Berlin, Germany

29 Jan. 2007

Eng. / Deu.

NATO and the EU: Time for a New Chapter

Keynote speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me particular pleasure to address you here today.  The development of the European Security and Defence Policy is one of the most important issues in the international security arena.  For that reason I welcome Foreign Minister Steinmeier's initiative to take up this topic in the form of a conference right at the start of Germany's presidency of the EU Council. 

One important aspect of the discussions about an ESDP is naturally the relationship between NATO and the European Union.  For relations between these two players are one of the foundations for our security in the 21st century.

How do NATO-EU relations stand?  Let me answer that by means of a little anecdote.  A few weeks ago, one of my staff told me he had been invited to a conference on "frozen conflicts".  And then he added with a smile: "Of course it's about the Caucasus, not about NATO-EU relations!".

It would undoubtedly be going too far to describe NATO-EU relations as a "frozen conflict".  At least the logic of a European Security and Defence Policy is not in dispute today.  The ESDP has meanwhile become an inseparable part of European integration.  And it is – as the Union's Constitutional Treaty already provides – compatible with the Alliance's common security and defence policy. Even the USA, after some initial hesitation, has acknowledged that this process is right and important – and that an ESDP must be seen as an opportunity, not a danger.  And no one today would still seriously assert that NATO and the EU are rivals whose aim is to drive each other out of business. Such discussions are now altogether obsolete if they ever existed in the past.

But when one looks at how diverse and complex the challenges to our security have become today, it is astounding how narrow the bandwidth of cooperation between NATO and the Union has remained.   Despite many attempts to bring the two institutions closer together, there is still a remarkable distance between them. 

Why are NATO-EU relations still so problematic?  Why do both institutions find it so hard to make the much-talked-about "strategic partnership" a reality?

My answer to these questions is clear and unambiguous.  NATO-EU relations have not really arrived in the 21st century yet.  They are still stuck in the '90s.

Let us remember:  the '90s marked the beginning of the ESDP.  Up to that time, European security had been organized exclusively within the framework of NATO.  The Western European Union had only limited practical significance.  But then the EU entered the stage with its own military ambitions.  And that meant that in future there would be another security organization in Europe besides NATO.  We therefore had first to find ways and means to ensure that NATO and the EU did not duplicate one another.  Or, to put it highly undiplomatically for once, that the EU and NATO did not put a spoke in one another's wheel.  That is not quite a recipe for a love match!

"Berlin Plus" was the right answer to that challenge.  That agreement gives the EU assured access to NATO capabilities – to both planning and military hardware.  In this way the right course was set early on: an intelligent division of labour, instead of superfluous duplication.  For that reason "Berlin Plus" was and remains a milestone in the development of our transatlantic community.

But today?  Today the defensive perspective, geared to avoiding duplication, is no longer enough.  The 21st-century security landscape demands a new quality in NATO-EU relations.  In the face of the challenges in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it can no longer be enough to define NATO-EU relations primarily as a problem of skilful demarcation.

Today we are dealing with something quite different.  It is a matter of binding both institutions together in such a way that the various instruments of both institutions can be used together and as effectively as possible.  Why?  Because it is becoming increasingly clear that the military and non-military dimensions of security must go hand in hand.  Because it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no security without development, and no development without security.  And because it is becoming increasingly clear that NATO and the EU have specific capabilities that can ultimately promote positive change in crisis regions but only by working together.

In the Balkans we have been able to see that for a long time.  Five years ago the common commitment of NATO and the EU prevented a civil war in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1.  The EU took on policing tasks, and NATO the military ones.  In Bosnia, on the other hand, the EU has in the meantime been ensuring "hard" security while NATO concentrates on training the Bosnian armed forces.  Dogmatism wasn't given a chance here.  Instead, pragmatism prevails.

Afghanistan is an even clearer example of this interdependency.  Our success there depends not on a military "victory" in the traditional sense.  It depends on whether we succeed in creating a secure environment for political and economic development.  NATO can create that environment, but cannot do more.  NATO does not have the civil means to drive reconstruction forward, and we also have no interest at all in acquiring such means.  It is the EU that has such means.  For that reason it can, together with other civil players, give decisive impetus to reconstruction.  In other words, the two institutions are dependent upon one another.

But then why does this new quality in relations not exist yet?  Why has the mutual dependency so far not been reflected in closer cooperation?

In my view there are two reasons for this situation. The first is the well-known differences of opinion that arise from the differing memberships of NATO and the EU.  This leads to formal wrangles over security agreements, the exchange of information or the format of meetings.  We have been able to circumvent many of these hurdles through informal procedures.  But if those who put up these hurdles do not display more responsibility and flexibility, it will continue to place a heavy burden on NATO-EU relations.

