Comment

The EU and NATO better together

Andrew Duff / May 2024

Photo: Shutterstock

 

The escalating challenge of the war in Ukraine poses important questions about the way Europe organises its own defence. For decades we have stumbled on in a bifurcated way with a NATO tasked with self-defence plus nuclear deterrence and a European Union struggling to articulate its own common foreign, security and defence policies. The two organisations, sharing common values, with over-lapping but not identical membership, sat in different communes of Brussels with their backs turned.

Both France and Britain, for their different ideological reasons, resisted the coming together of NATO and the EU. Although there is increasing technical cooperation between NATO and EU officials, there has never been a coherent joint strategy at a political level. Within a few months of each other in 2022, the EU produced a Strategic Compass on Security and Defence while NATO published its own Strategic Concept. (Both documents laboured the point about their mutual relationship.) The debate about enlargement of the two organisations has proceeded in an uncoordinated way, much to the frustration of the numerous candidate states. Against a background of disunity among their respective member states, both have struggled to arm Ukraine quickly and effectively.

As the Ukraine crisis grows, it becomes obvious that the West lacks a single credible source of strategic decision making. Left to their own devices, neither NATO nor the EU nor G7 are competent to take a grip on the deteriorating situation. What can be done?

At least Brexit has removed the British veto on developing the security and defence dimension of the Union. President Macron has succeeded in reversing France’s historic antipathy towards NATO and has also invented the European Political Community (EPC) to foster political dialogue and strengthen the security and stability of the continent. Yet the EPC is at once geographically significant and strategically incoherent, with an unstructured agenda. Its more than 45 invitees include several Kremlin leaning governments. And in excluding Canada and the US, the EPC conference undermines the transatlantic axis which remains so vital to Europe’s security.

The Treaty of Lisbon addressed this basically unstable situation by opening up the possibility of “permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework” (PESCO). While acknowledging the collective role of NATO, a core group of military capable, politically willing and financially endowed member states is enabled to act on behalf of the EU. Now that Finland and Sweden have joined NATO, there remain only four small EU countries that remain quixotically ‘neutral’.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has published ambitious plans to fire up a defence industrial strategy that aims to “invest more, better, together, and European”. Macron urges a paradigm shift towards common defence. Until Putin is thwarted, the defence imperative should be allowed to drive European integration — just as it did when the West had to face up to Stalin. Ukraine’s democratic future can only be assuredly guaranteed by an EU that is fast developing its security and defence dimension. Kyiv should at once be given full membership of PESCO (it has no need to prove its capacity to fight) — paving the way for its eventual full membership of the Atlantic Alliance.

I have argued recently that Ukraine’s interests will best be served if an end is put to the institutional dislocation between the EU and NATO. Drawing the two bodies together will produce synergy, revitalising both. To drive this process a new joint command is called for, combining the military capability of NATO and the financial and diplomatic heft of the EU. A permanent organic link can be built between the two bodies, perhaps co-chaired by an EU Commissioner in charge of a defence portfolio and the Deputy Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR).

Such an EU-NATO command centre would end the fragmentation of European defence by insisting on interoperability and accelerated arms procurement. The joint executive would drive the Europeanisation of defence by raising large, long-term funding for rearmament via the issuance of a genuinely federal eurobond, backed by the EU budget. It would serve to stabilise longer term strategic planning, synchronise enlargement policies, and provide a vital functional linkage between the EU, the UK and the US. A decent British government could even champion this reform.

The new executive body would respect the autonomy of both NATO and the EU when it came to the implementation of decisions. Such a pragmatic match of convenience can be done, at least initially, without EU treaty change. Although all member states would need to agree to back the political initiative, not all would be needed or expected to participate directly. Only the states of the integrated core would mobilise troops to aid Ukraine in combined operations.

The European Council on 27-28 June followed by NATO’s 75th anniversary summit on 9-11 July should set this process in train. It would be wise to have something concrete in place before the US presidential elections in November.

 

Andrew Duff

Andrew Duff

May 2024

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