NATO Defense College – Interview with Franco Frattini

The most important political goal, in the future of NATO and in times of economic crisis, is for NATO to better involve EU partners

Vox Collegii

On 27th September 2013, in your blog entitled “Diario Italiano”, regarding NATO and EU multilateral co-operation, you mentioned: “The most important political goal, in the future of NATO and in times of economic crisis, is for NATO to better involve EU partners, by encouraging coordinated political choices (…)”.

How do you see the setting up of political and decisional interaction between these two Organizations? We need to promote the complementarity between NATO and the EU’s European Common Security and Defence Policy. NATO and the EU have 22 members in common. Complementarity between them is a must. Security and foreign policy are, for sure, fields where strong political leadership is needed, because of their direct impact on national sovereignty. Defending citizens and their security is, and should remain, a top priority for all democratic governments. That’s why neither NATO nor the EU can run the risk of underestimating the serious, multifaceted and asymmetric threats characterizing today’s fast-changing international security environment. Consequently, they should invest more ‒ and better ‒ in multilateral security cooperation. Additionally, at a time of financial constraints, NATO and the EU have to explain to public opinion that the money spent on preventing and addressing security challenges and threats is not wasted, but invested to protect the citizens. 


I see, in particular, complementarity between NATO’s Smart Defence, to better align the collective requirements and national priorities of member states; the Connected Forces Initiative, to ensure better interoperability; and the EU’s “Pooling and Sharing”, rationalizing defence efforts while reducing costs, as well as with the coordinating role taken on by the European Defence Agency, for the development of the EU’s defence capabilities, cooperation, acquisition and research. In promoting this complementarity we should avoid any duplication of efforts. 

But this is not enough. Because of the international financial crisis we all face, defence budgets are being cut and will continue to be cut in all NATO countries. What is needed, therefore, is more transatlantic coordination. This requires better spending and the coordination of defence cuts, which our nations will be forced to make because of the financial crisis, within NATO and without undermining the prerogatives of sovereign states, rather than the horizontal cutting of national defence budgets. The European Allies should not be seen as the “soft power” appendix to a US “hard military” security provider. That’s why, on my blog, I wrote that the most important political goal, in the future of NATO and in times of economic crisis, is for NATO to better involve EU partners, by encouraging coordinated political choices on where we can cut (think about “static” defence spending, or not “interoperable” areas) and where, on the contrary, we need new investments (for example, in modern defence capabilities, such as cyber security, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, UAVs or special operations forces). 

There are areas of closer cooperation between NATO and the EU, but how do we guarantee dependable and automatic access to common capabilities? A lot has been done already in this field ‒ take for example, the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces. Moreover, NATO and the EU agreed on those military assets and capabilities that would be “separable but not separate” from NATO’s military structure and that could be put at the disposal of the EU, for EU-led operations. These were, to simplify, the Lord Robertson-Solana agreements between NATO and the EU. But we can do much more: improving the modalities whereby, once a national political decision is taken, each Ally effectively provides a predetermined capability after receiving notice that this is required. The so-called “assured access”. Of course, a political decision is required between the Allies, on what is made available and by whom. Even though this is not an easy issue, I think that NATO and the European Defence Agency should work together to this end, to ensure transparency, efficiency and optimization, and to avoid discouraging further investments on assets that are needed. At the same time, we must avoid discriminating between NATO-EU Allies and those Allies who are not members of the EU, as well as preventing any risk of decoupling in transatlantic security.

How do we cooperate better with private industry on matters of defence and security? A first step is to improve our procurement systems, where, particularly among EU Allies, there are far more cases of fragmentation and duplication than collaborative programmes. We should consider pooling and sharing production, as well as procurement. The existing fragmentation duplicates production and leads to different standards of equipment, thus hindering the development of logistical support systems and weakening military interoperability. Europeans should, again to improve private – public cooperation, quickly implement an EU common market on defence, after the adoption of important EU directives and the strengthening of the EU Defence Agency, that go exactly in that direction. 