There is however a second reason for the current weakness of NATO-EU relations – and this reason seems to me to be even more important than the dispute over formalities.  Some deliberately want to keep NATO and the EU at a distance from one another.  For this school of thought, a closer relationship between NATO and the EU means excessive influence for the USA.  Perhaps they are afraid that the European Security and Defence Policy is still too new and too vulnerable for a partnership with NATO.  And time and again I hear the argument that the EU is a superior form of an institution compared to the purely intergovernmental NATO, for which reason the very idea of a genuine strategic partnership between the two is misguided.

To me, neither of these arguments holds water.  Of course NATO and the EU are not twins.  NATO is not an all-encompassing integration project.  Its members do not relinquish any sovereignty.  NATO does not integrate, it coordinates.  And it coordinates rather well – above all in a framework that includes the USA, without which security in our world is unthinkable.  This fact makes NATO a unique forum.  I do not share European instinctive fears about undue influence of the USA in European affairs anyhow.  Europe is sufficiently self-aware – and they know it in Washington too.

But how do we get out of this unsatisfactory status quo?  How do we bring NATO-EU relations out of the demarcation logic of the '90s and into the model of cooperation for the 21st century?

One thing is clear:  merely appealing to the understanding of all those involved will not solve the problem.  Anyone who has spent any time in NATO-EU affairs knows that.  Nor will it get us any further forward if we devise grandiose, ambitious visions of NATO-EU relations.  The most that will achieve is to frighten the sceptics, of whom there are unfortunately still far too many.  If we wish to make genuine, perceptible progress we must place the emphasis on small steps – on steps that are closely geared to the operational reality.  And there are a whole raft of those.  Allow me to conclude my remarks by mentioning a few instances in which we can implement a real strategic partnership between NATO and the EU.

First, Kosovo.  In Bosnia two years ago we achieved a smooth transition from NATO to the EU.  In Kosovo, NATO will remain militarily committed for some while yet.  But after the decision on the status issue, the EU will acquire a greater role there.  For that reason NATO and the EU should already be talking about how the parameters of their cooperation in the coming months should look.  The EU's policing tasks must be harmonized with NATO's military tasks.

Second, Afghanistan.  I have already mentioned the essentials on that subject.  Just to repeat my most important point:  we need a concerted approach by the international community.  And NATO and the EU must be central to that approach – and with a strategy closely harmonized between them.  A start has already been made:  at our meeting with ISAF troop contributors at the end of last week the EU was also prominently represented by both the Council and the Commission.  I hope we can continue along that path – and that we shall perhaps soon see a greater EU commitment in the training of police and judges in Afghanistan.

Third, military capabilities.  The discussions we are holding on this subject within the "Berlin Plus" framework have acquired a new dimension with the establishment of the European Defence Agency.  But we are still leaving it at mere exchange of information.  The danger of duplication and inadequate interoperability remains.  Here too, we are stuck in the '90s mould:  instead of cooperation, we are talking about "deconfliction".  We need a much more far reaching dialogue about the harmonization of our military transformation, not least with a view to the training and certification of the NATO Response Force and the EU Battle Groups.

And finally: comprehensive dialogue.  Since I took office three years ago I have advocated a culture of frank and open dialogue in NATO – strategic discussion in the broadest sense, without fear of controversy.  There must also be a culture of frank and open dialogue between NATO and the EU.  We need an exchange of ideas on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – Iran and North Korea give us plenty to talk about.  We must also talk about energy security, and about defence against terrorism – because both institutions could take on different but complementary tasks in these areas.

And we also need a dialogue about the enlargement processes of both institutions.  These processes were never completely parallel, but they reinforced one another in their positive effects.  That must continue to be the case in the future.  And I am also convinced that the EU's Neighbourhood Policy and NATO's Partnership policy could complement one another excellently if we had a regular exchange on these issues.  Once again, it is not a matter of keeping the two institutions in lockstep, but one of sensible harmonization between two important players.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Strategic partnership between NATO and the EU has never been more important than it is today.  The challenges of our times demand a comprehensive approach to security, in which military and civil means are employed together and in a coordinated way.  There is no stronger civil player than the European Union.  And there is no stronger military alliance than NATO.  There is therefore in my view only one conclusion – we must finally get serious with the strategic partnership!  I know that that is the aim of the German Presidency of the Council.  And I shall do everything I can to support it in that aim.  Thank you.

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