Hegemony, Partnership, and Security: NATO-EU Relations in Context, Research Paper Example
Words: 3367Research Paper
NATO, the great Cold War-era military alliance, and the European Union, a commonwealth of (mostly) European states, represent the two most significant organizations in Europe, and two of the most important worldwide. Though they share many of the same members and some of the same goals, they differ profoundly: where NATO is a U.S.-dominated security alliance, the EU is a commonwealth of member states with a civilian political and economic emphasis. These differences have contributed to tensions between the two, not least because of the hegemonic role of the U.S. in NATO, and political developments in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, relations between NATO and the EU have been complex and often tense, in accordance with both the balance of power, and the respective interests of the various actors.
First and foremost, the European Union and NATO are not organizations of the same type (Morel 84). This essential distinction must be made before any meaningful analysis of relations between the two can be assayed. NATO is a security alliance with both political and military aspects, a trans-Atlantic partnership of Cold War vintage that has been adapting itself to the post-Cold War world (84). By comparison, the European Union is quite unique among the world’s organizations: the member states of the European Union participate in common institutions in which they vest traditionally sovereign functions (84). The scope and concern of the EU includes “economic, financial, environmental and even legal spheres” (84). Thus, the EU is far more ecumenical and comprehensive than NATO, in terms of the degree to which membership in it affects the internal political, social, and economic structures of a member. Also, significantly, the military aspect of the European Union is much more recent: it was not until June of 2001 that the European Union set up its Military Staff (84).
In 2003 the European Union Military Staff planned the EU’s first two peace-keeping operations, in Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, respectively (Morel 84). This has made for both tensions with NATO, and opportunities for closer partnership. In 2003, the Berlin Plus agreement helped to delineate protocols for EU-NATO cooperation in the management of military crises (84-85). Here, a key factor is personnel: many EU Military Staff personnel are seasoned hands with NATO, having received training from the organization regularly (85). In essence, both organizations are drawing from a common pool of officers, and they share many procedures and protocols in common (85). This facilitated the successful completion of the military aspect of the EU mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2003, Operation Concordia (85).
Thus, in many respects the relationship between the EU and NATO has been facilitated by cooperation. The two organizations maintain official contacts, sharing information and generally expediting the functioning of operations and capability (Morel 85). However, there are significant unresolved differences as well. For example, there is still ambiguity about the Berlin Plus agreement, with a key point of contention the question of whether or not the EU needs to consult NATO prior to undertaking any military operation, including operations that are not projected to require the use of Atlantic Alliance resources (86). And while it provides for NATO aid, the Berlin Plus agreement is clear that there must be unanimity in the North Atlantic Council, which means that the United States must agree (Touzovskaia 3). At the time, the EU lacked much in the way of operational capabilities for military intervention, meaning that it was indeed imperative for it to rely on NATO (3). However, this has not been the case for at least ten years now, as will shortly be seen.
A case in point of the tensions that have sometimes emerged between NATO and the EU is Operation Artemis, the 2003 EU mission into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (86). Artemis was conducted with UN cooperation, but without involving NATO at all, which occasioned surprise and a certain amount of tension (Morel 86). According to Morel, ambiguity is the major problem here: there are aspects of the relationship between NATO and the EU that remain ambiguous and quite poorly defined; these ambiguities will need to be resolved if tensions between the two organizations are to be pre-empted or ameliorated, as the case may be (86). NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), in particular, has a strategically important role as coordinator, and the scope of this role should be a priority for clarification in order to better define the working relationship between the two groups (86).
According to Biscop, part of the problem is that in recent years, NATO seems to have lost a sense of common purpose, and a key reason for this is the growth and emerging capabilities of the European Union (2). The EU, Biscop explains, is becoming a “strategic actor in its own right, with its own policies and priorities, and with ever growing ambitions and capabilities” (2). There is already a great deal of overlap between the two organizations, speaking not only in terms of members, but also in terms of mission: collective defense and peace support missions (2). With the structural shift caused by the emergence of the EU as an actor in its own right, tensions between the two organizations have followed. The context for the emergence of the EU as an actor is to be found in the end of the Cold War and in the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union in 1991 (3). Under the second pillar of the Maastricht Treaty, the Member States of the European Union created a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), precisely because they already recognized that with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its once-great empire, Europe could no longer count on the United States (3).