We know that NATO and the EU have developed specific competences and different levels of know-how, in different areas. Where do you think learning spill-over could occur from NATO to the EU, and vice-versa? The scourge of international terrorism; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery , accompanied by the erosion of the nuclear non-proliferation regime; conflict spill-over from failing and failed states; the protection of sea lanes of communication and energy supply routes; cyber security and environmental challenges ‒ these are challenges that affect us all. Their global character is evident. But while we have made good progress in intensifying our efforts to fight international terrorism and to promote international cooperation on environmental issues, I believe that much more needs to be done and shared, as we look at 21st century security challenges and threats common to NATO and partner countries. 

The increasing globalization of the oil market, for example, has accelerated the pace of exploration and production, thereby highlighting the need to secure the communication, transport and transit routes of crucial energy resources. This is of common interest to both energy producers and consumers.
Cyber security is another transnational ‒ and increasingly global ‒ new security challenge that requires more international cooperation. Since Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, NATO’s website has regularly come under cyber attack and, from the major cyber attack in Estonia in 2007 to this year’s attacks against US financial institutions, cyber security has revealed the importance of securing the digital infrastructure that our economies and our military security depend on. From our cellular communications to hospitals, from schools to airports, from classified military and security infrastructures to the World Wide Web, security in cyberspace is crucial to our public safety and national security. There is, therefore, a growing need to prepare our societies for cyber emergencies, and for our States to develop strategies for successfully managing cyber crises. NATO and the EU need to further develop their know-how and the capabilities to defend themselves against sophisticated cyber threats and deal quickly with cyber emergencies.

In today’s political and strategic international environment, the success of a policy aimed at preserving peace and preventing conflicts depends, even more than in the past, on effective preventive diplomacy and on the successful management of crises affecting our security. No country can address these new, more complex and global security challenges and threats on its own. Their successful management requires a multilateral and cooperative approach to security. Again, NATO and the EU, if they share know-how and work together, can obtain better results.

What role is there for NATO and the EU (perhaps together) in Afghanistan after December 2014? By 2014 the transfer of full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to the Afghan National Security Forces will have happened. NATO will, consequently, draw down its military forces in the country and will transform its mission into training, advising and equipping Afghan security forces, supporting them to prevent this country from, once again, becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

After 2014, there will also be a need to do more to enhance our partnerships, including the strategic partnership with the EU. NATO should broaden the complementarity of efforts between the two organizations to all areas of mutual interest, starting with more focused and more regular political consultations. This requires developing a new mindset between the two institutions, to multiply regular political consultations at all levels, and organizing cooperative activities between NATO and the EU. 
I am thinking of more frequent and regular meetings between the NATO Secretary General and the President of the EU Commission, with follow-up meetings of their staffs to explore areas of complementarity between NATO and the EU. It would also be very useful to increase the number of occasions on which the NATO Secretary General and the EU High Representative can brief the NAC or the PSC, during formal and informal ministerial level meetings. Cascading down, there should be regular working level meetings between the staffs of NATO and the EU, involving the different NATO Divisions and the EU General Directorates, including the regular organization of briefings of NATO’s International Staff and the External Action Service to NATO and EU bodies in all areas of mutual interest ‒ for example, by looking at complementarity in assisting countries in transition in North Africa and in the Mediterranean region. Assistance in the field of capacity building will be crucial to project security and stability in the Mediterranean region. We could look at areas where the efforts of NATO and of the EU could be complementary, providing added value in such a way that they would be most effective in assisting countries undergoing transition ‒ as is currently the case in Libya. 

In addition, meetings could also be organized between the military bodies of both NATO and the EU, especially between the top level military bodies such as the NATO and the EU Military Committees, to be prepared by regular contacts between NATO’s and the EU’s military staffs. 

These practical measures would help in identifying, in concrete terms, the areas of complementarity and cooperation between NATO and the EU in areas of mutual interest. 

