Ten years of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council : A personal reflection

Robert F. Simmons Jr gives an insider's view of the genesis and evolution of NATO's main Partnership forum.

Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council meeting during the NATO summit in Prague, Czech Republic, 22 November 2002 (© NATO)

One of the key areas of NATO's transformation has been the creation of the Alliance's Partnerships. In my work, I have been fortunate to have been involved in many of the stages of this development.

In 1991, after the end of the Cold War, NATO created the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) as a means of reaching out to the countries that had been members of the Warsaw Pact, as well as to the new states born from the demise of the Soviet Union. As a member of NATO's Political Committee, I participated in early visits to many of these NACC Partners, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, the Baltic states and Russia.

The Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, inaugurated in 1994, integrated more Partners and a wide range of defence cooperation, including interoperability and defence reform. But the membership and new policy areas handled by the PfP were not perfectly aligned with the more limited approach of the original North Atlantic Cooperation Council.

So in the late 1990s a special group was established, chaired by the then Deputy Secretary General, to develop a political framework which encompassed both the wider membership and broader goals of NATO's partnership with most of the countries of Europe. I participated as the US member of the group which developed the Basic Document for the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).

The EAPC provides a unique instrument for countries which are not seeking NATO membership to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security without compromising their own distinct foreign and security policies

The goal was to develop a forum for political consultation among all partners, a forum which would be aligned with the Partnership for Peace's practical cooperation. So we linked membership in the EAPC to participation in PfP, and the two are entirely complementary institutions.

Based on this work, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council was established by Allied and Partner ministers in Sintra, Portugal, on 30 May 1997. The EAPC reflects a common purpose and ownership that goes beyond military interoperability - it is constructed on the basis of fundamental, common values.

The Council has helped to create an impressive network of Euro-Atlantic political leaders, diplomats, soldiers and civil servants, who now have a shared experience of discussions within the EAPC, and of having worked and solved problems together.

In short, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council provides an important contribution toward a common, Euro-Atlantic security culture based on enhanced political dialogue and practical cooperation between Allies and Partners. With 26 Allies and 23 Partners as members, the EAPC speaks with the authority of 49 states.

When we were developing the Basic Document, our goal was to design a flexible structure that could evolve with changing circumstances - the founding document talks of a "process that will develop through practice". It was meant to be inclusive, but simultaneously to allow each individual Partner the right to set the pace of its own engagement.

In addition to regular plenary meetings at ministerial, ambassadorial and working levels, the Basic Document allowed Partners to develop a direct political relation with the Alliance both individually and/or in sub-groups of EAPC members. In the jargon we referred to "Allies (then 16, now) 26; plus one and plus 'n'".

The political discussions and practical cooperation which take place within the EAPC/PfP framework:

  • enable cooperation between the 49 states;
  • facilitate reform of their military and relevant defence institutions; and
  • assist in the education and training of individuals from those countries in both Allied and Partner institutions.

Ultimately, this translates into the ability to act and operate effectively together, and can lead to integration in various areas between the states concerned. In these and other ways, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council assists its members in strengthening and extending peace and stability.

During its ten years of existence, the EAPC has already helped to prepare ten nations for the responsibilities of NATO membership. Other Partner countries are currently following the same path, a fact which proves that the door to NATO membership remains open.

Yet the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council has also provided a unique instrument for countries which are not seeking NATO membership to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security without compromising their own distinct foreign and security policies. Monthly meetings at ambassadorial level within the EAPC Political Committee (PC) ensure regular dialogue between all members on the important issues of the day. These meetings also offer an opportunity to develop common thinking and consider new areas of cooperation.

Viewed over the decade since its inception, the development of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council is striking. The practical focus of both the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace is on preparing the military forces of Allies and Partners to work together seamlessly.

Thirteen of the 18 non-NATO contributing nations (NNCNs) participating in NATO-led operations are EAPC members. Nine EAPC countries are contributing approximately 2 300 personnel to NATO-led operations in the Balkans. And nine Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council members are contributing about 780 personnel to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Partners are also engaged in Operation Active Endeavour, a maritime action against terrorist threats in the Mediterranean.

One of the most successful aspects of implementation of the EAPC has been the Political Military Frame (PMF) for contributing Partners to participate in the decision-making process for these Allied missions. Both the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Policy Coordination Group (PCG) meet in the format of Allies plus contributing states - the most successful implementation of "Allies plus n" meetings.

Partners who contribute to NATO missions are also involved in developing Operational Plans (OPLANs) and Periodic Mission Reviews (PMRs) for those missions. Many Partner participants in operations would like to see even greater involvement at earlier stages of the decision-making process, and a recent advance has been the inception of meetings of the Military Committee with contributing states.

