Seizing the opportunity for better NATO/EU relations

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union are in desperate need of re-evaluating their relationship.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Afghanistan, where NATO and the EU are currently engaged in an elaborate but absurd dance. Within the framework of a more comprehensive approach towards Afghanistan, the EU offered to take the lead on police training and reform, while NATO maintains its efforts towards the Afghan Army. An EU Police mission (EUPOL AFGHANISTAN) has been in Afghanistan since June 2007, but NATO has been blocked by Turkey from providing security to the EU police training forces. As a result, the German-led EU mission has had to painstakingly negotiate bilateral security provisions with every Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) on the ground. Sharing intelligence is also more difficult because there is no across-the-board agreement as a result of the Turkish veto.

Turkey has so far been blocking the Alliance from providing assistance because Ankara believes that all NATO-EU cooperative endeavours should be governed by the NATO-EU Framework under Berlin Plus. The framework, however, excludes Cyprus as it is neither part of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, nor has it signed a security agreement with NATO. This in practice blocks the entire process, with the EU refusing to engage in such a framework if all its Member States are not involved on an equal footing. Over the last few years, the EU has moved way beyond the original governing principles of the NATO/EU relationship, which led to Berlin Plus arrangement back in 2003. Indeed, those pushing for a reinforced European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) are determined to have a more autonomous defence capability, and would rather go through National Headquarters or develop a new facility in Brussels for planning its ESDP missions, rather than calling on such NATO assets within Shape at Mons.

Now redundant and unlikely to be used again in its current form, Berlin Plus is therefore an outdated agreement in need of review. While changing perspectives in France under the leadership of President Nicolas Sarkozy have shown encouraging signs of a NATO/EU rapprochement, not enough is being done for the moment to address the Cyprus/Turkey issue. Now that there is a real prospect of a political solution in Nicosia between North and South, perhaps European diplomats are counting on the Cyprus issue simply deflating itself. This won’t solve all the issues however and one has to engage with Turkey regarding NATO/ESDP relations more widely sooner rather than later.

The Berlin Plus agreements have been used successfully in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) where under the EUFOR Althea Mission EU peacekeeping forces took over from NATO’s SFOR operation. At the time, Cyprus was not yet an EU member state and the EU’s defence policy was considerably less ambitious. The EU and NATO need now address their relationship post haste, and the EU must also start taking into account the fact that the development of ESDP has left Turkey out in the cold. Turkey is worse off today than it was in the days of the Western European Union, where Turkey had achieved Associate Member status within the WEU and was practically a member in all but name. Furthermore, there has been no implementation of the Nice 2002 Council Provisions to increase cooperation with partners and the areas for further development have not moved forward either.  The provisions would, among other things, include non-EU, NATO allies in consultation on planning and operations.

If these two organisations are going to make real contributions to global security, the relationship cannot be this dysfunctional. While NATO has consistently made overtures to the EU, the same cannot be said of the EU. Talks with Turkey to address the Berlin Plus issue are urgently required, and a better framework for cooperation between EU and NATO civil-military assets during operations would be particularly useful. In order to do so, the EU and NATO must establish a workable framework agreement that enables non-EU NATO allies and non-NATO EU members to contribute to planning and operations. Once political barriers imposed by national governments have been dropped, a further challenge will be to transform the often antagonistically-laced working cultures of these two institutions.

With countries such as Denmark, France, Sweden and Finland all currently indicating that they might soon reappraise their positioning within either NATO or the European Union, the time is perhaps ripe for Europeans to explore a ‘Dual Membership’ agreement within European Security Architectures or consider ‘Europeanising Shape’ by bringing EU and NATO planning officers together. For the sake of improved ESDP/ NATO relations, better civil-military operational coordination, but also as a driving force for better European defence capabilities as a whole, European countries which are members of NATO and/or the EU should be given access to NAC and PSC meetings, but also be given the opportunity to contribute early on in the operational planning process of European missions.

Alastair Cameron
Head, European Security Programme

The passage above is taken from a joint study of the Transatlantic and European Security Programmes at RUSI entitled 'NATO's Strategic and Operational Challenges'. This paper is available for download using the following link.





 The views expressed above are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.





Alastair Cameron

Associate Fellow

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