Winning the Noble Peace Prize: What’s Next for the EU?


2012-10-16 by Richard Weitz

Recently the Noble Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union.

Norway’s Nobel Committee handed its 2012 Peace Prize to the European Union (EU), even as the bloc faces its most serious crisis since it emerged from the ruins of two world wars, an award that served as both endorsement and warning.

The committee, whose decision Europeans both celebrated and mocked, said the prize recognized more than six decades during which the conflict-ridden continent pulled together and became a harbinger of “peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights” at home and beyond.

“This year we saw that the prize could be important in giving a message to the European public of how important it is to secure what they have achieved on this continent,” he said as he announced the award in Oslo.

Clearly, the decision to award the European Union (EU) this year’s Noble Peace Prize is an interesting choice.

The EU has contributed to reducing tensions in some parts of Europe during periods of its history, but had to call on NATO to rescue it from Europe’s really serious security problems—defending against the USSR, ending the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, and most recently saving civilians in Libya.

The European Union (EU) lacks the hard power assets to be a truly effective global security actor and indeed, the EU and its approaches to global diplomacy call the entire construct of soft and hard power into question.

How can so called soft power really be power if there is not a hard power component?  And when hard power is used it needs to be combined with “post hard power” capabilities to breed success.  Libya has certainly shown this.

Perhaps if the EU-NATO relationship can evolve to craft the kind of power mixes appropriate to 21st century needs and requirements.

Nonetheless, NATO-EU collaboration is impeded by the different memberships, values, agendas, and mandates of the two organizations.

Despite common values and goals, Europeans and Americans often pursue similar interests through uncoordinated agendas.  The framework of EU-U.S. political cooperation is frequently limited to the annual EU-U.S. summit, at which discussions happen in a rapid and inefficient manner, if they happen at all. Part of the problem is that the two organizations are plagued by an inherent disjunction in that the EU and NATO are driven by different priorities and follow different methodologies. The European Union is a broader institution with a wider mandate as well as a stronger civil and fiscal orientation.

The NATO Strategic Concept adopted at the alliance’s November 2010 summit notes that “NATO and the EU can and should play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles in supporting international peace and security.”

For example, European countries could rationalize their procurement practices within both institutions by, among other measures, reducing excessive duplication, encouraging more national military specialization, establishing pooling arrangements, developing common procurement programs, and spurring greater interoperability among weapons systems.

Europe is essentially on its own in a fundamental sense as key European countries sort through the disaggregation of the Euro zone and address the reshaping political and economic map of Europe. Can European forces then be in a position to address the new strategic challenges? Credit Image: Bigstock 

Strategic cooperation between NATO and the EU has grown steadily and has become increasingly institutionalized since 2001, with the commencement of joint NATO-EU meetings at the level of foreign ministers and ambassadors. Effective NATO-EU partnership most often arises at the operational level, as in Kosovo and Afghanistan and most recently North Africa, when NATO and EU representatives develop collaborative solutions toward specific shared problems. The current U.S. administration, like its predecessors, favors expanding the EU’s security capabilities, especially when they help fill transatlantic gaps.

Still, the two organizations have proven unable to agree on conducting of the joint-crisis management exercises or actual responses. In Afghanistan, the EU has been unable to secure NATO-wide safety guarantees that its staff assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) will receive adequate protection.

Most recently, failures in Libya can be clearly laid at the feet of an inability to combine hard and soft power into an effective transition strategy.

The EU and Libya

France’s formal return to NATO’s integrated military structure has not really affected the strategic relationship between the alliance and the EU due partly to lingering French concerns that closer NATO-EU cooperation could allow Washington to impede the construction of a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) capable of acting independently of the United States.

President Sarkozy clearly was on the path to break this impasse by restoring NATO to an essential role in EU capabilities.  But will President Hollande continue this effort?

But the EU has made little progress on its own toward this end despite more than a decade of efforts backed by leading EU members, including the landmark 1998 St. Malo Declaration between Britain and France, which inaugurated the ESDP.

It read that: “The Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.” The declaration further called for “strengthened armed forces that can react rapidly to the new risks, and which are supported by a strong and competitive European defense industry and technology.”

Although this declaration was issued by the two EU members with the largest defense budgets, the EU has made little progress in developing a collective military capacity.

The EU Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009, has concrete provisions allowing EU members to collaborate more in the military field. In addition, the EU has adopted regulations supportive of increased European defense industrial cooperation. Yet, EU governments have yet to use these new authorities to generate many new cooperative defense industrial projects.

