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The ties that bind

Julian Lindley-French analyses relations between the European Union and NATO and urges the two organisations to work together in the common interest.

European intervention: France deserves praise for having put together a force to help stabilise northeastern Congo (© ECPA-D & Sirpa Air)

The build-up to the Iraq War, the campaign itself and its aftermath have all had a profound impact on both transatlantic and inter-European relations. It is remarkable how much appears to have changed in so little time. Indeed, a re-reading of December 2002's EU-NATO Declaration on ESDP, the breakthrough agreement between the European Union and NATO, suggests that it was negotiated in a more genteel age.

At one level, Iraq helped to reinforce a growing realisation that Europeans are now back in the global security business. At another, it reminded Americans and Europeans of the difficulties of finding consensus over collective security. At a third, it must surely have reminded Americans of the vital role of allies in security governance. And at a fourth level, Americans and Europeans, the victors of the Cold War and the inheritors of strategic responsibility, were reminded that they cannot escape the burden of leadership in security governance in this fractured age. In effect, Iraq was the latest chapter in the story of Europe's strategic re-awakening, a point reflected in EU High Representative Javier Solana's subsequent outline of an emerging European security strategy. Weapons of mass destruction and terrorism are as dangerous to Europeans as they are to Americans.

The core message of this piece is blunt. The use of the European Union and NATO by political factions in certain countries for domestic political grandstanding must stop. The only winners from such strategic irresponsibility are the enemies of democracy. Given the scope and nature of the emerging dangers, there is room enough for both the European Union and NATO, both of which remain vital to effective security governance.

It is therefore strange that, with such a re-awakening of strategic awareness, so many analysts seem to have drawn the conclusion that the European Union and NATO must ultimately go their separate ways. The division of labour is a clear and complementary one. The mission of the European Union's European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is progressively to harmonise the security concepts and cultures of European states so that they can gradually take responsibility for civil and military aspects of security at the lower to middle levels of intensity and develop a distinct doctrine for multilateral peacekeeping and peacemaking that both organisations lack. The continuing and ever more vital role of NATO is threefold: to ensure a continuum between lower and higher levels of intensity, i.e. escalation dominance; to ensure that Americans and Europeans can work together in joint pursuit of security world-wide; and to assure the core defence guarantee so that re-nationalisation of security within Europe will not destabilise Europe's political base and prevent Europe's emerging projectability. It is as simple and straightforward as that.

Those in Europe who mistakenly believe that they will achieve a strong ESDP through a weak NATO are profoundly wrong. All they will achieve is an insecure and incapable Europe unsure of itself and its place in the world. Those in the United States who believe that NATO no longer matters and that mighty America can manage the world alone will only achieve an isolated America trapped on the wrong side of the balance between legitimacy and effect. NATO matters and will continue to matter to all the partners. Imagine a Europe without NATO? Is it conceivable that ESDP could suddenly be transformed into a mechanism for the planning and execution of multinational European coalitions at several levels of military-technology into coherent forces for projection into dangerous places the world over? The answer is clearly no, but that is what Europe needs and needs now.


Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, East Timor, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.* These places trip off the tongue like some roll-call of empire. Sadly, they are not one-off events but evidence of a trend. Historians one hundred years from now may well look back on the period 1950 to 2000 as an interregnum between two forms of dependency. Prior to 1950, it was an exploitative dependency; since 2000 it has been one born of state failure, economic misery and disease.

The whole essence of the power of Europe as expressed through the European Union is its fundamental morality. Europe now sees itself as a "shining city on the hill", a vision that is extremely close to the self-image of the United States. Americans and Europeans are the force for good in this world. A force the importance of which is magnified by the dangerous relationship between misery and technology that is emerging as a defining feature of this fractured age. Ever smaller and more dangerous groups will in time gain access to the destructive power that has to date been the preserve of the most mighty. It is vital, therefore, that Americans and Europeans together prepare for that reality now. There is enough for everyone to do.

In this way, the future of EU-NATO cooperation must rest on certain security truisms. First, the European Union's ambitions to be a hard international security actor are still some years from completion. Second, the pace of deterioration in global security will demand of Europeans an increased presence in the world beyond Europe. Third, neat intellectual divisions between different levels of intensity in which Europeans take on the softer tasks and Americans the harder ones will no longer be reflected on the ground. Dangers to forces on the ground can escalate as rapidly as the crises that spawn them. For the foreseeable future, only NATO can provide the planning and the mission-intensity continuum for operations in the emerging security context.

