other can match.

The EAPC was born almost by accident. It was preceded by the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), created in 1991 to bring within the broader NATO family - in "an institutional relationship of consultation and cooperation on political and security issues" — those states that had emerged from the wreckage of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Later in the decade, however, the NACC seemed a bit of an anachronism: defined more by what its non-Allied members had been than about aspirations for the future. And the NACC did not formally include most of the states that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia or Europe's neutral and non-aligned countries.

It made sense to recast the NACC to make a fresh start and enable countries that were neither "ex-communist" nor "ex-Warsaw Pact" to become full members. The initiative came in a speech by then US Secretary of State Warren Christopher at Stuttgart, Germany, on 6 September 1996. This date marked the 50th anniversary of an historic address by one of his predecessors, James Byrnes, which was called the "speech of hope" because of its vision for post-war Europe and US engagement. Secretary Christopher chose to speak of a New Atlantic Community and wanted a headline-grabbing idea, which the State Department hastily provided: namely, to convert the NACC into something new and to call it the Atlantic Partnership Council. Details were left for later.

As the new institution began to take shape, the prefix "Euro-" was added to the proposed name. Both existing NACC members and other European countries that belonged to the Partnership for Peace were invited to join. And views were canvassed within the Alliance about what the new EAPC should be and do. The results were agreed at the EAPC's formal founding - the NACC's final meeting - at Sintra, Portugal, on 30 May 1997. The EAPC would focus on issues like crisis management, arms control, international terrorism, defence planning, civil-emergency and disaster preparedness, armaments cooperation and peace-support operations. And NATO pledged that the EAPC would "provide the framework to afford Partner countries, to the maximum extent possible, increased decision-making opportunities relating to activities in which they participate". Unclear, then and now, is the meaning of "to the maximum extent possible".

These were ambitious goals and the newly created EAPC agreed to institutionalise a wide range of meetings to see them implemented. These included monthly meetings of ambassadors; twice-yearly meetings of foreign and defence ministers; occasional meetings of heads of state and government; as well as so-called "16 (now 19)-plus-one" meetings of the Allies and individual Partners. Since then, the EAPC has sought to make its mark in a variety of areas, ranging from identifying ways in which it might contribute to the challenge of small arms and light weapons to organising exercises in civil-emergency planning with the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre.

The EAPC could, of course, do much more. However, it still lacks decision-making authority. This power is jealously guarded by the North Atlantic Council, in large measure because the Allies have special obligations and responsibilities under the Washington Treaty, NATO's founding charter, and bear the brunt of organising and funding EAPC activities. Yet, in 1999, the Allies began to engage EAPC members in helping to shape the way in which Partner countries would take part in so-called "non-Article 5 operations", that is operations not related to collective defence. The aim was to engage Partner countries, within limits, in political consultations and decision-making, in operational planning and in command arrangements for future NATO-led operations in which they participate.

Because of the growing importance of the Partnership for Peace, this was a natural step. Further developments included issues affecting Partner countries under NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative and the creation of an Expanded and Adapted Planning and Review Process — in part to improve the interoperability of forces and capabilities — and consultations on crises and other political and security-related issues. The EAPC's Action Plan for 2000-2002 also covers consultations and cooperation on regional matters, including Southeastern Europe and the Caucasus, as well as issues relating to the Stability Pact, the EU-led initiative to develop a comprehensive, international framework to help build long-term stability in southeastern Europe.

Despite these efforts, the EAPC has yet to reach its potential. There are two reasons for helping it do so. First, however many countries are invited to join the Alliance at next year's Prague Summit, some aspirants will be left out. It is critical that the EAPC give these countries a firm sense that they belong within the broader NATO family. Second, some EAPC countries, notably in the Caucasus and Central Asia, are unlikely ever to join NATO. Nevertheless, the EAPC could help them, as well, gain in security and confidence.

Giving the EAPC true decision-making powers, beyond the capacity to help shape decisions of the North Atlantic Council, is not currently on the Alliance agenda. However, as Partners demonstrate their capacity to take on additional responsibilities, this should be reviewed. Certainly, further integration of the activities of Partners with Allies should be the next immediate goal. Several possibilities stand out:

Crisis management: At present, most crisis consultations at NATO centre on the North Atlantic Council. Even here the Alliance is handicapped because it lacks the competence of a sovereign government. NATO's role in helping to manage crises - like that in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) - is largely limited to specific tasks that member states assign to the Secretary General. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) and Kosovo, for instance, NATO found itself called upon to act militarily, without having been directly engaged in the preceding diplomacy. The EAPC cannot be expected to develop a competence that even the North Atlantic Council does not have, but it is striking that EAPC members include countries with a good deal of experience in, as well as proximity to, areas most challenging to NATO, especially in the Balkans. The EAPC should therefore be developed into a primary forum for devising viable crisis outcomes, not just a place to brief on the results of North Atlantic Council deliberations.

