This Is How NATO and the EU Have Managed to Make Things Work

Simon J Smith

In the face of growing security challenges to Europe, from an antagonistic Russia, to instability in the Middle East, cyberwar and terrorism, there is a growing recognition that enhanced cooperation between the EU and NATO will be key to an effective response.

Calibrating such cooperation to respond to perceived common threats, however, has never been straightforward. The political context, as well as rivalry between the EU and NATO, have often hampered the capacity of the institutions to work together.

The meeting of NATO leaders in London on December 3-4 offers an occasion to further move that relationship forward. But having tracked EU-NATO relations for over a decade, I wouldn’t count on any major strategic or political breakthroughs.

Ever since NATO was created in 1949, with the dual aim of keeping the peace among the Allies and providing a security alliance against the Soviet Union, there has been a tension between whether or not NATO should drive the security agenda in Europe.

Since 1949, a number of European-wide organisations have tried to coordinate European defence policy – from the failed attempt at a French proposal for an integrated European Defence Community in 1954, to its alternative, the Western European Union (WEU), a military alliance of the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

Forging a relationship

The precursor to the EU, the European Community, didn’t really put security matters on its agenda. So it was in the mid-1990s following the Maastrict Treaty that the newly-formed EU began to develop its own common foreign and security policy and the relationship with NATO began to shift.

NATO had already developed a good working relationship with the WEU, but this really became germane in 1996 with attempts to use the WEU as an institutional bridge between the EU and NATO.

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