Following the shocking events of 11 September 2001, the EAPC and PfP have provided a framework for the participating nations to respond together to the threat of terrorism.

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council's evolution reflects the needs and wishes of both Allied and Partner members, and has been given clear direction by heads of state and government through the summits held in Prague, Istanbul and (most recently) Riga.

Monthly meetings at ambassadorial level within the EAPC Political Committee ensure regular dialogue between all

members on the important issues

of the day

The Partners played a particularly active role in developing the Partnership paper adopted at the Prague Summit. Regrettably, the time for consultations with Partners declined before both the Istanbul and Riga Summits because of disagreements among the Allies. From the start, the EAPC was intended to represent the joint ownership of both Allies and Partners. But maintaining that principle requires constant work - and we have not always been successful.

I returned to NATO as Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Partnership as we were preparing for the Istanbul Summit. The Summit focused on the Partners of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and it was agreed to appoint resident liaison officers stationed in each region to assist the Partners who were more geographically distant from NATO Headquarters. This has been a particularly successful step. The resident officers, often co-located in Partner ministries, have significantly advanced Partner participation in EAPC and PfP programmes.

In addition, it was decided to appoint a Special Representative for these two regions. I was given that job, which I have tried to fulfil by maintaining high-level political contacts with the leaders in each of the relevant Partner countries.

Even more important was the development of new instruments focused on fulfilling the mandate in the EAPC Basic Document that permits countries to develop a direct and individual political relationship with the Alliance. The very successful use of the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP) has stimulated defence reform in aspirant and other Partner countries. PARP has helped many nations to build modern, effective and democratically responsible armed forces, as well as other defence institutions.

With the Istanbul Summit, Partner countries were invited to agree common goals with NATO in Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs). These plans:

  • include political and economic reform goals;
  • carry over and expand PARP objectives in defence reform;
  • set goals for cooperation in other areas, such as Civil Emergency Planning and Science;
  • and, perhaps most importantly, suggest to Partner countries to set up an interagency process to manage these goals collectively

Reviewed by the North Atlantic Council (NAC), IPAPs also give the Partners a schedule for active political dialogue with NATO, and bring Partner ministers to Brussels regularly to discuss security and other concerns. Five EAPC Partner countries have active IPAPs, and more are considering them.

The November 2006 Riga Summit Declaration emphasised the enduring value that NATO attaches to its Partnerships, and reconfirmed the directions set by previous summits. These include a focus on priorities, operations and strengthening NATO's ability to work practically with Partners; combined with continued close attention to the observance by Partners of the commitments they made and values they adhered to upon joining the EAPC and the PfP.

The Riga Summit also marked a significant step in the evolution of the EAPC, and of Partnership relations with south-eastern Europe, by extending the invitation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia to join the Council and the PfP. The three countries are now in the process of integrating fully within the relevant structures.

This development brings substantially enhanced relations with these countries, and allows for comprehensive and inclusive discussions on the region amongst Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council members. Extending the invitations at the Riga Summit, NATO heads of state and government reaffirmed the importance they attach to the principles set out in the EAPC and PfP Basic Documents. Notably, the NATO members also expected Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

A key result of Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council's success is that it has become the model and furnished the tools for NATO Partnerships with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) nations of the Gulf, and an expanding range of other countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

As we greet this ten-year mark, we can look back on a record of achievement. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council has been a catalyst for domestic transformation and of international security cooperation on an unprecedented scale. NATO has always been at the core of this endeavour. However, over the years, the EAPC and Partnership have also moved towards the core of NATO's business.

Looking to the future, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council will continue to evolve along the lines set out at the Prague, Istanbul and Riga Summits, and ongoing review of the process will continue to ensure that the full potential of Partnership is realised. Flexible consultation and practical cooperation focused on nations' priorities are essential to achieving this goal.

Procedures and programmes are being simplified and opened more widely, and EAPC members have spent time reflecting on and prioritising the issues that they wish to address. But the Allies must do more to ensure that our EAPC Partners have a real sense of co-ownership - co-ownership which was intended by the Basic Document whose tenth anniversary we are commemorating.

The active pursuit of such an approach has been demonstrated by the success of the January 2007 PfP Planning Symposium. It was also evident in the commitment of EAPC ambassadors and of nations within the EAPC PC to enhancing the practical value of consultations. And lastly it was shown by the agenda of the June EAPC Security Forum meeting, which allowed participants to engage in detailed exchanges about how to address the security challenges currently facing NATO and the EAPC.

The agenda for the continued evolution of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership must be ambitious. The evidence of the last decade shows what can be achieved. And our common aim - to strengthen and extend peace and stability - provides a compelling motivation.

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