Whereas during the Cold War American intervention could be taken for granted, the signatories of the Maastricht Treaty knew that post-Soviet collapse, they would have to prepare to solve their own problems without American assistance (Biscop 3). What this meant, of course, was that they could not count on NATO. It took very little time for events to prove the veracity of this conclusion, when the United States refrained from swift intervention in the bloody civil war that convulsed the former Yugoslavia (3). Indeed, American intervention only came about after it became abundantly clear that the new European Union was not yet able to intervene (3). Washington took precisely the same line in 1997, when Albania imploded (3). Between these events and Kosovo in 1999, it became very clear that the member states of the European Union had to create the capabilities necessary to handle security and peacekeeping missions in their own backyards, since they could no longer rely on Washington (3).
But if U.S. demurral from intervention created a key imperative for independent EU security abilities, U.S. interventions that were poorly received in EU Member States created another (Biscop 3). Here, the case in point is the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which key EU members rejected, and which drew censure from public opinion throughout much of Europe (3). Much of this can be put down to very different security visions on the part of the United States and the EU generally: “according to the United States, the world is dangerous, according to the EU, the world is complex” (4). Thus, different security policies, concerns, and visions mean that the EU and NATO will not always agree on what to do or how to do it. This is a significant source of strain between the two, and if not resolved the tensions are only likely to grow.
Again, the key problem for NATO is that the Soviet Union is gone. In the absence of the looming threat posed by that colossus, the European Union is much freer to embark on security missions of its own choosing—and of course, it has also been able to incorporate many former Soviet bloc countries (Biscop 4). This has posed significant challenges for NATO, since the entire raison d’être of the alliance in the first place was to ward against a military threat from the Soviet Union. In fact, the Soviet threat effectively rescued US-European relations, which had deteriorated rather quickly with the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich and the conclusion of World War II (Calleo 18). With the outbreak of the Cold War, American policy-makers abandoned Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s short-lived and ill-conceived attempt to project American global dominance at the expense of partnership with the European allies (18). Faced with the reality of a war-ravaged continent, much of which was occupied by the Soviets, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan to facilitate the rebuilding of Europe (18).
This environment had important consequences for the character of NATO. Soviet military power in the very heart of Europe meant that the United States felt it had to adopt a more hands-off policy with respect to the handling of its West European allies (Calleo 18-19). Concerned lest it drive European governments and European publics into the arms of the Soviets, the United States opted to provide them with military and economic support, and largely leave them to manage their own affairs (18-19). What this in turn meant was that the West European states in question were in effect “free riders” of both American and Soviet military power: they could rely on America for protection against the Soviets, but only because the Soviets were a threat in the first place (19). So important was this dynamic, Calleo argues, that it effectively made the real balance of power in the Cold War a tripolar, not a bipolar one (19).
What this meant for the West European states so shielded was that they were able to focus on rebuilding their economies and societies, while leaving much of their military defense to the United States (Calleo 19). Thus, they became economically competitive with America, while still benefiting from American military power: they were allies, rather than mere protectorates (19). The consequence of the Soviet collapse have been profound. For one thing, NATO has tried to reinvent itself as a more globally-focused peacekeeping organization, while the EU has sought to increase its own capacities as an independent actor, and assert itself not only in Europe, but also abroad (Biscop 4). The U.S. has both withdrawn from Europe militarily, and become more assertive worldwide (Calleo 19). The result has been a profound change in U.S.-European relations: the U.S. alternates between attempting to assert hegemony, and showing indifference to European affairs (19). Since the Soviet collapse, the United States has sought to position NATO as the main guarantor of a favorable geopolitical order in Europe, as well as in the world at large. This has drawn opposition from the French in particular, since the policymakers of that nation were swift to recognize the ramifications of the Soviet collapse, notably German reunification and U.S. courting of the reunified Germany (19-20).