The Balkans: The EAPC is already active in Southeastern Europe, and in particular much of the former Yugoslavia, which is a special challenge for the international community. At the Alliance's 1999 Washington Summit, NATO launched its South East Europe Initiative, one pillar of which is an Ad hoc Working Group, under the auspices of the EAPC, which promotes regional cooperation. At an EAPC ambassadorial meeting in July 2000, Bulgaria announced the establishment of the South East Europe Security Cooperation Steering Group (SEEGROUP), a forum in which all countries of the region are able to meet to exchange information and views on projects and initiatives designed to stimulate and support practical cooperation between members. Since the change of government in Zagreb in early 2000, Croatia began to build bridges with the Alliance. As a first step, the country joined both the EAPC and the Partnership for Peace in May of that year and is now an active participant in SEEGROUP. As the new, democratic government in Belgrade opens up to NATO, the EAPC should play a leading role in assisting the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's transition and reintegration into the international community.

As NATO continues to take in new members, both the EAPC and the Partnership for Peace will naturally change in character and purpose

"Out-of-Area" dispute and conflict management: Many other areas of concern to NATO members either include or border EAPC member states. So far, the EAPC has had little experience in trying to mediate, ameliorate or resolve tensions and conflict between its members in the Caucasus andCentral Asia. But the Alliance — and specifically the EAPC — should not shy away from this possibility, nor accept that, of necessity, ad hoc arrangements or some other body (like the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) should take precedence. Leadership will be important. So, too, will be the development of a sense among its members that the EAPC can add value as a basic European security institution, born of NATO, to which regional disputes and crises can properly and productively be brought. This will only emerge through experience, after the EAPC selects one or more such situations and sets a positive precedent for its potential role.

Engaging Russia: In some cases, the development of such a dispute and conflict-management role for the EAPC, among its own members, will be more possible and productive — for example, as a support to or even replacement for the Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region contested between Armenia and Azerbaijan — if Russia can be convinced to play a greater role. In the run-up to the Prague Summit, with the prospect of invitations to join NATO being extended to Central European states, the Alliance will, in any case, have to reach out to Moscow to demonstrate that NATO is neither challenging Russia, strategically or politically, nor seeking to isolate it. Russia has so far chosen to play a relatively passive role in the EAPC and the Partnership for Peace, and it has been reluctant to test the limits of the Permanent Joint Council, the forum for NATO-Russia consultation and cooperation. NATO already has an interest in convincing Russia that it has a valid place within a broader concept of European security and that its basic interests in Europe are compatible with NATO's. Indeed, if Russian President Vladimir Putin's musings about Russia's one-day joining NATO can be nurtured, not so much for the specific idea but for wider possibilities, then the EAPC could become a useful vehicle for Moscow to work with NATO. This could supplement the Permanent Joint Council, while providing Moscow with more legitimacy than it now has for engaging other EAPC countries, without generating fears that Moscow would gain undue influence over their strategic and political choices. The EAPC could therefore become a mechanism for helping to reconcile Russia to NATO's expansion to include as members countries close to its borders.

EAPC, ESDP and EU-NATO Relations: NATO has been building a relationship with the European Union as that institution develops a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). This process is far from complete and, in my view, far from harmonious. One way of trying to reconcile differences is via the alignment of their respective bodies, especially through joint meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the European Union's new Political and Security Committee (PSC) at ambassadorial and ministerial levels. Given that both the European Union and NATO are taking in new members from Central Europe and are otherwise deeply involved there, that both are engaged in the Balkans, that both have developed special relationships with Russia and Ukraine, and that both have interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia, these joint meetings should be extended to include parallel EAPC-PSC consultations. This could also stimulate the European Union's companion Common Foreign and Security Policy to be more outward-looking. In any event, the European Union and NATO do share a broad agenda, even if they approach most non-defence issues from different perspectives. In the effort to eliminate the artificial barriers that have for so long existed between these two institutions, the EAPC could prove a useful instrument.

Finally, it is important to remember that, as NATO continues to take in new members, both the EAPC and the Partnership for Peace will naturally change in character, and in some regards in purpose. With further NATO enlargement, the relative balance between Partners and Allies in the EAPC will progressively shift towards the latter. The non-Allied membership of the EAPC will increasingly be dominated by countries east of Turkey. This is a strong argument for the EAPC to emphasise dispute and conflict resolution, as well as coordination with the European Union and other institutions, to help countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia develop their politics and economies, as well as reform their militaries.

Looking to the future, the vision of a "Europe whole and free" can only be realised if "security" is understood in the broadest sense. The EAPC has much to offer towards that goal and could develop into an effective political and security instrument with a remit that goes far beyond its original purposes.

1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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