Beyza Unal
Research Fellow, Nuclear Weapons Policy, International Security Department
In the wake of Brexit, Europe’s two most important multilateral organizations must deepen their partnership.
The National Stadium in Warsaw is prepared for the NATO Summit. Photo: NATO.The National Stadium in Warsaw is prepared for the NATO Summit. Photo: NATO.

For decades the EU has focused on political and economic integration whereas NATO prioritized its efforts on collective defence and security. New security challenges, however, require a common political, security and defence posture. The outcome of the UK’s referendum (Brexit) while unwelcomed by many, could be an opportunity to strengthen NATO-EU relations and to take the current strategic partnership to a political level.

Existing NATO-EU agreements could be  enhanced to boost cooperation through financial frameworks, including in areas such as cyber defence, foreign aid and a possible NATO-EU arrangement in defence procurement and the military sector. This would also allow Britain to continue to visibly commit to the peace, security and prosperity of Europe through its existing NATO membership. 

Building on Berlin Plus

One avenue would be to apply a similar model to the 2003 Berlin Plus agreement to new areas of arrangement.  This agreement has allowed ‘the EU to have access to the Alliance’s capabilities for EU operations’ in cases of crisis. More specifically, it allows the EU to access NATO planning, assets and capabilities. Agreement on sharing operational plans and capabilities through a transparent system increases trust in both organizations.  A new form of arrangement could involve peacetime cooperation, channeling support to a NATO-EU joint action framework. NATO has developed external cooperation mechanisms before, such as the Partnerships for Peace programme.

In practice, non-EU member states in NATO are already contributing to the EU system in many ways, but not always through a recognized NATO-EU joint action framework.  A good example is the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU. Despite its problems, Turkey contributes to the peace, security and stability of Europe by accepting and keeping refugees at its borders, and in return receiving EU financial aid. Given that Turkey is in NATO and not in the EU, this deal could have been framed as a joint action of cooperation of the two organizations, rather than a bilateral agreement between Turkey and the EU.

Proposal for further NATO-EU joint actions

Similarly the NATO-EU joint action framework could be extended in scope to coordinate NATO-EU arrangements in areas such as defence procurement and military services. Such cooperation could enhance interoperability and improve coordination and regulation in defence. It could also increase the competitive advantage of NATO and EU member states’ defence sectors. Common rules and regulations in defence procurement would help tailor the defence postures and keep defence agreements within the NATO-EU spectrum. Both NATO and the US have recently pressured Turkey, for instance, not to conclude a ballistic missiles deal with a Chinese company.  A formal NATO-EU defence procurement arrangement could established rules that augment current  common defence markets.

Through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU and the US (NATO’s largest defence contributor) are already negotiating a bilateral trade agreement. At the end of the negotiations, EU legislation will be required to encompass TTIP principles and regulations. This would impact states that have economic deals with the EU, most prominently NATO countries such as Turkey, Iceland and Norway.

Non-EU NATO countries individually make trade agreements with the EU through the European Economic Area. Instead the EU and NATO could develop a common customs tariff arrangement, establishing rules and duties in the defence and military services sector, with NATO and the EU, so as to benefit all of their member states. Such a setup could also include the UK, once and if it withdraws from the EU.

Another potential area of cooperation is foreign aid. The UK for example is committed to spending 0.7% of its gross national income on foreign aid. This is a legally binding agreement that does not depend on Britain’s EU status and has amounted to around £12 billion per year since 2013.

If a joint NATO-EU foreign aid common fund could be developed then this could help in three ways: it could strengthen the political partnership, channel foreign aid systematically to countries requiring NATO-EU assistance (such as Libya) and increase contributions by including non-EU member states. In this way the UK would remain integrally involved in the coordination of foreign aid distribution and improving foreign aid effectiveness.

By setting up a joint commission on NATO-EU common projects, member states could harness the complementarity of NATO-EU missions in both civilian and military contexts. These types of joint approaches would also enable Britain to continue its practical support for the EU’s global strategy.

The forthcoming NATO Summit is the ideal opportunity to begin this conversation and plant the seeds for further enhanced NATO-EU cooperation. The two should take the opportunity to discuss options for areas of political partnership and create an agreed agenda, programme of action and working groups, focusing particularly on how NATO could be a bridge for the UK to stay formally involved in EU security. They cannot wait for another crisis in Europe before they start instigating some of these mutually beneficial partnerships.

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