In the 20th century, a partnership between the European Union and NATO emerged as the two main political, economic and military-political structures of the Western world in the field of international regional crisis management. It is becoming more and more real and, perhaps, the dominant factor in resolving conflict situations and strengthening stability in the world as a whole. It is necessary to analyze the nature of achieving such cooperation, as well as the goals pursued by the alliance.
The process of developing military-political cooperation in this area between the structure of the European Union. The so-called European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and NATO was from the very beginning instituted outside the traditions of the Cold War and in a format excluding participation in any confrontational situations along the East-West line (Sultănescu et al., 2019). ESDP doctrinally does not cover the security and defense issues of the European member states of the Union, leaving these issues purely within the competence and prerogatives of NATO.
In assessing the nature of the partnership between the two organizations in crisis management, one should proceed from the specifics of their tasks and the real political and military-technical potential, budgetary possibilities and doctrinal interests of each of them. The growing process of cooperation in the settlement of crises and conflicts was not aimed at “duplication”. Holding actions in an open format of the two organizations, and even more so did not indicate plans to merge their activities into a single one (Sultănescu et al., 2019). An obvious divide remained between the external functions of the EU in the ESDP format and external functions of NATO’s military structure (Lindström & Tardy, 2019). The crisis programs of the ESDP continue to be focused on the tasks of external peacekeeping and the provision of financial and economic assistance to resolve crises in the spirit of the “philanthropic” goals of universal stability (Smith & Timmins, 2018). At the same time, NATO retained as its main goals ensuring, first of all, the security of the Alliance member countries, the vast majority of who are also members of the EU.
As is known, the European Union, within the framework of the ESDP, is currently carrying out 13 military and civilian missions in four regions of the world, two of which are in the post-Soviet space: one on the border of Georgia and Abkhazia, the other in Moldova. The results of EU peacekeeping activities today are ambiguous and contradictory, which is largely due to the imperfection of the “pan-European” security mechanisms, the lack of a coherent policy for financing peacekeeping operations and the weakness of the EU’s military-technical resource (Lindström & Tardy, 2019). Obviously, a significant part of the operations carried out within the framework of the ESDP could be implemented with the support of NATO, which, as a rule, was not of a direct nature and was carried out through the structure of NATO’s long-standing partner, the Western European Union (WEU), before its gradual merger with the EU (Dokos, 2020). A significant step in the creation of a common foreign policy and defense was the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. It was seen as a real legal basis for the “legitimate” formation of a common defense policy of the European Union.
This formation took place, in a certain sense, based on the WEU. It should be taken into account that at the initial stage of the implementation of the ESDP, the WEU played, in fact, a dominant role, as a rule, while demonstrating its own “European identity” in the field of defense and security and somewhat distancing itself from NATO. Through the WEU, such “non-NATO” structures as the “Petersberg missions” were created to participate in the crisis settlement. In the interests of a “united Europe”, the WEU developed, together with NATO, a number of concepts: the project of a multinational operational force (1993) and the project of a “European identity” in the field of defense and security (1996), providing for the possibility of conducting peacekeeping and humanitarian operations under the “patronage » WEU in various crisis situations. The red line in these documents was the idea that we are talking about possible “autonomy” in military matters and in conducting crisis management actions. It, however, cannot be considered as competitive with respect to NATO and, moreover, as an alternative to NATO operations.
The Balkan crisis has demonstrated that the European potential without the support of the United States and NATO is clearly insufficient to resolve a serious conflict situation. NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo also created a general impression that Europe and its ESDP, which has not become a “collective body of self-defense”, are not ready to respond to new crisis challenges and threats without the participation of the United States. Thus, the EU, with its programs in the field of crisis management, continues to largely depend on NATO support. Although it emphasizes the determination to further strengthen the independent, parallel to NATO actions, the nature of crisis management operations and the restoration of stability in conflict areas.
