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Source: European Parliament

Understanding EU-NATO cooperation: Theory and practice

08-10-2020

The European Union and NATO have gone through the most acute strategic challenges of the Euro-Atlantic space together. Their history of cooperation is long and has seen both ups and downs. Already in 1949, the two defence players in western Europe, NATO and the Western Union (later the Western European Union), had begun to interact. In the 1990s, as the shift from nuclear deterrence to crisis management took place, the EU and NATO began to cooperate on operations, particularly in the Balkans. In the early 2000s, the two cemented a strategic partnership based on mutually reinforcing cooperation, with crisis management at its heart. One concrete example is the EU’s Operation Althea, still ongoing today, which the EU took over from NATO in 2004 and conducted while also making use of NATO assets. The dynamic of cooperation has intensified in the face of new threats ranging from terrorism to climate change to hybrid warfare. Each of these challenges shares one feature: they are common to both the EU and NATO. This realisation has given political impetus to formalise the current level of cooperation, through a joint declaration and concrete follow-up actions. In practice, this means joint training and exercises on matters ranging from cyber defence to hybrid warfare. There is also close coordination on foreign policy issues, including on 5G and cooperation with China, with the aim of crafting a solid joint approach. While the coronavirus pandemic has tested the resilience of EU-NATO cooperation, being met with coordination and a robust crisis response, questions nevertheless remain regarding the way forward for EU-NATO cooperation. For instance, the need to clarify the relationship between the EU and NATO’s mutual defence clauses has become apparent. The materialisation of EU ambitions for strategic sovereignty, not least through multiple defence cooperation initiatives, will also present a test to the resilience of EU-NATO cooperation.

The European Union and NATO have gone through the most acute strategic challenges of the Euro-Atlantic space together. Their history of cooperation is long and has seen both ups and downs. Already in 1949, the two defence players in western Europe, NATO and the Western Union (later the Western European Union), had begun to interact. In the 1990s, as the shift from nuclear deterrence to crisis management took place, the EU and NATO began to cooperate on operations, particularly in the Balkans. In the early 2000s, the two cemented a strategic partnership based on mutually reinforcing cooperation, with crisis management at its heart. One concrete example is the EU’s Operation Althea, still ongoing today, which the EU took over from NATO in 2004 and conducted while also making use of NATO assets. The dynamic of cooperation has intensified in the face of new threats ranging from terrorism to climate change to hybrid warfare. Each of these challenges shares one feature: they are common to both the EU and NATO. This realisation has given political impetus to formalise the current level of cooperation, through a joint declaration and concrete follow-up actions. In practice, this means joint training and exercises on matters ranging from cyber defence to hybrid warfare. There is also close coordination on foreign policy issues, including on 5G and cooperation with China, with the aim of crafting a solid joint approach. While the coronavirus pandemic has tested the resilience of EU-NATO cooperation, being met with coordination and a robust crisis response, questions nevertheless remain regarding the way forward for EU-NATO cooperation. For instance, the need to clarify the relationship between the EU and NATO’s mutual defence clauses has become apparent. The materialisation of EU ambitions for strategic sovereignty, not least through multiple defence cooperation initiatives, will also present a test to the resilience of EU-NATO cooperation.

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