Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Dr Christoph O Meyer


  0.  This submission discusses briefly discussed the relationship between the EU and NATO and associated problems. My approach to the relationship relies rests on three main arguments that can only be stated briefly here.

  1.  It does not make sense to discuss the relationship between NATO and the European Security and Defence policy, but what is at stake is the relationship between the European Union and NATO, ie both organisations per-se. ESDP cannot be understood in isolation from the organisation it emanates from, the broader common foreign and securty policy it is a part of (CFSP) and the EU's other external policies such as trade, aid, development, asylum, migration and policing, accession and membership policies.

  2.  The debate about the relationship between NATO and the EU regarding security issues cannot be understood from nor should it be evaluated primarily by considerations of efficiency. The trajectory of national defence and security policies is influenced first and foremost by political factors and dynamics and is constrained as well as facilitated by deep-seated but not immutable norms about the ends and means concerning the use of force and role of a nation in international affairs. If electorates decide that the two organisations pursue different aims by different means, then "duplication" of, for instance planning and command facilities, is perfectly justifiable if more costly.

  3.  The primary source of friction between the EU and NATO are not the organisations per se, but members of both organisations who for their own geopolitical or historical reasons have divergent attitudes vis-a-vis how to co-operate with the US and in particular, to what extent the EU is entitled to different and even conflicting views and approach to security challenges than the US. The second source of friction originates from members who are part of one organisation and not the other (non-EU NATO members) and who fear that the evolution of the EU as a security actor will diminish their influence on key security issues and the value of the alliance they are part of.


  4.  NATO and the EU are very different organisations, with different purposes and different memberships. They are overlapping with regard to missions that could be broadly defined as crisis management with clear authorisation of the UN. These are now the most frequent and likely missions that European states are engaging in and both organisations seek to play role in these areas. These missions also tend to be "missions of choice" and raise complex issues about the ends and means of each mission, including questions of costs and legitimacy concerning the use of force.

  5.  NATO has substantially expanded its membership, established the NRF and "gone global". NATO has only launched one mission since the Prague Summit—Aghanistan—which is still ongoing and in serious difficulties. NATO is no longer just the collective defence organisation that it once was after the demise of the Soviet Union, but neither is it clear what it is now. US wants to turn it into an instrument in its global foreign and security strategies, but prefers after the Kosovo experience to resort to coalitions of the willing when it comes to high-intensity war-fighting. There are divergent views among EU members of NATO about the purpose and direction of the organisation. NATO's internal decision-making structures are not designed for generating the political will that is necessary to underpin crisis management situations and new wars of choice. Moreover, NATO lacks the multi-facetted civilial tools that contemporary peace and nation-building requires. It is unlikely to ever develop them and will depend on the EU and individual states, most notably the US, to provide them. Nor is it well equipped to deal with new sources of insecurity arising from economic, environmental and demographic factors.

  6.  The EU has expanded from 15-27, established the ERRF and formulated its first ever security strategy with global reach but regional emphasis. The EU has launched 16 ESDP missions since its inception, the overwhelming majority of them policing and monitoring missions, but also one, which involved small-scale but robust combat (ARTEMIS). The EU is a regional political organisation with a wide policy-scope, both in internal economic policy, but also increasingly in the domain of foreign policy. The EU has many of the characteristics, some of the institutions and procedures and virtually all of the instruments of a globally influential foreign policy actor. The EU is big enough not to take the work as given, whereas its individual member states are not. ESDP is the manifestation of the political will to underpin this policy also in the domain of hard security even if the main emphasis of its security policies is on conflict prevention. The EU currently lacks the military and political capapity for high-intensive and large-scale combat missions. The EU (or rather its member states) will depend on the US support for such missions for the foreseeable future, within or outside the NATO framework.

  7.  Problems of overlap and friction between both organisations have emerged as the EU moves into the hard-security crisis management realm and establishes institutions, committees, procedures and forces underpinning this autonomous security and defence policy. Attempts to ensure institutional synergies and close co-operation between organisations have been much less successful than those relating to co-operation among militaries and in the area of defence procurement.