Mindful of the lessons of France’s history with Germany since the late 19th century, French leaders decided to try to beat the United States at its own game, by forging an absolutely historic strategic partnership with Germany (Calleo 20). For their part, German leaders, notably Chancellor Helmut Kohl, were well inclined to agree, since they sought a place for Germany in a freer and more open post-Cold War Europe (20). The result has been a remarkable Franco-German partnership: in effect, the unification of the old Carolingian Mitteleuropa by diplomatic and political means, forming a logical center of gravity for the European Union (20).
Here, an obvious and very important difference: NATO has always been dominated by the United States, as indeed any military alliance involving the United States must be, given the current global pre-eminence of that country (Flockhart 266). Between this and the Cold War imperative of guarding against Soviet power, NATO has always had a relatively clear self-concept, as it were—or at least, it did until the end of the Cold War and especially the emergence of the EU as a truly independent actor in its own right. By comparison and contrast, the European Union is not dominated by a single power. Even France and Germany combined do not dominate the European Union to the extent that the United States may be said to dominate NATO (266). While it is certainly true that some EU members carry a lot more clout than others—again, France and Germany being the obvious examples—nonetheless, it is very clear that the EU is fundamentally a more pluralistic organization, as well as being concerned with many more aspects of the internal operations of its member states than is NATO (266-267).
One of the most important consequences of all this is that in its political ability to act in a united fashion, the EU appears to be in a better position than NATO, because it is difficult to imagine a case wherein all NATO members would back a use of the NATO response force (NRF) “for a high-intensity operation, which is its primary purpose” (Biscop 4). On the other hand, with the important exception of the United Kingdom, which has been chary of the prospect of the EU supplanting or even duplicating NATO, EU member states are generally much more willing to agree to cooperation for some joint peacekeeping venture (5). Complicating things all the more is the United States’ own perception that NATO should take precedence over the EU when it comes to security operations: American policy is that NATO should have the chance to accept or decline an opportunity to act in some security situation, before the EU (5). Of course, this position is not very popular with many member states of the EU, and it is in any case a very rigid doctrine, poorly adapted to often fluid and changing geopolitical realities (5).
Thus, Operation Artemis, an EU operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo taken in response to a formal request from the UN, drew heated US criticism, despite the fact that the EU had invited the US and other allies to participate (Biscop 5). The reason for US opposition was, plainly and simply, that the EU did not defer to NATO. Of course, if the EU and the UN did so, it would undermine the independence of both organizations (5). Again, the doctrine of NATO’s right of first refusal is fundamentally ill-conceived, and abandoning it would facilitate better EU-NATO relations. Flockhart notes that NATO, long dominated by the United States and primarily conceived as a defensive military and political alliance, has traditionally been seen, with good reason, as having a fundamentally more military and strategic character, whereas the EU has been seen, also with good reason, as being a fundamentally more civilian and economically-focused project (267-268). Much of the respective histories of these two organizations, and much of their relations with each other, seem to bear this out. For the emergent EU, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the end of the Cold War, was a historic opportunity for European unification by peaceful diplomatic, political, economic, fiscal, and monetary means (268). For NATO, however, the exact same events forced it to find a new mission. The Balkan crisis was the perfect opportunity for NATO to establish its continued relevance in the immediate post-Cold War world, as a guarantor of international order against ethnic violence (268).
And yet, the opportunities of the post-Cold War world also provided NATO with the impetus to evolve into a less strictly politico-military organization. As both NATO and the EU began to expand their relations with the newly-liberated countries of the former Soviet bloc, both took it upon themselves to provide economic and political assistance to the emergent democracies of East-Central Europe (270-271). Both NATO and the EU sought to position themselves as norm-setters, promoting international socialization through formal institutions, such as the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the Partnership for Peace, and the like (271). And since the EU security embarrassment in Kosovo in 1999, the EU has gone to great lengths to expand its security capabilities, even arousing the ire of the United States in the process (271).
