Home / Our news and views / First EU-NATO assessment reports progress on all fronts across their cooperation areas, but behind the rhetoric lies another story

First EU-NATO assessment reports progress on all fronts across their cooperation areas, but behind the rhetoric lies another story


BRUSSELS – EU and NATO completed their first joint report on 14 June (which EU foreign ministers reviewed on 19 June) regarding the two sides’ progress on implementing the 42 proposals they endorsed in Warsaw a year ago. These range from cyber-defence cooperation and counter-hybrid warfare to joint exercises, coordination of defence capability development goals, cross-operational support and other measures to boost Europe’s overall security.

Their publicly released report is short – only four pages – and contains no details about progress on the individual proposals. Instead it proffers glowing statements about their accomplishments so far.

“We are convinced that in the space of a few months we have achieved tangible results in the implementation of all proposals,” it states.

That might apply to certain areas such as joint tabletop exercises or operational cooperation in the Mediterranean. But in other crucial ones, progress is snaking along at best and – as sources from both sides have told SECURITY EUROPE – will probably take years to effect real change, particularly for any deep-dive cyber-defence coordination or exchanges of intelligence.

On the positive side the report notes that, for the first time, NATO and the EU staffs will jointly exercise their response to a hybrid scenario. The EU will have an active role (as opposed to past observer status) in NATO’s annual “CMX 17” crisis management exercise in November. It will also participate in a related NATO-led pilot project for parallel and coordinated exercises in 2017, with the EU reciprocating in 2018 by taking the lead role for a parallel and coordinated exercise.

On the operational front, coordination is rising between Operation Sophia and Sea Guardian, respectively the EU and NATO naval missions in the central Mediterranean. Information sharing and logistical support have increased and the two sides are reviewing how Sea Guardian will support Sophia in implementing the UN arms embargo on Libya.

Elsewhere, the report notes that the two organisations are locking arms to boost stability in the Western Balkans and other regions. “Cooperation on the ground and at headquarters level in this respect has strengthened substantially,” it states. This will focus on strategic communications, cyber, ammunition storage and safety in three countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Tunisia “as a first step”.

The picture is decidely mixed when it comes to their cyber-defence cooperation, sharing intelligence and countering the effects of hybrid warfare, however. Ten of the 42 proposals, for example, are linked to countering hybrid threats.

The nations of both the EU and NATO will participate in the forthcoming European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, to be set up in Helsinki. The EU’s year-old intelligence hybrid fusion cell – within the situation centre (SitCen) of the European External Action Service – will interact more closely with NATO’s hybrid fusion cell to create a shared situational picture, with a first joint intelligence assessment on a hybrid topic due soon, according to the report.

But, as one EEAS official told this publication, the SitCen “has no collection ability of its own” and the information which it does get from the member states “has no tactical or operational import”. The official added: “we are trying to come up with a certain intelligence culture between EU institutions and the member states and their [intelligence] agencies.  But there is a long way to go.”

As for cyber-defence, the report says NATO and the EU have exchanged concepts for integrating cyber defence into their planning and conduct of missions and operations, while aiming for complementary cyber-training and educational curricula.

They also intend to expand coordination between CERT-EU and NCIRC, the computer emergency response teams of EU and NATO, respectively. But here too there is the goal and the reality. As one senior NATO official confided in late May, exchanges between the two emergency computer units “are at the unclassified level, though we hope to take this up to at least the ‘restricted’ level but there are personnel vetting issues across town [at the EU].”

     THE UPSHOT: For the EU and NATO to declare “tangible results” across all 42 areas is nothing short of fatuous. Neither organisation can move that fast or coordinate so thoroughly across so many topics. To sling around language like that is pure spin-doctor lingo.
     Example: among the 42 proposals is cooperation on “defence industry and research”. What have the two sides done? They have “established a mechanism for interaction to further develop a dialogue” on industrial aspects, with a focus on areas of common interest such as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
     A “mechanism for interaction to further dialogue” as tangible progress? Oh please.
     As for promoting their common interest in SMEs as a source of innovation, NATO is a universe away from reforming its heavy acquisition rules to nimbly accommodate SMEs, while the EU will need years to effectively manipulate its forthcoming European Defence Fund in favour of defence and dual-use SMEs in any significant way – and it won’t be doing that with NATO in mind anyway.
     Then there is the issue of EU-NATO exchanges of cyber-intelligence where the EU is trying to import NATO’s security culture. However, only one-fifth of EU officials deemed as needing to receive information from NATO have clearance, according to the EEAS official.
     Indeed, the EU met with heads of national security agencies in Malta in mid-May to discuss precisely the matter of security clearance for improved EU-national intel exchanges and thus better EU-NATO ones. But there was no consensus on the way ahead.
     Referring to the fact that only 22 EU countries belong to NATO, an EU official said “the issue of the other six always comes up, meaning there is constant talk about what can and cannot be shared between the alliance and the EU.”


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