NATO and the European Union : Cooperation and security

Professor Adrian Pop examines the evolving relationship between the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance.

Ceremony at Camp Butmir marking the end of NATO's SFOR operation and the establishment of the EU operation Althea on 2 December 2004 (© NATO )

Today’s security challenges include a plethora of complex and evolving dangers, including international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), failed states, stalemated but unremitting conflicts, organised crime, cyber-threats, energy shortages, environmental degradation and its associated security risks, natural and man-made disasters, pandemics and many others. Facing these threats effectively will require wide-ranging partnership and strong synergy between NATO and the European Union (EU).

The two organisations should take a holistic approach to security issues and work together in the defence domain. Although neither a geographic nor a functional division of labour is a feasible option, it is now accepted in many circles that some forms of outreach, for example peacekeeping in Africa and the Balkans, should be EU-badged, while others, such as current operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban should fall under NATO.

Balkan lessons

One example of successful security-related cooperation between NATO and the European Union was the Ohrid Framework Agreement to prevent war in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*. In February 2001, at the height of inter-ethnic strife between the country’s security forces and armed Albanian insurgents, NATO and the European Union coordinated the negotiations that led to the Ohrid Agreement in August of that year.

That same month, NATO launched its thirty-day Operation Essential Harvest to disarm ethnic Albanian groups and destroy the weapons collected from them. This was followed by the three-month long Operation Amber Fox, which protected the international monitors overseeing the implementation of the peace settlement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*. Then, to reduce the possibility of backsliding, NATO agreed to continue its support with Operation Allied Harmony, conducted from December 2002 to March the next year, at which point the operation was handed over to the European Union.

In late March 2003, the European Union launched its first-ever peacekeeping mission, Operation Concordia, which was also the first implementation of the Berlin Plus agreement. A small NATO headquarters remained in Skopje to assist the country’s authorities in the development of security-sector reform and adaptation to NATO standards.

The European Union maintained Operation Concordia until December 2003, and followed up with a civilian police mission, Operation Proxima, which continued through the end of 2005. During Proxima, EU police authorities cooperated with their counterparts in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*. They also assisted in reforming the country’s Interior Ministry, as well as offering aid aimed at integrated border management.

Another positive example is Bosnia and Herzegovina. In December 2004, NATO terminated its nine-year Implementation Force (IFOR)/Stabilisation Force (SFOR) operation, and handed it over to the European Union, which immediately began its 6000-strong Operation Althea.

As in the operations in former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) was named Operational Commander, acting under political guidance and direction of the European Union’s Political and Security Committee (PSC).

NATO and the European Union should focus on strengthening their key capabilities, increasing interoperability and coordinating doctrine, planning, technology, equipment and training

NATO maintains a modest headquarters in Sarajevo to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities with defence reform, handle certain operational tasks involving counter-terrorism and detention of persons indicted for war crimes, as well as intelligence-coordination with the EU Force (EUFOR). Although operating under the same mandate as SFOR, EUFOR is different because of its more flexible organisation, because it fights organised crime and because of its connection to the national police.

Strengthening capabilities

In order to consolidate cooperation, both NATO and the European Union should focus on strengthening their key capabilities, increasing interoperability and coordinating doctrine, planning, technology, equipment and training.

The announcement at the Alliance’s 2006 Riga Summit of the full operational capability of the NATO Response Force (NRF) marked a major turning point. NATO's rapid reaction force is now capable of performing missions anywhere in the world, as well as across the full spectrum of operations.

Since its emergence in 2004, the EU plan to develop both national and multinational ‘Battle Groups’ has become a major focus of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Each Battle Group comprises 1500 troops, and two of these combined-arms force packages are now on duty at any given time, providing the European Union with a ‘ready-to-go’ military capability to respond to crises around the world. However, further efforts are required in areas such as civil-military coordination to ensure that the Battle Groups can fulfil their potential.

Conscious of potential duplication between the NRF and the EU’s Battle Groups, NATO and the European Union have started to work on ensuring that the two forces can complement each other. However, current acquisition and investment programmes do not meet the needs of today’s multinational forces. NATO and EU roles in that area should be made complementary, and collaboration between the two organisations should be upgraded to ensure that cost-effective assets are provided.

Towards a global partnership

Building on the “lessons learned” in the Balkans, and given that the new theatre of operations is global, cooperation between the two organisations should be taken to a new level.

NATO, recognising the increasingly global dimension of international security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, engaged itself irreversibly in “out-of-area” operations outside its original Euro-Atlantic centre of gravity. In assuming leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the Alliance opened the door for political dialogue, consultation and partnerships with pivotal states well beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, including Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

The European Union has also increasingly become an international actor, performing military and civilian crisis management, security sector reform, rule of law enforcement and border assistance missions both within and outside its immediate neighbourhood. Geographies include the Balkans, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East – but also in far-away places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Indonesia. The mid-2006 deployment of EU troops to the DRC drove home the point that sub-Saharan Africa will be a new focal point of EU security and outreach.

Partnerships at the global level are likely to set up a culture of security cooperation between the Alliance and other actors, reduce misunderstanding and misconceptions, and enhance knowledge and awareness of regional conditions crucial to the design of efficient security responses to current and emerging threats. Against this background of expanding operational collaboration with geographically-distant global partners, NATO-EU cooperation should become the backbone of a strong Euro-Atlantic community.