In recent years, concrete steps have been taken to formulate the political and strategic principles of the EU’s interaction with NATO. In 2007, a special conference on the prospects for the development of the ESDP was dedicated to this. In essence, the EU’s crisis management programs played a supporting role and often resembled a scenario in which the EU starts one or another operation, and then the NATO potential is directly involved in the operation. And it was precisely this scenario that was realized to one degree or another during the conduct of 11 military and 4 civilian EU missions in various regions of the world – in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Althea mission) and Kosovo. The plan to create by 2003 the EU’s own large response force of up to 60,000 people could not be put into practice. The so-called “Helsinki Forces Catalog”, in which the EU countries were supposed to include their reserve units and weapons, ready in the event of a crisis to go “to collective use” for EU operations, in fact turned out to be a paper list of “impossible promises”. Many of the forces and units assigned there were not interoperable with each other and were not supported by the possibility of transport transfer to places of potential joint use. The small (up to 1,500 people) tactical “battle groups” of the EU, which were then created instead of large unified rapid reaction forces, have not yet confirmed their effectiveness (three such groups are relatively formed at the moment).
On the whole, the experience of a joint crisis settlement between the EU and the African Union in Darfur also turned out to be not entirely successful. Given the emerging realities, the EU has made efforts to build more effective bridges of cooperation with NATO and the US. The United States, in turn, from the very beginning did not hide its wariness regarding the formation of the European Defense Initiative (EDI), sought close coordination of the actions of the EU (WEU) with NATO, while maintaining the leading role of the Alliance on the entire range of cooperation issues. In turn, the European Union as a whole managed to provide political and logistical support from the United States and NATO in its anti-crisis activity. In 2002 it allowed the European allies and NATO members to conclude a number of so-called Berlin Plus agreements, which provide for a mechanism for the European Union to use the need for NATO’s military infrastructure.
The package of agreements, which includes four basic elements, assumes:
- Free EU access to the NATO operational planning system for conducting crisis management operations within the framework of the ESDP.
- The use of the NATO European Command System, including D-SACEUR, in the conduct of EU operations (Patel & Kaiser, 2019).
- Ensuring the availability of NATO potential for conducting EU operations with the involvement of the NATO defense planning system.
- Reaching agreements that the EU will conduct its operations as an independent organization in specific crisis points only if NATO is not involved in these crisis points.
This gives the European Union the right to position its missions autonomously from NATO. In addition, a headquarters element of the European Union itself has been formed in the structure of NATO’s main command to plan “European” operations, and the command structures of the ESDP are “delegated” to the permanent representation of NATO. At the same time, it is obvious that in modern conditions, when NATO forces are tightly bogged down in operations in Afghanistan, and US troops in Iraq. At the same time the UN is unable to cope with the current set of conflict situations on its own, there is an objective need for European post-conflict stabilization tools and integrated civilian crisis management resources.
The processes of “rapprochement” of the two transatlantic structures, however, do not remove the remaining disagreements between them. In any case, one can hardly say that these organizations effectively complement each other, as planned in the Berlin Plus agreements. Although a number of examples of cooperation between the EU and NATO in the Balkans (Operations Proxima, Concordia and Altea) generally confirm the successful implementation of the Berlin Plus agreements, the issue of close or, moreover, large-scale cooperation between the two structures is still remains open.
The picture of “partnership” is somewhat spoiled by the global ambitions of the two transatlantic groups, which are actively working on their image and demonstrating their own role in resolving crisis situations. This was also reflected in the fact that the EU and NATO began to develop, to a large extent, similar projects as future basic structures for conducting anti-crisis operations (Morgan & Péczeli, 2021). This refers to the projects for the creation of the European Rapid Reaction Force and the EU “battle groups”, multinational tactical groups (ITGs), and the parallel creation between 2004 and 2007 NATO Rapid Response Force.
All this only confirms that the relationship between the Alliance and the European Union – the main players in the transatlantic area – is both a certain competitive and complementary partnership. Being incapable of conducting a large-scale operation without relying on NATO’s potential structures, the European Union is trying to pursue a line that implies the “liberation” of NATO from certain functions in the field of crisis management (Ewers-Peters, 2021). The completion of NATO missions in Bosnia and the transfer of further “pacification” efforts to the European Union made it possible to free up NATO military-technical resources and concentrate on operations in Afghanistan.