For the most part, formal coordination between NATO and the EU on matters related to capability development takes place through the NATO-EU Capability Group. The Group comes together every 4-6 weeks with the meetings alternating between the Council Justus Lipsius building in Brussels and NATO HQ. Typically, both sides will brief the other on common capability issues, which is followed by time allotted for a question and answer segment.

While those in attendance will vary from meeting to meeting, the EU is often represented by Permanent Representations’ counselors to the Political-Military Group, the EDA’s Policy and Plans unit, and the Council Secretariat CMPD. On the NATO side, the meetings are attended by Defense Policy and Planning; the International Military Staff; the Defense Investment Division; and defense counselors and advisors from the missions and capitals. The agenda at a meeting will usually consist of two to three items and typically, the country currently possessing the EU presidency will guide the progression of the meeting.

Although these meetings of the Capability Group can be effective, they often run into the usual political hindrances.

Furthermore, the Group’s meetings are often said to consist of a series of largely formulaic information exchanges.   In addition, the Capability Group is often hampered by an increasing reluctance by the EU to truly engage in negotiations without the active participation of the entirety of its members. A common lament by the EU is that the network by which the EU-NATO communicates is inherently unbalanced as NATO is able to present a united front while the EU is seemingly fractured.

In addition, the absence of a security agreement between NATO and the European Defense Agency is a significant hindrance in the relationship between the two organizations.  Because the more formalized means of dialogue between the two organizations are often mired by one problem or another, the EU and NATO now rely largely on a rather informal system of staff-to-staff dialogue and exchange. This system has achieved some success but not enough.

Furthermore, the two organizations have proven unable to agree on conducting of the joint-crisis management exercises or actual responses. At best, the NATO governments can applaud the EU for pursuing collective defense initiatives that might prove useful for a NATO operation. And relations between NATO and the EU could easily worsen in coming years since the new French government is led by Socialist party that is less comfortable than its predecessor with closer NATO-EU cooperation.

One of the primary obstacles in the path of increased cooperation between the two organizations is long standing tensions between Cyprus and Turkey. Cyprus, which is a member of the EU, has continued to oppose Turkey’s entry into the Union due to Turkey’s defense of Turkish Cypriots’ right to a separate entity in the north of the island.

The dispute over the northern part of Cyprus, which is still occupied by Turkish troops and whose independence is recognized only by Turkey, has been a hot button issue for EU-NATO relations ever since Cyprus joined the EU in 2004.   In fact, Turkey refuses to even allow Cyprus to take part in the joint meetings of these two organizations.

Officially, the reason given by Turkish authorities is Cyprus’ absence from NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The PFP is an instrument used by NATO which controls the relations between NATO and a number of non-member NATO states that are however in geographical proximity to the borders of the Atlantic Alliance. This is an area which encompasses the neutral EU states.

Further exacerbating the problem, Ankara has vetoed every attempt at opening access to classified NATO documents to the Greek Cypriot authorities, while Cyprus has actively blocked any attempt at Turkish participation in EU defense activities. Turkey has not had access to any access to EU documents relating to military missions, and is the only NATO member who has not signed a security agreement with the bloc. Furthermore, joint procurement initiatives coordinated by the European Defense Agency are also off-limits to Turkey.

The growing disconnect between the two organizations due to Turkey’s antagonistic relationship  with Cyprus has led NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking in Brussels after a meeting with the EU diplomats headed by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, to (in a clear reference to Turkey) say, “the EU must move to accommodate some concerns raised by NATO allies that are not at the same time members of the European Union.”

In particular, Rasumussen argued that non-EU countries that contribute to EU led missions should have a greater voice in EU decision-making processes. He urged the EU to “conclude a security agreement with Turkey” and to allow Turkey to conclude an agreement with the European Defense Agency, a move which has been openly resisted by Cyprus. Finally, Rasmussen acknowledged that NATO should accept “that Cyprus is actually a country which deserves a seat at the table when we are having a dialogue between NATO and the European Union.”

The next U.S, administration will need to stress that the EU’s ability to collaborate effectively with the United States and NATO on security issues.

This will require addressing the concerns of those EU countries not belonging to NATO, especially Cyprus, as well as reassuring Turkey about its apprehensions regarding the EU’s continued restrictions on Ankara’s impact on EU decision making.

Neither the EU nor NATO will be able to realize important security goals without Turkey’s full support.

For our look at the impact of the Euro Crisis on Europe’s global role and the potential impact on European restructuring see