But in the recent past, there has sometimes been a ’beauty contest’ between the two organisations – for example during the NATO-EU cooperation in Darfur, which occurred without recourse to Berlin Plus arrangements. NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has rightly underlined that all such rivalry should be ended, and any duplication of effort stopped. Rather, there must be a sustained dialogue on harmonising military transformation and ensuring smooth cooperation in advanced planning and capabilities, combined with flexible structures for communication.

NATO and the European Union face similar challenges in a range of areas. One such example is Kosovo, where there is clear scope for complementary policy-making, as well as for forging new, cooperative links. According to UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s plan, the European Union will replace the UN field presence in Kosovo, the NATO-led KFOR currently fostering peace and stability could be handed over to the European Union, and an EU International Civilian Representative (ICR) will be in charge of the implementation of the final status agreement.

Through a new civilian mission under the ESDP umbrella, the European Union will also work to consolidate the rule of law. Managing Kosovo, a de facto state, will constitute a significant challenge for the European Union’s civilian crisis-management capabilities. The outcome will largely depend on the scope of the mandate to be proposed by any future UN Security Council Resolution, and on commitments by EU member states.

Another productive area for potential NATO-EU cooperation in the Balkans could emerge if the Southeast European Defence Ministerial (SEDM) were broadened to include civil emergency planning, and the interior ministers were to form a Southeast European Homeland Defence Ministerial (SEHDM).

By linking the new body with the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) Regional Centre for Combating Trans-border Crime in Bucharest, the SEHDM-SECI nexus could become the organisational locus for implementing a coordinated NATO-EU strategy in the western Balkans. This could then be used to combat the trafficking of drugs, small arms and light weapons (SALW), as well as that of human beings.

Moreover, by setting up a regional civil protection coordination centre under SEHDM’s umbrella, the new forum could also be linked with the Southeast European Brigade (SEEBRIG) in Constanta, Romania, to deal with issues of civil protection.

Against this background of expanding operational collaboration with geographically-distant global partners, NATO-EU cooperation should become the backbone of a strong Euro-Atlantic community

The wider Black Sea region is another area where NATO and the European Union should complement each other. The organisations have common goals in the area – maintaining stability, improving the region’s economic outlook, promoting security sector reform, curtailing arms, drugs and human trafficking, improving border management, and democratisation.

Currently, however, NATO and the European Union do not have a common strategic vision for the Black Sea region, as conceptual differences are impeding a unified approach. Via its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the European Union aims to set up a ”ring of friends” around its periphery, including the Black Sea. NATO, on the other hand, pointing to the fact that the region is both a bridge to the energy-rich Caspian Sea region and a barrier against transnational threats, is promoting a ‘bridge/barrier’ concept for the area.

Afghanistan also provides opportunities for increased NATO-EU cooperation. The country desperately needs more police, judges, engineers, aid workers, development advisers and administrators. All of these resources are available to the European Union, but not to the NATO peacekeepers. In November 2006, the European Commission approved €10.6 million to support the delivery of services and improved governance via NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Further, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan might usefully be supported by an ESDP civilian mission for rule-of-law assistance and police training.

New areas of cooperation

Today, terrorist groups and criminal networks operate internationally, benefiting from real-time communications, information-sharing and relative freedom of travel. The degree to which nations and organisations such as NATO and the European Union share information, cooperate in interdicting such groups and engage in counter-terrorism and combating organised crime is crucial.

Confronted with the threat of bio-terror attacks and pandemics, both NATO and the European Union are currently preoccupied with raising awareness among their respective member states of the need for and the benefits of working together.

The European Union is looking for new ways of getting the member states to work together, as it is faced with limitations in resources available, and the rejection of the European Commission’s suggestion of central stockpiling of vaccines. NATO, meanwhile, is working on the skillsets required for such events and to integrate the various medical centres of expertise into crisis management exercises. Against this background, there is a widespread feeling that between the two organisations there is scope for more dialogue, cooperation and coordination.

In order to successfully meet the challenges of bio-terrorist attacks and pandemics, the European Union and NATO need to make more use of shared information and expertise, put a greater focus on risk management, increase their awareness of the reactions of other cultures, share national best practices on an international level and reach a greater level of preparedness. From an institutional viewpoint, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and NATO’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre could lead the way in forging such necessary coordination.

Another promising area for future EU-NATO cooperation is energy security. For many EU countries, significant reliance on foreign sources of energy has long been a reality, while for others it is a new, but near-term prospect. As the landscape of energy supply changes, global demand is also growing. The emergence of China and India as major economic powers will increase global energy demand of almost 60% over the next 20 years, and exacerbate competition among energy-importing nations.

There is a need to develop coordinated responses to these challenges which incorporate the capabilities and thinking of the armed forces and defence industries, a domain in which the Alliance is better positioned to come up with new answers. Currently, the Alliance is exploring ways in which it may contribute to the securitisation of energy infrastructure networks. Recent talks with Qatar illustrate NATO’s interest in providing security for worldwide natural gas facilities.

To sum up, NATO and the European Union share key security challenges. Greater cooperation in these areas would be logical and would likely lead to more favourable outcomes for both.

Opportunities exist to build on the lessons learned from previous collaboration and new areas for cooperation should be identified. In order to forge a more solid and comprehensive partnership, NATO and the European Union must work to increase practical cooperation and further reconcile the transatlantic agenda.

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