For EU and NATO, snags over intelligence

Posted in NATO | 11-Nov-04 | Author: Judy Dempsey| Source: International Herald Tribune

BERLIN While NATO and the European Union appeared to absorb former Communist nations and other new members with ease last spring, diplomats from both groups say that doubts about the reliability of some countries and lingering disputes have brought the important function of sharing secrets to a virtual standstill.

The ability to exchange intelligence is extremely important for both alliances as their military experts work around the clock for the EU to take over in early December the NATO-led mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina - the Europeans' most ambitious and largest military role to date.

Diplomats said Wednesday that the success of the Bosnian mission would depend on both sides' working very closely on intelligence issues. But neither Cyprus nor Malta, which along with eight former Communist countries joined the EU on May 1, has clearance to share NATO secrets.

"Enlargement, and continuing disagreements over Iraq, has weakened the level of trust among the member states belonging to both organizations and between the organizations," said Jean-Yves Haine, a military expert at the EU-backed Institute for Security Studies in Paris. "It is making cooperation very, very difficult."

According to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity, two of the countries that are causing some of the biggest difficulties for the enlarged NATO and EU are Bulgaria and Turkey.

Bulgaria joined NATO last spring and is due to join the EU in 2007. But 15 years after the overthrow of the Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, the small Balkan country has yet to rid the top echelons of its military and security services of officers trained in the former Soviet Union.

Last month, Emil Vulev, who was chosen to be Bulgaria's first ambassador to NATO, was denied security clearance. General Dimitur Georgiev, commander in chief of the Bulgarian Air Force, was denied access to NATO classified documents.

Another general, Pavlomir Kunchev, was blocked from becoming Bulgaria's military representative to NATO's military headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

The cases have been acutely embarrassing, both for the current government in Sofia and for NATO itself, which has put great store in its ability to share intelligence with the seven new former Communist countries that joined the alliance last spring.

But it is Turkey that has tried to use EU enlargement to pursue its own agenda, NATO and EU diplomats say.

On the one hand, Turkey, a key longtime member of NATO, is still furious over Cyprus's refusal earlier this year to accept a United Nations peace plan that would have ended the island's 30-year-old division. Denying security clearance to Cyprus and Malta, is, in the view of some European Union diplomats, Turkey's way of showing its displeasure.

On another level, Turkey is using the security issue as a means of exerting pressure on EU leaders who are to decide next month whether to give the final go-ahead for what are expected to be long negotiations ending in membership for Turkey.

Turkey has used similar tactics in the past. For nearly two years, throughout 2001 and 2002, it blocked a NATO-EU agreement - known as Berlin Plus - that would have allowed both organizations to share and exchange intelligence. Ankara lifted its veto only after receiving assurances from EU leaders at their December 2002 summit in Copenhagen that they would speed up pre-accession negotiations with Turkey.

NATO diplomats said the result then and now is the same: Cooperation between NATO and the EU has almost come to a standstill.

"In fact, the cooperation is simply not developing," bemoaned a senior NATO diplomat who requested anonymity.

What it means in practice is that whenever the North Atlantic Council, which consists of the 26 NATO ambassadors, meets with counterparts from the EU's Political and Security committee, Cyprus and Malta are regularly excluded. "If intelligence or security issues are on the agenda, we are asked beforehand not to attend," said a Maltese diplomat.

The result is that the EU, on security issues, cannot function as a union of 25 countries. NATO, as an alliance, is then extremely reluctant to share intelligence with the 23 other EU countries, fearing that its intelligence would be compromised by being shared with Cyprus and Malta, who have no right to see it.

"It is very messy," said the NATO diplomat. "Cyprus and Malta could be trusted with some classified material. And if not, they could easily tighten up their systems. The point is that security clearance requires agreement from all NATO members."

Some diplomats said the stalemate between the EU and NATO could be broken at the EU summit. A French official said: "Maybe, if Turkey gets what it wants from EU leaders next month - a date for starting accession talks - cooperation will improve. It is hard to know."

"Turkey may even hold out longer until Cyprus, under EU pressure, opts for the UN peace plan."