  8.  The underlying conflict is, however, essentially political and concerns the rebalancing of the relationship between the United States and Europe after the end of bi-polarity and their respective roles in a gradual emergening multi-polar world order. NATO was originally designed to ensure the US engagement in Europe and it worked because of a shared threat and a set of shared ideas about NATO's contribution to "the West's vision of the world". However, the common threat has gone and the ideational glue is evaporating gradually ever since. The Bush administration's approach to international affairs in general and its European partners in particular, has only brought to the fore the insight that a common political and economic system, a shared history and a high degree of economic interdependence are not in themselves sufficient to ensure a convergence of foreign policy objectives. On the contrary, it is fair to say that in recent years a number of factors—economic, demographic, and cultural—point to a divergence of norms and values underpinning American and European views of international issues. "The West" has become a contested concept. Given these seismic changes, NATO is badly equipped to act as a political forum for exchanges between the US and EU states about these different views and re-establishing a shared meaning and purpose of "the West".


  9.  NATO is in crisis as an organisation and its fate may well be decided in how it handles Afghanistan—at least from the perspective of the US. The EU has settled some of the institutional uncertainties with the Lisbon Treaty and equipped itself with institutions and procedures that are—for good or for worse—unlikely to change for the next ten years or so. While CFSP common actions and ESDP missions are still subject unanimity, the trajectory of the EU as a whole is relatively clear and the momentum for a more capable, coherent and effective foreign policy, including on security issues, is strong. It would be in my view futile to think that the EU's aspirations to become comprehensive security actor can be somehow reigned in again, made subject to US/NATO prior approval or limited in their scope to only civilian missions. The genuinely open questions are in in view the following:

  10.  The division of labour between the two organisations with regard to missions that require high-intensity combat. My view is that the EU should be realistic in the types of combat missions it can engage in for the foreseeable future and will have to rely NATO and/or the US for Serbia/Kosovo-type operations. The battlegroups are likely to be effective only vis-a-vis adversaries in Africa. Yet, high-intensity and large-scale operations against non-African adversaries are likely to be quite rare if not impossible and NATO is well equipped to deal with them. The EU in contrast is quite cabable of successfully supplying the military component for smaller-scale UN-sanctioned operations and smaller European crises—especially once it fully exploits its different means of addressing the problems of inefficient national defence and procurement policies. The wider and more detailed implications for military planning and procurement are better addressed by other witnesses.

  11.  The co-operation between NATO and EU on missions that require a mix of military and civilian elements. The Afghanistan mission has been already compromised by an overreliance on military means and an insufficient emphasis on "winning hearts and minds" through a careful mixture of military, police, economic, educational and developmental instruments. Instead of seeking to equip NATO with civilian instruments that it is ill-equipped to wield (Berlin-Plus in reverse), drastic changes need to be made to the political context of mission planning between EU and US so that military and civilian aspects are considered in an integrated fashion. This would also require spending equal attention to civilian as well military headline goals. What would be needed first is a new consensus between EU and the US on these missions, the adjustment of procedures/chains of commant between NATO and EU could follow from that, including for instance, putting a Civilian into overall comand of such missions. The working group on Human Security has made some important recommendations in this area.

  12.  Finally, the political framework for dialogue and co-operation between the EU and the US on security and defence issues needs a root-and-branch reform. It is true that NATO has been increasingly bypassed and hollowed-out as the forum for such a dialogue, even on security and defence matters. Instead, a new political structure needs to be found to ensure a more institutionalised and comprehensive dialogue between the EU, the US and other interested third-countries across a range of issues, including but not exclusively on security matters. Once such a structure has been established, NATO can be re-focused to provide any newly emerging consenus with the means to put it into practice.

  I am happy to elaborate on any of these points if the committee feels the need to do so.

King's College, London

3 December 2007

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