Transatlantic ties that bind Europe

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The Taliban’s rapid, uncertain transition toward ruling Afghanistan exacerbates significant security and defense challenges for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU) nations, seriously galvanizing Europe’s two key alliances and making them consider altering where they might head next. These challenges actually present the opportunity for faster action for joint NATO-EU coordination and operations planning. Exploring how such joint operations coordination and planning might unfold — and how NATO-EU missions and operations might emerge — is important at such a difficult historical juncture, particularly when the world is focused on withdrawals from Afghanistan.

Without the transatlantic linkages binding both continents via NATO’s North Atlantic Allies, the U.S. and Canada, to their oldest allies in Europe, these decades-old alliances likely won’t take advantage of such historic junctures — and, therefore, should explore and consider moving faster to integrate NATO civilian-military planning with vaster, stability-enhancing EU measures. Rooted in NATO and EU institutional ties, partnerships, and treaties, binding membership nations and their respective, independent, and sovereign national commitments, lies the crucial transatlantic underpinning to Europe that reinforces both alliances.

Amid the many challenges to NATO and EU integrity, let alone their existence — cyber insecurity, international terrorist network attacks, energy disruption, emerging great power competitions (primarily Russia, China), climate turmoil, pandemic degradation, and mass migration — growing practical NATO-EU linkages might enable new resilience. Cooperatively adapting to NATO-EU operations planning, coordination, and implementation might allow both to grapple more effectively with such ever-changing and increasing threats across Europe — and North America.

During the past three post-Cold War decades, cooperative security became one of NATO’s “core tasks.” Its development between NATO and the EU created the potential for both alliances to consider fundamental challenges together. By building on NATO’s collective defense mantle for defending its members from adversaries, NATO and EU leaders might bind NATO better to the EU’s collective security foundation — one preventing members from fighting uncontrollably against one another. Certainly, U.S.-Canadian Transatlantic relations face more difficult political problems to press NATO and EU leaders and policymakers to consider finding more effective ways and means to re-solidify enduring transatlantic bonds.

Yet, these alliances endured great threats to their existence and now provide the juncture to begin combining nation-based collective and cooperative advantages across both institutions.

International turbulence and chaos only look to worsen, especially when overlapping alliance responsibilities continue to have NATO and the EU separately project their different alliance operations beyond their territorial borders; witness this century’s missions and operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere across North Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia. NATO and the EU might better consider how together they might improve their crisis management planning and swifter, mutually reinforcing policies and joint missions.

Signaling the reinvigorated North Atlantic role from Washington and Ottawa, President Biden met with counterparts on his only trip abroad, discussing and coordinating next steps at book-ended G-7 and US-Russia summits, and revitalizing allies at the NATO and EU summits — the latter renewing U.S. participation since 2017.

From these summits NATO-EU ties might expand more quickly, seriously accelerated by Afghanistan’s disarray, and potentially leading more quickly to better coordinating resources and considering how to synchronize fewer missions and operations — doing so by potentially conducting them together. Such operations planning might lead to greater, more practical considerations to coordinate continental, European challenges within their borders to accelerate greater NATO-EU operational and strategic ties.

NATO and EU have already learned lessons for exploring better coordination on operations planning and potential implementation from the thousands of post-Cold War experiences in educating, training, exercising, planning, resourcing, and operating. From these, allied leaders and planning staffs might enhance and adapt NATO-EU cooperative security and defense challenges via joint operations planning on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Key alliance crisis management strategies already illustrate cooperative baselines for brisker NATO-EU planning, better to protect NATO-EU territories. Such NATO collective defense visions for its Concept for Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area, Readiness Action Plan, and Warfighting Capstone Concept might now progress better alongside EU collective security commitments under the Permanent Structured Co-operation for its Military Mobility and European Defence Agency.

NATO’s Partnership For Peace (PFP) cooperative security process epitomizes essential, operational bridge-building to accelerate NATO-EU planning. Bringing member and partner nations together, even if partners never join either or both alliances, captures PFP’s 30-year operational planning successes, particularly NATO and EU missions and operations across the Balkans. For NATO-EU nations to utilize such means to strengthen ties speeds cooperative security expedients, fostering better allied resilience, power projection, and command, control, communication, and computers with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

Resilience and adaptation underscore how the 70-year plus NATO and EU longevity points toward closer coordination, better facing sober realities — including chaotic withdrawals from foreign entanglements, continuing financial burdens, duplicative institutional responsibilities, and divisive national policies. Above all, both institutions remain resilient, even with Afghanistan’s aftermath, the United Kingdom’s EU withdrawal, Eurasian and Transcaucasian nations continually wanting to join these institutions over Russia’s objections, and various member nations differing over energy policies.

Avoiding alliance pitfalls demands practical, realistic, and adequate operations planning. Afghanistan’s bleak realities propel crucial NATO-EU cooperative security for NATO’s collective defense and the EU’s collective security to forge ahead.

Dr. Joshua B. Spero is professor of international relations at Fitchburg State University. He served as senior civilian strategic and scenario planner in the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s J-5 Directorate for Strategic Plans and Policy/Europe-NATO Division from 1994 to 2000 and was lead joint staffer on the Partnership for Peace (PfP) policy/funding/programs.

Tags Afghanistan withdrawal Common Security and Defence Policy EU European Union International relations Joe Biden NATO

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