Center for Strategic Decision Research


NATO-EU Cooperation—A Win-Win Situation

Lieutenant General Jean-Paul Perruche
Director General,
European Union Military Staff


I would like to begin by drawing a broad outline of the current state of NATO-EU relations. NATO and the EU are two different types of entities. NATO is an organization for the defense of common security and for defending the interests of North American and European countries. The EU is a global political union of European states with a dual approach of integration (community) and cooperation. During the last four years the EU developed the Common Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and integrated it in a Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) in the Nice Treaty of December 2000 to protect its specific interests and those of its member-states. It has become a reality in only three years, as evidenced by its structure, forces (HG2003), the launch of three Peace Support Operations (FYROM, DRC, BiH), and many ongoing developments, including a civ-mil planning cell, an ops center, battle groups, the Gendarmerie Brigade, and the European Defense Agency. 

Therefore both organizations have a legitimate interest in dealing with security from their own perspective and basing it on intergovernmental agreements and treaties. While their objectives are close, they are not identical—the two organizations have the same values and approach but they have specific interests, for example in the area of armament industry, and they give different priorities to different hot spots throughout the world. While their areas of military competence are not identical (Article 17/2 of the Nice Treaty)—the EU is not in charge of collective defense—they can be interested in the same crisis-management operations. While their course of action is not identical—the EU’s global course integrates civilian and military factors—they both act strongly. And while their format is not identical, 19 nations belong to both organizations, creating a strong interest in cooperation and coordination. 

With these points in mind, we can see that the two organizations work in close coordination according to a well-established partnership and respecting an agreed-upon framework based on permanent arrangements and regular consultations. But day-to-day relations between NATO and the EU are sometimes not as easy as we could wish. 


How can relations between the two organizations be improved? A threefold approach of complementarity, coordination, and cooperation may help NATO and the EU achieve new heights. 


Complementarity would be achieved according to interrelated political, economic, and geographic criteria: 

  • Collective defense for NATO, to prevent duplication 
  • A PSO in the Balkans for the EU, because of proximity, or in Africa, where military action is only a limited part of the global response to crisis 
  • Other operations that would take place according to whether NATO’s image or the EU’s is better in that area 

Complementarity would be developed on a case-by-case basis. Recently we have seen that when the EU has taken over (FYROM, BiH), NATO has stayed on. 


Coordination would be based on the principle of transparency through the exchange of information and staff-to-staff contact. This would include: 

  • Harmonization of concept doctrines 
  • Achieving interoperability through the NATO-EU Capability Group 
  • The establishment of an EUMS Cell at SHAPE and a NATO Liaison Team to work with them to ensure better preparation for carrying out Berlin+ operations and transparency 

All EU member-states (CY-MA) would have access to NATO classified information.  


Cooperation would take place in a number of ways: 

  • Berlin+ would be used for the chain of command structure and C3 assets (Concordia–Althea). Currently this works well but it is not geared to rapid reaction. In addition, the system is cumbersome and politically complex, poses a structure problem (Cyprus and Malta are excluded), forces the EU to adapt to NATO’s structures (EUCE, Naples), poses a global approach problem (using an independent military chain of command), and encourages non-EU members to take sides in EU operations. 
  • There would be a concurrent commitment or presence, as in BiH, FYROM, and Darfur. 
  • EU officers would be trained in Oberammergau. 

A limiting factor would be that the EU would be dependent on third countries when using resources provided by EU member-states. 


Through complementarity, coordination, and cooperation, the EU and NATO can have a win-win relationship. This relationship will be further enhanced if objectives are set and respected by both organizations that match their particular interests: 
- Rivalry is avoided
- Member-states that belong to both organizations can make their assets available to both on the same basis; it would be up to each member-state to make its interests in the EU and in NATO compatible 
- Neither organization would hamper the other 
- Unnecessary duplication would be avoided but some duplication would be necessary (for example, C2 for the EU Rapid Response Force); current duplications that must be immediately addressed are EU member-state procurements (42% U.S. investment but much less effectiveness)

If we move ahead with the three-pronged approach and with these caveats in mind, the EU’s capabilities will be strengthened so that the organization can act on its own yet not handicap NATO. It will also give greater responsibility to European forces, leading to a fairer sharing of the security burden. And, finally, it will strengthen the U.S.–EU partnership by making the EU a more reliable partner that shares security objectives as well as values. 




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