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Strengthening the NATO-EU Strategic Partnership

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

—Robert Schuman

If you know nothing else about European politics, you’re likely at least familiar the existence of the European Union (EU): a unique regional economic and political union between twenty-eight states. Essentially, the EU was created in the aftermath of World War II, when countries in Europe decided to integrate the coal and steel markets to ensure no country in the region could mobilize in preparation for war without being unnoticed. Unlike other international institutions in the world, European countries created a supranational institution that began solely as an economic union, eventually causing a spillover to other policy areas including migration, health, education, human rights, etc. However, the EU countries have not been cooperating on military defense. How come an integrated institution like the EU hasn’t established a military ?

The idea behind creating a European army is not a new one. Winston Churchill envisioned a European army that is subjected to “proper European democratic control” after the war. However, his proposition for a European Defense Community was rejected by the French Parliament during initial stages of European Economic Community (EEC) creation. The issue of establishing a European military has always been an point of contention for the United Kingdom, stemming from a general opposition to other forms of policy integration through the EU. Another problem with creating a whole new integrated military through the EU is the policy of neutrality held by six of the twenty-eight member states. With the unanimous vote requirement on all common foreign and security defense policies in the EU, Austria, Ireland, Malta, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden would most likely block any proposal that violates their neutrality. Countries that have a neutrality status are committed to staying neutral towards an entity in all future wars.

However, recently the discussion of strengthening defense and security capabilities is back on the table. With ongoing challenges facing the European Union— including the migrant crisis, Brexit, the rise of right-wing populism—the purpose and existence of the Union is being questioned. Many doubt the ability of the Union to defend and protect its borders because of the weakness of European security community. Not to mention the unease following President Trump’s address to NATO member-countries, where he criticized financial commitments of other member states to the organization. To understand how the EU has been defending itself until now and necessary changes, we first have to understand the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) of the EU.

While European countries have not created their own military defense strategies through the Union, the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance that shares twenty-two member states with the EU. Cooperation between two organizations has been evolving since the 1990s. With the lifting of the Iron Curtain, changing international world order inspired both organizations to reinvent the transatlantic alliance in the post-Cold War era. An institutionalized relationship between NATO and EU was launched in 2001 and led to the signing of “NATO-EU Declaration on a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP)” in 2002. The declaration outlined shared strategic interests of both organizations, and in addition reaffirmed the EU access to NATO’s planning capabilities for its own military operations.

In December 2002, political discussions from the previous year established the “Berlin Plus arrangement” between EU and NATO. An institutional framework that allows EU access to NATO’s “collective assets and capabilities for EU-led operations.” Under such arrangement, the EU can access NATO assets like: planning capabilities for actual military planning, access to communication channels, and access to NATO’s headquarters for EU-led crisis management operations.

However, there are certain limitations to the “Berlin Plus arrangement.” Since the Union doesn’t have a security commander in place, NATO’s Deputy SACEUR (Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe) becomes the operation commander for all EU-led operations. Which means NATO has the authority to recall its assets used by the EU at any time, thus limiting the Union’s autonomy. To put it simply, the arrangement avoids the duplication of military budgets for 22 countries that are a part of both organizations and allows the Union to conduct EU-led operations in which NATO as a whole is not involved in.

One cannot forget that to even implement common defense strategies, an organization like NATO must have an operational budget. There have been challenges associated with disproportionate budgetary commitments to NATO. Organizational budget is based on the principle of common funding and has two components to it: direct and indirect funding. Direct funding contributions is the financial requirement based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of each country; it is suggested that countries contribute 2% of their annual GDP to NATO. As of 2017, only five EU member-states —Greece, Estonia, UK, Romania, and Poland—fulfill their contribution requirement to NATO. Compare these unfulfilled goals with United States contribution of 3.58 percent to the direct budget. Indirect funding, on the other hand, is the national voluntary contributions, in the form of equipment or troops for example, to a military operation. More countries fulfil this part of an agreement; a full list of participating countries can be found here.

Although the NATO-EU partnership has its autonomy limitations, and budgetary requirements are challenging, security and defense cooperation between NATO and the EU is not a luxury, but a necessity. In 2016, the EU Foreign and Defense ministers created a report “European Union Global Strategy” that outlined a new more secured (CSDP) of the EU. It calls for strengthening the EU’s security community from within, while continuing to strengthen contributions to NATO. Synchronization, mutual adaptation strategies, and greater responsibility through the EU are essential to protect European interests, considering United States’ uncertainty on its budgetary contributions to NATO going forward.

So, what would an ideal strengthened partnership between EU and NATO look like? It would be the one that embraces their capabilities in a way to address ongoing security challenges of the 21st century. The threats that the international community is facing are constantly evolving to be more adaptive, challenging, and effective. Adversities —whether it’s terrorists or human traffickers—have developed creative uses of “full-spectrum” of warfare. These tactics have been coined as “hybrid warfare” which simply means that all regular and irregular tactics are used in pursuit of achieving objectives of a group or an individual.

To effectively address such threats, both organizations must embrace the capabilities they have. If the EU is hoping to provide greater security for all Europeans going forward, then the Union must increase its “soft power” capabilities. With the power of persuasion and diplomacy, EU’s goals should be increasing information sharing and cooperation over issues like counter-terrorism, cyber security, and energy security. Transparency and communication are essential for EU’s diplomatic strategies.

In turn, greater commitment to NATO’s purposes through 2 percent commitment goals by states in the Union will not only reinforce EU’s promise to collective military defense, but will also strengthen “hard power” influence of NATO. The combination and cooperation of EU and NATO capabilities is the kind of force that can better respond to evolving security threats. Trying to address hybrid security challenges unilaterally in an interdependent world is like trying to reinvent the wheel. Capabilities, diplomatic relations, shared goals and strategies are there, however just like the evolving threats, the capabilities have to evolve as well.

Works Cited

Allen, T. S. "The Paradox of a European Army: A Force That Won't Fight." The National Interest, 11 Oct. 2016,

Bremmer, Ian. "The Only 5 Countries That Meet NATO's Defense Spending Requirements." Time, 24 Feb. 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

"Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2010-2017)." NATO, 29 June 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Drozdiak, William. "The Brussels Wall: Tearing down the EU-NATO Barrier." Foreign Affairs, May-June 2010, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

European Union Global Strategy, compiler. Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. June 2016, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

"Funding NATO." NATO, 2 June 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Gramer, Robbie. "Trump Discovers Article 5 after Disastrous NATO Visit." Foreign Policy, 9 June 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Himmrich, Julia, and Denitsa Raynova. "EU-NATO Cooperation: Protecting the Institutional Relationship from Political Storms." European Leadership Network, 21 June 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

The NATO-EU Strategic Partnership. NATO, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Rankin, Jennifer. "EU to Outline Plan to Use Funds for Defense for First Time." The Guardian, 6 June 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

"Relations with the European Union." NATO, 23 June 2017, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Van Puyvelde, Damien. "Hybrid War – Does It Even Exist?" NATO Review Magazine,

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