Many walls split NATO and the EU

When NATO leaders met for dinner last Friday night in Lisbon, there was little opportunity for small talk.

By Judy Dempsey (Geopolitics)

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Published: Tue 30 Nov 2010, 9:49 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:29 AM

Although the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, had persuaded all 28 leaders at the summit meeting to agree to a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance, a US missile shield for Europe and a fresh start between NATO and Russia, there was one unresolved issue that dominated most of the two-and-a-half-hour dinner. That was the relationship between NATO and the European Union.

“It was a very long discussion over how we could cooperate,” said Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister.

It may seem odd that two organisations based in Brussels with 21 member countries in common should spend so much time worrying about their relationship. But the reality is that NATO and the European Union cannot talk to each other easily. This prevents them from having easy access to each other’s military and civilian resources at a time when both organisations are stretched financially and militarily in peacekeeping and combat missions.

“The ability of our two organisations to shape our future security environment would be enormous if they worked together,” said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the EU’s European Council, who attended the NATO dinner. “It is time to break down the remaining walls between them,” he added. There are many walls.

When NATO ambassadors and diplomats assigned to the EU’s Political and Security Committee, or PSC, decide to meet, the agenda is scrupulously drawn up to exclude any reference to military or intelligence issues. This is despite the fact that NATO and the EU need to deal with such topics because they work together in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Kosovo, on the Somali coast and in Afghanistan.

Even more worrying for both sides, say diplomats, is the lack of any security arrangements that would, for example, allow NATO forces to rescue EU police trainers in Afghanistan if they came under attack. “Even though the rules do not exist, we help them,” said a NATO diplomat.

Turkey prevents high-level formal meetings between NATO and the P.S.C. on the grounds that Cyprus does not have any security clearance from NATO. It is a member neither of the alliance nor of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, a programme of bilateral and security cooperation between individual countries and NATO.

Even if Cyprus chose to get around the security clearance issue by applying to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace, Turkey would block it. “Joining the Partnership for Peace is not an option for the Cyprus government, and anyway, Turkey vetoes membership of Cyprus whenever it can,” said a Brussels-based Cypriot diplomat who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Security analysts say the deadlock could be broken if the EU became more flexible toward Turkey, allowing it for instance to have a close relationship with the bloc’s European Defense Agency. The EDA, which was established in 2004 to coordinate the bloc’s defense capabilities and procurement, is not restricted to EU members.

When the EDA proposed the same status for Turkey six years ago, it needed consent from all EU countries. Cyprus blocked it. Cyprus and other member states blocked it again when during a visit last month to Ankara, Rasmussen proposed that the E.U. allow Turkey to participate in the EDA.

The retaliations seem endless, say diplomats. They are also damaging NATO as it seeks cooperation with the EU, whose civilian components, like the police, the judiciary and customs officials, complement NATO’s military resources. They also prevent the EU from exploiting the foreign policy and defense potential set out in the Lisbon Treaty. “The Cyprus issue is crippling,” said Bildt.

Rasmussen and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, are working together to break the deadlock, and the United Nations is stepping up efforts to restart talks over Cyprus.

If all three fail in their endeavours, analysts say an ever-confident Turkey might push for international recognition of the Turkish-Cypriot part of the island, akin to the status of Taiwan or Kosovo.


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