Written by Clare Ferguson,
We will remember 2016 as a tumultuous year worldwide, a 12-month period of vicious conflicts and political upheaval that will have long-lasting consequences is coming to an end. The resulting insecurity and uncertainty as to the foreign policy intentions of major world powers means that the EU strategic partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is more important than ever. However, the foreign policy intentions of two NATO members, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, are now somewhat unclear – due to the UK vote to leave the EU, and the election of Donald Trump as US President.
While the consequences of these changes is unlikely to become obvious any time soon, the need for a strong response to security challenges is on the table right now. The EU-NATO Warsaw Joint Declaration which followed the July 2016 NATO Summit, established a revised framework for cooperation to tackle the challenges of strained relations with Russia over eastern Ukraine and Crimea; growing authoritarianism in Turkey, and the war in Syria; the rise in terrorism both within Europe and globally; increased illegal migration flows; and rising populist and extremist political movements. The European Commission/European External Action Service and NATO’s Secretary-General made a number of proposals to facilitate cooperation, including improving communications and information-sharing; raising resilience in the face of attack; improving defence research and development, and spending; to boost capability and capacity.
Relations within NATO are rather complex however. Since the accession of Cyprus to the EU, EU-NATO cooperation is on an informal basis only, due to the conflict between that country and NATO’s second-largest provider of military forces, Turkey. Notwithstanding that, NATO and the EU already cooperate informally on operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and most recently in the Mediterranean Sea.
Like the EU itself, NATO’s first principles are to promote democratic values of peace, freedom and collective defence. The organisation works to prevent conflict through political cooperation on defence and security, and prioritises peaceful dispute resolution before deploying its military capacity. While debate about a ‘European army’ is little advanced, the intention of both the EU and NATO is to enable national military forces to strengthen peace and security in Europe.
Many of the EU’s most pressing issues for next year also have consequences for NATO, such as the UK’s decision to leave the EU, external security, continued migration pressure, and the situation in Ukraine. The next NATO Summit is therefore likely to be held earlier than usual in 2017, and will be hosted in Brussels by Belgium.