Unfortunately, for all the fine words that were to be found in the EU-NATO Declaration on ESDP, the relationship is too often mired in the political mud of contemporary transatlantic relations from which it can never be divorced. There is a strange alliance between American neo-conservatives who do not care about the Alliance and European traditional Gaullists who do not want it. It is only to be hoped that these political opportunists realise the damage they are doing to the fabric of their own security by undermining the relationships upon which both the European Union and NATO depend. EU-NATO cooperation has for too long been a victim of the security pretence that has afflicted far too much of the European strategic debate and the strategic self-deceit that has afflicted the American. It is time to get down to business.

Americans cannot avoid the rigours of peacekeeping. Indeed, in spite of a US desire to take on only those operations for which the US military is designed, they are finding themselves sucked ever more into the muddy boots and desk-bound soldiery of nation-building. Europeans can no longer avoid the reality of capabilities. Sooner rather than later they are going to have to dip into their pockets, if their soldiers are not going to die needlessly on operations into which they have been forced by events and for which they are profoundly ill-prepared. In this way, the future of EU-NATO cooperation must, by necessity and the force of events, deepen, with a new transatlantic security deal in which Americans learn to peacekeep and Europeans re-equip to fight.

New transatlantic bargain

Such a deal is the essence of future EU-NATO cooperation. Deepening effective and real cooperation in crisis management is vital as a first step in a new relationship. Both the European Union and NATO bring distinct and complementary contributions to such management, which is strengthened by the legitimacy afforded by the political autonomy of decision-making in both organisations. No single state or institution can manage such complexity. The European Union is pre-eminent in the coordination of multilateral, multifunctional civilian aspects of the security management cycle and rightfully moving ever more effectively into the military side at several levels of operational intensity. Operation Concordia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* is an important step on the road to Europe's own ability to manage security "in and around Europe" in practical cooperation with the Alliance.

Furthermore, Americans could learn a lot from how certain Europeans do peacekeeping. There are many reasons why the Americans are tragically losing so many soldiers in post-insertion operations compared with the British. The United States is the super-power; US soldiers are in areas in which the remnants of the ancien régime are most active; and there are many more of them. At the same time, it is clear that the British are better peacekeepers, even though they too have tragically suffered fatalities, including six military police in one incident alone. This is partly the result of years of experience on the troubled streets of Belfast, but it is also a legacy of Empire, one that is shared by other Europeans. What today is called special operations and peacekeeping was in the days of the British Empire known as counter-insurgency and imperial policing. The British Army was designed for those very purposes and retains in its doctrine that legacy. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the five leading contributors to UN peacekeeping operations are all members of the Commonwealth.

At the same time, Europeans must finally get their war-fighting act together. The European Union's Helsinki Declaration of December 1999 called for a European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) by 2003 of 60,000 troops deployable in 60 days and sustainable for a year. It is a force that was to be capable of undertaking the full range of so-called "Petersberg Tasks", that is tasks ranging from rescue and humanitarian missions, through peacekeeping to that of combat troops in peacemaking. Not only is the European Union a long way from achieving the Headline Goal within Europe, it is even further from being able to despatch such a force anywhere beyond. The danger for Europeans is an increasing tendency of European leaders to pretend they have achieved targets when it is clearly not the case.

Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a case in point. France deserves praise for having put together an intervention force to help stabilise the situation in and around Bunia in the north east of the country. In the event, the force did help to stabilise the situation by the self-imposed 1 September deadline for withdrawal. However, it took great risks in so doing because of extended supply lines and dependence on a strip of mud that doubles for an airport. Had the force run into difficulties it would have damaged the European Union's military credibility. Moreover, if another massacre were to take place soon after the force's withdrawal — which remains a possibility — this would damage the European Union's political credibility.