A separate topic is the question of the EU’s interaction not only with NATO, but also with other international organizations, primarily the UN, the African Union, and with states – Russia and other powers. The contribution of the EU to UN peacekeeping is universally recognized (including in the circles of the UN itself) as a positive factor in crisis management, although the prospect of expanding the EU’s participation in anti-crisis situations has not been sufficiently developed (Ewers-Peters, 2021). The question of whether or not it is mandatory to obtain a UN mandate when conducting ESDP operations remains unresolved.
Thus, EU missions in the field of crisis management remain limited in scope, and in the absence of a common military budget, a unified policy for attracting military resources. The use of armed forces does not allow them to be considered as a decisive factor in modern post-conflict settlement. The problems associated with the imperfection of the overall command and control do not allow to implement any of the major operations without the support of NATO. The anti-crisis potential of the EU during the formation of the ESDP since 2001 has increased markedly (Odematt & Wessel, 2019). This does not give grounds to regard the joint peacekeeping activities of the EU member states as a “decisive” international factor in resolving crises and preventing international conflicts.
The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty appears to open up new possibilities in this respect. The appearance in the structure of the EU of the institutions of the presidency and, in fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will apparently put on the agenda the emergence of the post of EU defense minister, the creation of a corresponding military department (Morgan & Péczeli, 2021). In this case, a common military budget, a single command of the European corps must be analyzed. Also, it is connected with a clear definition of the “niche” in international processes that is associated with the settlement of international and local crises, the prevention of conflict situations in various regions of the world (Kinnivall et al., 2020). Obviously, the relevance of the issue of crisis cooperation with NATO will manifest itself in a new way, since the Alliance, as you know, also pursues the goal of expanding activity in the global dimension and establishing partnerships with various international structures and states.
Also, a clearer distribution of responsibilities between NATO and the European Union, which is already acting almost on an equal footing with the Alliance in matters of international security, is essential. A significant shortcoming of the ESDP is the weak interaction with some other states, and in matters of crisis management, in particular (Ostermann, 2018). The consultative mechanism on topical international problems has not yet led to noticeable practical interaction between the parties in the sphere of real participation in the crisis settlement (Baciu & Doyle, 2019). However, the development of a dialogue between the EU and Asia on the formats and prospects for crisis response seems timely and necessary in terms of maintaining influence in conflict regions on the periphery of the post-Soviet space.
Baciu, C. A. and Doyle, J. (Eds.). (2019). Peace, security and defense cooperation in post-brexit Europe. Risks and opportunities. New York: Springer International Publishing.
Dokos, T. P. (2020). Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. NATO and EU options in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis.
Ewers-Peters, N. M. (2021). Understanding EU-NATO cooperation. How member-states matter. Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis.
Kinnivall, C., Manners, I. and Mitzen, J. (Eds.). (2020). Ontological insecurity in the European Union. Oxfordshire: Routledge.
Lindström. G. and Tardy, T. (Eds.). (2019). The EU and NATO. The essential partners. Paris: European Union for security studies.
Morgan, A. and Péczeli, A. (Eds.). (2021). Europe’s evolving deterrence discourse. Lawrence Livermore: Livermore National Laboratory.
Odematt, J. and Wessel, R. A. (Eds.). (2019). Research handbook on the European Union and international organizations. Cheltenham and Camberley: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Ostermann, F. (2018). Security, defense discourse and identity in NATO and Europe. Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis.
Patel, K. K. and Kaiser, W. (Eds.). (2019). Multiple connections in European cooperation. Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis.
Smith, M. A. and Timmins, G. (2018). Building a bigger Europe. EU and NATO enlargement in comparative perspective. Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis.
Sultănescu, D. (Ed.). (2019). Challenges in strategic communication and fighting propaganda in Eastern Europe. Amsterdam: IOS Press.