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What Do Europeans Want From NATO?

November 12, 2010

We’re skipping the apologies for not blogging, because only Lauren reads this regularly (hi Lauren! look, I blogged!), which is totally fine with me.

Today’s bloggery, however, is not about small arms*. It’s about an event I went to the other day at the Atlantic Council, where I hoped to learn exactly what those mysterious Europeans want out of NATO. Director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies Álvaro de Vasconcelos coordinated a team of prominent Europeans to write “What do Europeans want from NATO?”, which is worth a read-through, though I’m not sure it really clarified for me what the Europeans are looking for.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who’s a little puzzled. Álvaro began by mentioning the difficulties in coming to any kind of consensus, even among the small group of authors, about what Europe, as an entity, wants from NATO. The quick and dirty takeaway from this event is that apparently the Europeans want something, or should want something, but it’s not clear what, and there’s no unified voice for Europe anyway, and none of this is going to Lisbon, so… uh… what are we doing here again?

Oh, sorry. That was too cynical.

On the one hand, it’s great to have a group of Europeans in conversation about formulating a European position on NATO. While individual countries, particularly the big names, have weighed in on NATO’s future, there is a legitimate need for a Europe-wide conversation on what the role of the European Union should be within and alongside NATO. The European Union as an institution has a valid interest in having a voice in discussions of what NATO should be and do going forward, and that’s been absent thus far. So, good job team!

On the other hand, the European Union is not a superstate, and finding that unified voice will be difficult, if not impossible. Europe remains a collection of individual countries, all of which have varying ideas about their national interests as related to national security and defense. What worries Portugal is not what worries Poland. The list of EU member states don’t overlap neatly with NATO’s list of member states (and, historically, the US said it would walk away from NATO if Europe ever unified its position – obviously off the table now, but it represents a significant shift in US ideas about the EU in recent years), so the idea of a truly unanimous European voice within NATO is far-fetched

Anyway, you should read the report yourself, but I did want to highlight a couple of interesting points brought out in the discussion portion:

  • We, especially the United States, often forget that Turkey is in a rough neighborhood. We demand a lot, get cranky when they don’t do what we want, and fail to remember that Turkey shares borders with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Turkey has legitimate security concerns that deserve to be taken seriously. The EU needs to stop treating Turkey like the red-headed step-child if they want genuine cooperation going forward, and everybody needs a more sophisticated approach to Iran.
  • The question of timing. Can we possibly determine NATO’s future before we know how Afghanistan turns out? Okay, so NATO should and will stay a regional organization, and out of area operations like Afghanistan will be the rare exception, but does that really mean we expect to be fighting solely on NATO soil?
  • Many NATO members’ defense budgets are being cut, some dramatically, but there’s little coordination between states on what’s being cut. This seems… unsafe, but I can’t claim I know enough about defense budgeting to know precisely how that could turn out. Nobody’s calling for the merging of budgets, which would obviously go nowhere, but it might be nice to know who’s capable of doing what.

* Yeah, yeah, I know, I keep promising and not delivering. I cracked The Gun on Wednesday, got some bad news, and put it back down. I intend to have made a solid start by next Tuesday though, when Chris Chivers will be at Politics and Prose to talk about it.


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