Finally, one crucial area for NATO after 2014 is the enhancement of the partnerships that our Alliance has successfully developed with countries in different regions of the world. The new NATO Strategic Concept, approved by NATO’s Heads of State and Government in Lisbon in 2010, identifies three core security tasks to maintain the security of our territory and populations: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security with a broad range of countries and organizations around the globe. Cooperative security, through the further deepening and possibly broadening of these partnerships and institutions, is crucial to NATO’s current and future ability to be an effective security provider. NATO’s partnerships with countries in the Mediterranean Dialogue, in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, or with Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, show how, through political dialogue and practical cooperation, it is possible to build a new culture of cooperation in the security sphere. This engagement provides a better mutual understanding between NATO and a large number of countries of different cultures and it helps to prevent tensions and, therefore, to avoid conflicts. NATO’s engagement with its partners also helps us build the political consensus and military interoperability required to manage complex crises successfully, when they occur. The political and military contribution of our partners to the successful management of the NATO-led operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya testifies to the effectiveness of NATO’s engagement with its partners, and of its contribution to a more secure, stable and peaceful international environment. 

Post-2014 NATO must, therefore, continue to build on these different networks of partnership, because the best way to address the new transnational security challenges and threats of today’s fast-changing international environment is undoubtedly the cooperative approach to security developed by NATO, of which our partners are increasingly an integral part. 

Finally, possible EU-NATO integration raises the problem of the resulting weakening of the transatlantic link, which continues to be so essential for NATO. Is this a prospect which can reasonably be accommodated? During the last twenty years, NATO has undergone a major adaptation process to the new post-Cold war security realities, to continue providing security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond. In an uncertain and fast-changing security environment, NATO embodies the transatlantic link and remains the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security. 

Since NATO’s establishment, its member countries have built a transatlantic community of shared values and interests, based upon the strong belief that security and stability do not lie solely in the military dimension and that we need, therefore, to continue to enhance the political component of our Alliance, as provided for by article 2 of the Washington Treaty.

This transatlantic Alliance is a unique source of political and military capabilities to successfully manage unpredictable crises and to build new partnerships through a new and cooperative approach to security, while continuing to provide for the security of its members. 

Furthermore, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic continue to deepen transatlantic cooperation on a vast array of distinctly new and global challenges, from the international financial crisis to climate change and energy security. 

So I can certainly confirm that, today, no NATO country and no EU country can shoulder the responsibility and burden for collective security alone. This is why NATO-EU cooperation will not weaken the transatlantic link but rather, it will strengthen it. What we need today is a New Transatlantic Bargain between Europe and the United States of America. 

The new US national security strategy, outlined in January 2012 by President Obama, places special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region ‒ a region that is also of security interest for the other member countries of NATO. At the same time both Europe and the United States have an interest in stability and security in North Africa, because instability and insecurity could spread from there to the broader Middle

East and directly affect the security of NATO and partner countries in the region. 
We need, therefore, a new Transatlantic Bargain, one that would not only confirm the commitment of the United States to European security, under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, but that would commit the US to supporting the European Allies, through NATO, in managing crises in North Africa under Article 4 ‒ in return for a European commitment to support the United States in the management of crises in the broader Middle East, especially in the Gulf.

The crisis management operations of the future, while requiring the consensus of all 28 members, may imply a high degree of flexibility regarding the conduct of those operations, which could involve NATO member countries and partners alike. Such operations could also involve very diverse partners, as was the case in Libya and Afghanistan. 

Finally, I would like to stress the importance of including, in this new security equation, the establishment of a free-trade transatlantic space between the United States and the European Union. This Free Trade Transatlantic Agreement will help us not only to boost jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic, but also to develop more wisely, within NATO, the defence capabilities needed by both Europe and the United States to deal with future crises. I would like to say that I cannot see a better partner for Europe than the United States and a better partner for the United States than Europe. That is, indeed, the real core of our successful transatlantic community.

Franco Frattini Former Italian Foreign Minister and Vice President of the European Commission. Today, Franco Frattini is President of the Italian Society for International Organizations and is running as the official Italian Candidate for the post of NATO Secretary General in 2014.

© All rights reserved. Powered by Franco Frattini

Back to Top