NATO and the EU: Centrifugal Forces and Fragmentation?

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Even before the adoption of the New Strategic Concept and the Lisbon Summit, one of the major concerns of the new allies, namely us from East-Central Europe, was the necessity that NATO retains the capacity to honour its fundamental obligation to guarantee the security of its members. That was so because, on the one hand, for us, the main motivation in pressuring the Alliance to accept our membership was exactly that of getting access to the most important security guarantee offered by the most powerful political-military organization in the world.

On the other hand, the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008 has proved how justified that expectation was, given the fact that Russia’s comeback has not been accompanied – at least until now – by a change in its mentality and behaviour. Even to the contrary. Therefore, even if NATO has assumed a new function – that of “crisis management” – in the 1990s, we have always paid attention to make sure that this new mission does not interfere with its main function, namely that of assuring the “collective defence” of its members.

In 2010, both the New Strategic Concept and the decisions of the Lisbon Summit have offered us that “strategic re-assurance”, namely that “collective defence” remains the core mission of NATO. The significance of that “strategic re-assurance” is amplified by the fact the other pillar of our security, namely the EU (even if some are not ready to accept that view), has taken a different attitude towards Russia, more tolerating towards its strong behaviour with respect to some of its neighbours.

While we, the former allies of the Soviet Union were watching attentively that behaviour, drawing the right conclusions in regard to our future security, the main EU powers, safeguarded by the geographical distance separating them from Russia, considered it more as an economic and commercial partner, capable of helping them to overcome the current economic and financial difficulties. And, consequently, they proved to be more accommodating towards Russia in all other fields, including security.

The implications are not negligible: we, in East-Central Europe, have more trust in the Art.V of the Washington Treaty than in the similar clause of the Lisbon Treaty.

However, the fundamental problem affecting both organizations is not this. In respect to the EU, the main problem is, in my opinion, that of re-nationalizing the common policies we have reached at (see, for instance, the possibility to suspend the Schengen Arrangement), coupled with the military impotence of the organization (CSDP, one of the major achievements we liked so much to invoke, failed its first real test – Libya – and was completely eliminated from landscape, lacking both political [the necessary consensus] and military [ the capacity for command and control] means to be activated).

As for NATO, while the US, for reasons I am not going to discuss here and now, have made a step back in the case of Libya, preferring, for the first time in the history of the organization, a support rather than the usual leading role, question marks have appeared both on the military side: the technological gap between the Americans and their European Allies has become clear, with the latter lacking crucial assets, and on the political side: what will be the attitude of a NATO left to the same European Allies who demonstrated how little they care about the security of their East-Central European fellow- members?

And the first signs of this growing lack of trust in the two organizations have started to appear. Thus, Sweden and Poland have, on their own, agreed to increase their political-military cooperation to diminish the vulnerability of the Baltic States and the Visegrad countries have decided to form their own battle-group within the EU.

To avoid any misunderstanding that the sole responsible for such “centrifugal” tendencies in both organizations are the East-Central European members with their “obsession” with Russia, suffice it to add to the list of proofs not only the recent Franco-British military cooperation and the British efforts to forge a “Nordic” Alliance, but also the recent agreement between France and Italy to ask for the suspension of the Schengen Arrangement, as well as the border controls re-introduced by Denmark (without asking anybody anything). To me, all these indicate a tendency towards “fragmentation” in both organizations, which, if not properly addressed now, when it can still be stopped, could gather further momentum and strength, plunging Europe once again in a period of sheer power politics domination, leaving everyone at the mercy of their own doing …

Ioan Mircea Pascu, formerly Romania’s Minister of Defense, is a member of the European Parliament and is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group. This essay originally appeared in STRATFOR.

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