NATO and the EU: Shall we dance? - written exclusively for WSN

Posted in Europe , NATO | 19-Jun-04 | Author: Leo Michel

NATO forces on guard in Afghanistan.

Iraq and Afghanistan provide grim reminders of the complexities and dangers of multilateral stabilization operations. So it is worth noting some (relatively) hopeful news from Europe, where NATO and the EU are choreographing their next steps together in Bosnia. A successful collaboration there would benefit the entire region and augur well for complementary approaches elsewhere. But Balkan dances are not simple or risk-free affairs, and this one is no exception.

If current plans hold, NATO will decide at the June 28-29 Istanbul Summit to terminate, at year’s end, its decade old Bosnia peacekeeping mission known as Stabilization Force (SFOR). NATO and the EU would then finalize arrangements for a EU Military Force (EUFOR) to begin its mission the day SFOR ends.

EUFOR would need a new UN Security Council resolution, as the existing mandate authorizes a NATO force to implement the 1995 Dayton peace accords. Once blessed by the UN, EUFOR commanders would get their political and strategic guidance from the EU’s Political and Security Committee, just as SFOR takes direction from NATO’s North Atlantic Council (NAC). According to EU officials, EUFOR would “help maintain a secure environment in Bosnia and facilitate that country’s progress toward its long-term goal of EU membership.”

EUFOR’s initial military component would number around 7,000 personnel-- close to SFOR’s current manning. Some European soldiers simply would switch shoulder patches from NATO’s four-point star to the EU’s 12-star ring. SFOR has completed Dayton’s key military tasks, such as the separation of warring parties and the cantonment and destruction of heavy armaments. Hence, EUFOR would be slanted toward civil-military functions and low-profile presence patrols. The EU’s soldiers would work closely with its civil crisis management units, especially the 500 trainers and monitors of the existing EU Police Mission. The EU’s holistic approach to improve law and order, governance and socio-economic conditions eventually would allow EUFOR to downsize its military component—or so it is hoped.

Though SFOR would end, NATO would remain engaged with Bosnia. All parties concerned—above all, the Bosnians—want that. Under NATO-EU “Berlin Plus” arrangements concluded in March 2003, NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, currently a German Admiral, likely would be selected by the EU to become EUFOR’s Operation Commander. A EU liaison cell at SHAPE, NATO’s strategic nerve center for military planning and operations, would assist him. At EU request, NATO probably would provide other support to EUFOR as well, possibly to include a strategic reserve outside Bosnia. NATO military and civilian expert teams inside Bosnia would help the government reform its defense structures and prepare for membership in the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace (PFP). In addition, Bosnia likely would host periodic NATO-PFP training exercises.

Complicated? Yes, but fortunately NATO and the EU are not starting from scratch. In March 2003, NATO In March 2003, NATO ended its peacekeeping duties in Macedonia. The EU follow-on mission, Operation Concordia, which ended last December, was the first trial run for Berlin Plus. Berlin Plus was not specifically designed for the transition of large operations from NATO to the EU; Concordia’s small size (around 400 personnel) and relatively benign environment (Macedonia’s flirtation with civil war had receded by 2003) helped the experiment succeed. It is proving more difficult, however, to finalize the myriad political, command, legal, and logistical details needed for a smooth conclusion of SFOR and the initiation of a distinctive EUFOR.

One reason is that NATO and EU planning and decision-making processes are still far from interoperable. NATO’s international civilian and military staffs have a decade of corporate experience in crisis management operations. Pending firm political guidance from the NAC following Istanbul, NATO planners can go only so far in mapping out SFOR’s graceful departure. Still, appreciating the value of detailed contingency preparations, they were anxious months ago to begin work with EU counterparts.

The EU reportedly was slow to respond. Its preoccupation with other matters—such as enlargement and the draft EU constitution—no doubt played a role. In addition, some European officials have complained sotto voce that the ponderous EU civilian machinery is still unaccustomed to working with, and somewhat wary of, NATO military experts. Others fault certain EU governments for their overzealous—some might say theological--defense of the EU’s “autonomy.” This has translated into keeping EU staffers on a short leash in dealings with NATO counterparts, lest NATO have too much sway over EU decisions. Such hang-ups have faded a bit in recent weeks—but not disappeared entirely--as decisions in Istanbul and Brussels approach.

Another reason is that the EU might well face greater challenges in Bosnia at the end of 2004 than its leaders anticipated in 2002, when they first offered up the EUFOR idea.

EU planners never assumed that American forces, which have comprised about 15 percent of SFOR troops, would join EUFOR. In 2002, EU planners probably did assume, however, that the EU would have access via Berlin Plus to certain U.S. capabilities (including intelligence and communications assets) made available to SFOR. Now that such U.S. capabilities are in high demand for Iraq and Afghanistan, a greater burden will fall on the EU to provide such capabilities for itself.

Moreover, since 2002 several European countries (the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Poland) have committed significant portions of their deployable forces elsewhere--to Afghanistan (where Allies are still struggling to make good on last year’s political commitment to expand NATO’s presence beyond Kabul and Konduz), Iraq, Ivory Coast and Haiti. Meanwhile, recent violence in Kosovo has reminded EUFOR planners that they can’t count on any near-term reductions in the 17,500 NATO-led (and mainly European) peacekeepers there. In sum, the challenge of sustaining a capable, 7000-strong EUFOR, which can rotate its forces every 4-6 months, looms larger than before.

Hence, even professionally optimistic NATO and EU officials are reluctant to celebrate the prospective Bosnian transition just yet. Still, as they nervously polish their moves for the coming performance, two broader points are emerging.

First, these proud and powerful organizations will not be well served by continuing their minuet-like relationship, with its elegant but standoffish meetings and procedures. A more flexible and embracing tango is needed. After all, of the now 25 EU members, 19 are NATO Allies and four are Partners. Each of these countries has a single army, air force, or navy and a single defense budget to meet their NATO, EU, and national commitments. There is precious little margin for wasteful duplication, and divergent doctrines and operational practices would be dangerous to their soldiers. To be blunt, encouraging a sense of NATO-EU competition would be tantamount to promoting schizophrenia as a cure for Europe’s military shortfalls.

Second, a successful NATO-EU partnership in Bosnia would lay the foundation for closer cooperation between them elsewhere in Europe (perhaps Kosovo?), the Caucasus, Africa or the Middle East. The international community has too few role models for effective multilateral cooperation to address the threats of terrorism, weapons proliferation, failing states, and regional conflict. The good news: If the NATO-EU couple performs well in Bosnia, they might inspire others to take to the dance floor. The bad news: if one of them slips badly, the other surely risks falling as well.

The author is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies in Washington. The views expressed here should not be taken to represent the policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.