The tragedy of Iraq has been the legacy of ill will and the increased tendency of too many to make political points at the expense of EU-NATO cooperation

The point here is that had the European Union and NATO worked together to plan and generate a force using the capabilities available at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE), the ability to protect and/or strengthen that force would have been greatly enhanced. Moreover, such an ability would also have enhanced the political credibility of the mission for the simple reason that when the European Union is working together with NATO much greater and more rapid access to far more coercive power is assured. In future, this will place a particular emphasis on harmonising the development of the ERRF with the NATO Response Force (NRF), not least because they will draw on the same forces, with the NRF representing a far more immediate response capability than the larger ERRF, which is in effect a robust follow-on force. The rush to demonstrate European capabilities in far-away and dangerous places without recourse to NATO assets could backfire.

It is therefore of concern that certain states still effectively block substantive discussions and meetings between EU and NATO officials, as though the two organisations are in competition with each other. The two institutions do, of course, go through the ritual of cooperation. The North Atlantic Council meets the Political and Security Committee, the NATO Military Committee meets the EU Military Committee and various meetings take place between the NATO Secretary General and the EU High Representative. Unfortunately, however, all too often these meetings appear to resemble summer diplomatic garden parties in which polite, small talk is exchanged while the weeds growing in the corner are ignored. There needs to be far more intensive interaction between officials of the two organisations on a day-to-day basis across the security spectrum.

Future relations

So how should the EU-NATO relationship develop? There are two key areas, operational planning and command and defence investment, that must form the backbone of future EU-NATO cooperation and which would build upon and re-energise December 2002's EU-NATO Declaration on ESDP.

Operation Concordia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* and the hand-over from NATO to the European Union was a logical reflection of the latter's role in the wider effort to bring stability to that country. International cooperation helped bring about the Framework Agreement and showed what can be achieved by consistent and determined application of all the instruments available to the Euro-Atlantic community. The key to success was political will and the effective coordination of EU and NATO political and military structures through complementarity of effort and a form of "command shadowing" throughout the command chain.

Supreme political control is exercised by the Council of the European Union through the European Union's Political and Security Committee, which remains in close consultation with the North Atlantic Council. The Deputy SACEUR has been designated Operational Commander with the EU Military Committee working closely with NATO's Military Committee and the EU Military Staff liaising closely with the Operational Headquarters, which comprises an "EU Command Element" embedded in SHAPE. This enables the EU Operational Commander to provide guidelines to the Force Commander. The dynamism inherent in this structure is vital because it affords both the European Union and NATO a planning and command focal point without undermining political autonomy. To that end, plans are in place for component commands to ensure the planning and operational effectiveness of larger EU operations, including a land component command, air component command and a maritime component command. This is surely correct.

Defence investment is at the core of the European defence dilemma. The aim here must be to ensure convergence between American network centrism and European muddy bootism. A focus on cost-effective and resource-efficient means to ensure that Americans and Europeans can work together in the field should help facilitate cooperation without affecting political autonomy, which is the balance the new NATO must strike. The events of the past few years have demonstrated that the transatlantic security relationship will be far more informal than it was during the Cold War, with the result that special emphasis will have to be placed on interoperability and cooperability. To that end, the work of the European Union's European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP) and the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC) must be progressively harmonised. Greater cohesion is still needed between the European Union and NATO to prevent the ECAP and the PCC evolving in such a way as to become competitors. The capabilities benchmarking, which is implicit to both, must be clearly linked. It would be a significant advance if EU and NATO officials working in this area met on a more structured basis with the representatives of the National Armaments Directors of EU and NATO nations in attendance.

The tragedy of Iraq has been the legacy of ill will and the increased tendency of too many to make political points at the expense of EU-NATO cooperation. The only people who gain from what US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns called the Alliance's "near-death experience" are the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. To those of the "NATO-is-dying" school, the question is straightforward: what is the alternative? To those of the "European-Union-has-no-role-in-security" school, the question is equally straightforward: how else can Europe develop its own distinct and complementary security culture? To those Americans who see no place for international institutions such as NATO in US security thinking: are you really more secure alone? It is time for Europeans to step forward and for Americans to reflect. Above all, it is time for both Americans and Europeans to reinvest in the EU-NATO relationship in a spirit of realism and transparency. In spite of recent events, EU-NATO relations will become a backbone of Euro-Atlantic and global security governance in the century ahead because of the world in which we live and because of the security goals we all continue to share. So it is time to get on with it. It is simply too dangerous out there.

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