NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on the EU on Friday (22 October) to cooperate more closely with the military alliance after the latest EU defence efforts in recent months raised concerns of a parallel structure that might be competing with NATO.
“We have to ensure that our security concept remains uniform,” Stoltenberg said after a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.
The NATO chief was referring to the negotiations on a new EU-NATO joint declaration of mutual cooperation which is to be presented before the end of the year.
According to NATO officials, it is meant to include cooperation in areas such as military mobility, maritime security, cybersecurity and addressing the security challenges posed by climate change.
Cooperation between NATO and the EU has already reached “an unprecedented level,” Stoltenberg told reporters, welcoming the increased military ambitions of the EU member states, but stressing these should not duplicate NATO structures.
In the latest steps in accelerating efforts to deepen EU defence cooperation, the bloc is working on a military strategy document similar to NATO’s ‘Strategic Concept’, which could be the closest thing the bloc could have to a military doctrine in the future.
In the wake of the Afghanistan crisis, EU defence ministers discussed in September proposals for an initial entry force and the possibility to move towards ad-hoc military cooperation between interested EU member states.
Calls have re-emerged for the EU to develop a European initial entry force reaction force, the bloc’s own joint military capability, to respond quickly to crises in the wake of the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport after the Taliban seized power.
Initially proposed more than two decades ago, the plans have been stuck despite the creation in 2007 of a system of battlegroups of 1,500 troops that have never been used due to disputes over funding and a reluctance to deploy.
“We need more skills, not new structures,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
Speaking after the NATO defence ministers meeting, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said in Brussels the US would support a “stronger and more capable European defence” if it “makes a positive contribution to transatlantic and global security and is compatible with NATO”.
Austin responded positively in his public remarks to reporters, saying he welcomed a more capable European defence, echoing a joint statement issued by the French and US presidents in September.
“What we’d like to see are initiatives that are complementary to the types of things that NATO is doing,” Austin told a news conference and urged NATO allies to live up to their “number one job” of “credible deterrence and defence”.
Austin also said there were no contradictions between a European and an American strategy in the Indo-Pacific, saying that NATO allies were working together to counter China’s military rise.
Washington incensed Paris in September by agreeing on a pact, known as AUKUS, with Australia and Britain that cost France a submarine deal with the Australian navy.
Austin also pledged to “collectively work to ensure that the Indo-Pacific area region remains free and open.”
German and French reassurances
Earlier on Thursday, outgoing German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pleaded for strengthening the military capabilities of the European NATO members.
During the evacuation mission in Kabul in August, Europeans found that without the US Europeans were “not so capable of acting as we all would want to be,” she told Deutschlandfunk.
Kramp-Karrenbauer also stressed that the recent joint proposal for improving structures and processes, presented by Germany, Portugal, Slovenia, Finland, and the Netherlands, was positively received, but was not meant as European competition with NATO.
Striking a similar tone, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told her NATO counterparts on Friday not to fear the EU’s defence plans, saying that the US will benefit, and any European capabilities will strengthen the alliance.
The remarks, made at a NATO defence ministers meeting and shared with reporters, sought to end months of uncertainty about whether the latest EU effort to develop weapons and forces would be in competition with the alliance.
“When I hear some defensive statements on European defence and when I observe certain threats, including within this organisation, I say: ‘don’t be afraid!'” Parly told a session that also included the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell.
“European defence isn’t being built in opposition to NATO, quite the contrary: a stronger Europe will contribute to a strengthened and more resilient alliance,” Parly said.
Eastern European member states, however, tend to rely more on NATO structures.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]