Finally, an important aspect of NATO-EU relations concerns the enlargement of both organizations, which has often proceeded in something of a parallel process, as former Soviet bloc countries in East-Central Europe have sought admission to both organizations (World Affairs 178). For applicant countries, often though not necessarily always the same for both organizations, membership in NATO and the EU is very desirable because it denotes status in the club of developed, democratic, properly European states (179). Here, however, a crucial difference between applicants’ perceptions of NATO and the EU: in Eastern and Central Europe, the EU is much the more favored organization than NATO (179). The citizenry of most East-Central European countries consistently favors EU membership in the 50-70 percent range. By contrast, public support for NATO membership in these selfsame countries stands at about 30-40 percent (World Affairs 179).
The reasons why are not difficult to parse: as the nations of Eastern and Central Europe seek to extricate themselves from their authoritarian pasts, especially the damaging legacy of communist rule, membership in the EU is both a sign of their aspirations, and a signal of their success (179). Now that they have emerged from the Soviet bloc, they want to become full, proper members of Europe as embodied by the European Union (179). In other words, the EU stands for a concept of that which is most genuinely European, not only descriptively but also normatively: the EU stands for economic prosperity and modernization, democracy and civil rights, and opportunity (179). Small wonder the nations of Eastern and Central Europe mostly want admittance to such a club. NATO, on the other hand, represents obligation, both military and financial, and most of these countries were frightened by the NATO bombing campaigns in the former Yugoslavia (179). However, policymakers in most of these countries recognize the value of NATO, particularly because of the historic hegemon in the East: Russia (179). For its part, Russia is chary of both EU and NATO expansion, but opposes NATO far more, correctly understanding NATO as an instrument for the projection of U.S. power globally (179-181).
NATO and the EU are very different organizations. Though they share some things in common, and have substantial overlap, they were created to do different things, and these differences matter a great deal. NATO remains a U.S.-dominated politico-military alliance. While it lost its original purpose with the Soviet collapse, it has gone on to reinvent itself as a global security-focused organization. The European Union was always more of a civilian political and economic project, and it has expanded along these lines. The EU has become an independent actor in its own right, and its influence in Europe, coupled with its emerging security capabilities, are altering the balance of power. The tensions between the two have proceeded very logically from their essential differences, and post-Cold War developments: a stronger EU holds the possibility of supplanting the U.S.-dominated NATO in some respects. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States no longer finds it as necessary to court the favor of West European governments and publics, a profoundly important feature of NATO cooperation in the Cold War. These dynamics are responsible for the contemporary character of EU-NATO relations: while sometimes fruitful, they are often somewhat ambivalent, and in many cases strained in some important respects.
Biscop, Sven. “NATO and the EU: No Transformation Without Re-equilibration.” Proc. of International Studies Association Conf., 2007 annual meeting. 1-21. EBSCOhost. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Calleo, David P. “Transatlantic folly: NATO vs. the EU.” World Policy Journal 20.3 (2003): 17-24. EBSCOhost. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Flockhart, Trine. “’Me Tarzan—You Jane’: The EU and NATO and the Reversal of Roles.” Perspective on European Politics and Society 12.3(2011): 263-282. EBSCOhost. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Morel, Jean-Francois. “EU-NATO Relations: A European Vision.” Baltic Defense Review 11.1 (2004): 84-90. EBSCOhost. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Touzovskaia, Natalia. “EU-NATO Relations in the Transforming International Security Landscape.” Proc. of International Studies Association Conf., 2006 annual meeting. 1-20. EBSCOhost. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
World Affairs. “The Politics of European Enlargement: NATO, the EU, and the New U.S.-European Relationship.” World Affairs 164.4 (2002): 178-197. EBSCOhost. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
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