Thousands of miles from the “capital of Europe,” NATO and E.U. forces work side by side to achieve common security objectives. Yet we rarely bridge the four miles between the two headquarters in Brussels, and as a result our efforts are far less effective than they can and should be.
In Afghanistan, NATO and the European Union share the same goal — enhancing the Afghan government’s capacity to provide stability, security and good governance for its people and eliminate the extremist threat. Off the coast of Somalia, NATO and E.U. ships plow the same seas — countering the pestilence of piracy. And in the Balkans, NATO and E.U. entities pursue the same aims — assisting a once war-torn region along the path of Euro-Atlantic and European integration.
Yet dialogue between NATO and E.U. political bodies is, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. Coordinating strategy — or discussing how decisions by one organization might affect the other — happens haphazardly, if at all.
Take just this year. National representatives to NATO and the European Union have engaged in formal, high-level strategic discourse exactly once, with Bosnia-Herzegovina as the only item on the agenda. Bosnia, to be sure, is important, but NATO and the European Union have a broader set of common concerns.
NATO’s Kosovo Force and the E.U.’s Rule of Law Mission, for example, both operate in Kosovo. NATO and the E.U. ought to be jointly designing a strategy for the transition of security responsibilities to the new Kosovo nation. Yet they are planning the next steps separately.
Consider, too, Afghanistan, which desperately needs police trainers to build a more capable, professional Afghan security force. Rather than coordinating training efforts, NATO and the European Union are both training police officers in duplicative ways.
Off the coast of Somalia, NATO and the E.U. operate two separate missions, with different chains of command. Policy decisions on countering piracy are made separately, and we leave it to our captains to overcome this dysfunction as they sail the high seas. This lack of joint strategic dialogue leaves NATO and E.U. personnel in the field to overcome on the ground what we should accomplish in Brussels.
The price of not engaging strategically is a costly duplication of effort, lack of coordination and a failure to achieve complementary approaches that employ NATO and E.U. tool kits to their greatest effect. This situation — which a former NATO secretary general once described as “almost a dereliction of duty” — creates inefficiencies that no one can afford, particularly in these austere times.
The opportunity to transform the relationship from one of tactical convenience to strategic partnership is greater than ever. With lives, budgets and security at stake, now is the time for action.
France has re-integrated into NATO’s military structure. The Lisbon Treaty offers the promise of a stronger, more internally cohesive E.U. And the Atlantic Alliance’s new Strategic Concept — to be adopted by NATO leaders in November — will recognize the role of NATO’s partnerships for strengthening the security and prosperity of all.
NATO and the E.U. should build on this groundswell. NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen has a solid plan to push past the political stalemate and enhance cooperation in operations, capabilities development and strategic consultations that will benefit all NATO and E.U. members. The United States strongly supports his approach.
We are interested in E.U. ideas as well. It’s vitally important that we succeed together; therefore, the impetus for closer cooperation should not come solely from NATO. The call for change must be met by an equally vocal siren at the E.U. — especially from the 21 countries that are members of both organizations.
NATO and E.U. capabilities need to be in synch, and their operations need to be complementary. We should regularly engage in a robust and transparent exchange of views on a wide range of shared interests. Policy should support work in the field; those in harm’s way shouldn’t have to work around our failures in Brussels.
Two willing and committed partners can resolve these dilemmas, and it’s our citizens who will benefit. After all, our populations face a diverse array of security challenges. If we can better harmonize our efforts abroad, we together can better enhance security at home.
In today’s globalized, complex and unpredictable security environment, no country — and neither organization — can afford to stand alone. It is in the interest of all NATO and E.U. members to break political logjams. Our personnel operating in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and the Gulf of Aden have already learned that lesson. It’s time to bring what they’ve learned to Brussels.
Ivo H. Daalder, the U.S. permanent representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.