Center for Strategic Decision Research



NATO-EU Cooperation Needs to Begin at the Top

Ambassador Dr. Jerzy M. Nowak
Permanent Representative of Poland on the North Atlantic Council

My intention is to reply to three questions: 1) Is there really a need for NATO and the EU to work together? 2) Is it true that currently there is an impasse in the NATO-EU relationship? And 3) What is to be done if there is an impasse?


My answer to the first question is of course yes, for both strategic and political reasons. First of all, while the Euro-Atlantic region currently has two slightly different centers, it is still one common Euro-Atlantic community—what used to be called the Western world. So the Euro-Atlantic community has common characteristics and values, which must be strengthened to meet today’s security challenges and to build a common security architecture.

Second, the transatlantic link constitutes an integral and strategic part of the Euro-Atlantic area. This link is composed of the transatlantic triad: NATO, which embraces Europe and North America; European Union and U.S. relations; and the NATO-EU dialogue. Because of the existence of this triad, it seems to me that the idea of building the European Union into a counterweight for the United States had to be put aside or dropped. In addition, at least some of us believe that NATO should participate in the U.S-EU dialogue as far as security questions are concerned, because NATO is involved with both entities.

The third and final point regarding the need for NATO and the EU to work together is that bringing overlapping strengths to bear on common causes in the Western world is obviously something that should be done.

The most desirable option would be to have NATO as a military arm of the Transatlantic Committee, complemented by the EU for soft security tasks, and accompanied by a viable EU-U.S. dialogue.


I believe that currently there is an impasse. The basic element here is political: Both organizations are in search of a new identity though they are in different phases of this process. NATO is constantly looking for ways and means to confront new challenges, to transform itself and go global. The EU is trying to find an identity in the new fields that are ahead of it and is searching for ways to develop capabilities for autonomous actions. The problem between NATO and the EU is how to reconcile their ambitions and avoid overlapping. There are still residual doubts on the side of the European Union about what role the United States and Canada should play in this game. NATO is looking for a new global role, which largely is inspired by the United States as part of NATO, but Iraq has shown that U.S. leadership was questioned.

The second element of the impasse is that while there are elements of cooperation, for example, in the Balkans, there is also competition. For instance, we are being told in NATO that Africa should belong to the European Union’s area of responsibility, and the same is true concerning the Mediterranean. So we have differing political perspectives and sometimes, let’s face it, some elements of mistrust.

The third element of the impasse is that the formal dialogue on strategic issues de facto does not exist. Practical collaboration except in the military field, which is developing relatively well, is very limited. Capability harmonization and synchronization have produced only partial results, not those we all desire.

The fourth element of the impasse is that of natural institutional or bureaucratic differences, which some say make it difficult to collaborate. There are also disputes between the two groups about areas of responsibility. NATO certainly is competent in regard to everything that is covered by the Washington Treaty and related to military aspects of security. This last element of impasse is probably the easiest to deal with and remove. In sum: formal dialogue on strategic issues between NATO and the EU does not exist, efforts toward promotion of capability harmonization and synchronization have produced only partial results, and concrete examples of practical collaboration remain very limited.


This situation, however, is not irreversible. First of all, we have to come to a basic agreement that cooperation is needed, but this is politically difficult and extremely laborious to do. There is a need to begin frank and more open strategic reflection on the EU-NATO partnership, to go a little bit deeper than we are at the moment and to perhaps make an effort similar to the so-called Harmel Report that was made at the end of the 1960s. To start this process it would be helpful to have a clear political signal from the highest level, for example, from the Riga summit, and then to have the effort supported and monitored by the political directors from the EU and NATO and by the Foreign and Defense Ministers

Of course, a broad range of consultations would be desirable. As a Pole, I would like to see more dialogue on common energy security issues, on the so-called Eastern dimensions of NATO and the EU. We may advance informal consultations “at 32,” including at the ministerial level and at the level of political directors as well.

We can better exploit joint action between the NATO Secretary General and the EU High Representative to follow up on opportunities for joint diplomatic actions and to ensure that the NRF and battle groups are more compatible; to adopt a common approach to strategic lift, (the British idea); to build strong relationships between the European Defense Agency and NATO institutions and committees; and to go beyond the exchange of information on NATO and EU capabilities. We can also make better use of the EU cell at SHAPE and the NATO liaison teams for the EU Military Staff. So there are many concrete things we can do but some political signal is necessary.

Without a strong political impulse, NATO and the EU will continue to evolve separately, with growing areas of unnecessary duplication.


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