By BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – The EU and NATO never miss an opportunity to piously vaunt their “close cooperation” but for years have had little beyond meetings, and meetings about meetings, to show for it.
Despite their agreeing a list of 42 cooperation areas at NATO’s July 2016 summit in Warsaw – recently augmented by another 70 or so objectives – the concrete results have been hard to see and touch, given that so much of the mutual effort is about process and exchanges of information.
That is about to change, as the EU sets out to assess how it could help the alliance in a crucial and vast undertaking known as military mobility. This entails updating, modifying or building new infrastructure that will enable allied forces to, once again, deploy quickly across and around Europe’s territory.
The allies were able to do this during the Cold War. But then, in the euphoria of the “end of history”, they dismantled large chunks of their military-compliant logistics and infrastructure or let it slide into obsolescence. Too often as well, dedicated transport, communications or energy resources were privatised.
Europe’s dramatically changed security situation, however, means the allies’ low mobility levels must be reversed.
In early February NATO transferred its set of military mobility requirements to the European Commission. After a period of study by the latter, these will be integrated into the EU’s Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) infrastructure investment programme and, ultimately, into EU calls-for-proposals to industry.
However, NATO’s needs will have to fit into a commercial/military dual-use approach within any TEN-T projects since the latter do not finance pure military infrastructure in transport, energy or communications.
Nonetheless, as one NATO source recently put it to SECURITY EUROPE, “the potential of the EU to help the military via TEN-T is just huge.”
The TEN-T programme can deploy many billions of euros in investment for its nine pan-European corridors of road, rail, inland waterway, sea lane/sea port and aviation infrastructure elements. If re-tinkered for dual-use exploitation, investment in these corridors could significantly boost NATO’s rapid deployment capability.
For example, TEN-T’s Rhine-Danube corridor is the main east-west link across continental Europe, connecting Strasbourg and southern Germany to Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Bucharest before ending at the Black Sea port of Constanta. Others follow north-south or northwest-southeast trajectories or trace the Mediterranean and Atlantic.
The Commission will work with two sets of NATO references as it frames future TEN-T projects. One is NATO’s body of standardisation agreements (Stanags), which define the technical specifications for systems, equipment and parts for vehicles, tanks, mobile radar and other pieces of kit.
The other set NATO’s set of customised requirements for military mobility. Transferred to the Commission on 2 February, they are essentially generic guidelines that specify such things as the size of ports and how they connect to roads, or the size of landing strip and their surfaces required military aircraft.
The Commission will first have to conduct a gap analysis of its TEN-T corridors to identify where modifications to existing infrastructure and new dual-use ones are needed.
Even in the unlikely event the gap analysis is quickly carried out, it will not lead to immediate action, given that the funding for most TEN-T projects is already committed for the remainder of the EU’s 2014-2020 general budget. The most realistic starting date would be after 2020, when the next seven-year budget begins.
Indeed, allied sources avow that if TEN-T’s corridors are overlaid with NATO’s military supply routes, a fairly clear picture emerges of what is needed and thus where the EU should focus its effort. Not surprisingly, the three have tentatively agreed on a methodology to do this.
Elsewhere, there is a geo-political challenge. The 22 nations that belong to both NATO and EU can be expected to coordinate their technical data exchanges and logistical planning for deployment. But one only has to glance at Europe’s map to see several potential cross-border obstacles to pan-European military movements.
These entail neutral countries or those that belong either to the EU or NATO, but not both: Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Sweden. The alliance is now in touch with these countries to put in place pre-arranged diplomatic clearance of military movements of allied assets and troops across their borders in times of crisis.