Center for Strategic Decision Research

Lieutenant General Gian Piero Ristori

Lieutenant General Gian Piero Ristori
Italian Military Representative to NATO and the EU

The Vital EU/NATO Relationship and the Role of
Energy in Security


Being the last speaker of this panel, I would like to be a little bit provocative and I cannot think of a more provocative subject than the relationship between NATO and the EU. During the last couple of years that I have been representing my country, both in EU and NATO committees, all the speeches and all the documents that have been presented by every major official, political master and high ranking military, have highlighted the importance of the EU/NATO relationship. And recently, the Group of Experts in their Report mentioned that the EU is NATO’s most important strategic partner and it is reciprocal.

These are important, wise, and very clever words but they are nothing more than words. The reality is different and the facts are different. In fact, the two institutions, the two organizations, do not talk to each other; they do not solve the problems; they do not save money for the countries that are represented; and they are not able to have a common strategic behavior. That is the reality, that is the fact, and I can assure you that for all the people who are sitting at both tables-there are six of us in this room-it is quite frustrating to belong to two organizations that do not talk to each other. The same thing can be said for the ambassadors that sit at both tables.

Why did that happen and what can be done to solve this problem? I do not have a crystal ball but the reasons for this incommunicability can probably be found in the past. In his opening remarks, Louis Gallois said that the two organizations are hostages of a few nations. Perhaps he was thinking of the dispute between Turkey and Cyprus and this is probably true. But in my opinion, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The real reasons for this situation may go back further and might be traced to how the two organizations did in the last sixty years—first when NATO was born, then with the WEU follow on, up to the Petersberg talks, the Saint Malo talks and then Helsinki, to arrive to today. So it may be that the reason for this incommunicability can be found in a lack of desire for all the nations belonging to the two organizations to find a solution for this relationship.
Unfortunately, the economic situation is very difficult. While it requires urgent decisions, the progress that NATO and the EU are making in their relationship is very slow. This is why I am not very optimistic for the future. Even more than political and economical reasons, I believe that there are some objective reasons that prevent these two organizations from having a better relationship, a better coordination. They have two different bureaucratic cultures. NATO is much more military oriented and favors more aggressive interventions. On the other hand, the EU is more civilian oriented and we should not forget that some EU countries have a neutral tradition, so their approach is different.

There is also a difference in the Comprehensive Approach. Both organizations differ in their relationship with Russia and in their approach to crisis management—Georgia a couple years ago is a good demonstration of that. In summary, NATO and the EU have a different vision of their roles.

There are internal difficulties within the two organizations as well. Both are restructuring. NATO wants to give itself a new structure—the NATO Headquarters reform and new NATO command structure. On the EU side, the new Lisbon Treaty still has to be interpreted and we have to see what the consequences of the application of this treaty will be. Last but not least, there is the attitude of the United States towards the military autonomy of the EU which, at the beginning at least, was not well perceived. The United States may want the two organizations to be complementary instead of considering them as alternative and I want to recall what Madeleine Albright said in 1998 with her famous three Ds, “no decoupling, no duplicating and no discrimination.” I do not know if these three things are still valid but my fear is that they are not completely over. This is why I do not feel very optimistic. Probably, what we will have to do in the next few years will be just to find a way to better cooperate and nothing more. To think in a more optimistic way would be a dream.


Linked to this problem is the energy security problem. This is a typical aspect in which, if the two organizations were complementary, they could find a common strategy to face the problems (although I would not say to solve the problems). We all know how much the European countries depend on foreign oil and gas—more than 60% for gas and over 80% for oil—and half of these energy sources come from Russia. So we need to find alternative solutions, we need to find different sources of supply and this also underlines the two different attitudes between NATO and the EU. According to the Albright Report, NATO would consider more coordination policies to share resources, to secure infrastructures and pipelines, to work with the PfP countries to find alternative sources of energy. In contrast, the EU seems primarily to look at the economic and political context and would be much more open to increasing its relationship with Russia. This problem might be solved with better cooperation between NATO and EU and I do hope that it will not be another dream.


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