The EU and Nato must increase strategic defence cooperation. Here's how

The EU’s Strategic Compass and the Nato Strategic Concept must be coherent with one another to ensure strengthened collaboration and burden sharing, and to identify ways to reinforce cooperation between the EU and Nato, explains David McAllister.
A Russian army tank in Mykolaivka, Ukraine. Photo: Alamy

By David McAllister

David McAllister (EPP, DE) is chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs

16 Jun 2022

The barbaric and illegal Russian war against Ukraine has shaken all our convictions. It has put the stability of Europe and the whole international order to its hardest test since the end of the Second World War. Many challenges lie ahead, including growing instability, strategic competition and security threats.

Ukraine has a fundamental right to self-defence against this unprovoked and unjustified attack. The European Union has taken the swift decision to support Member States’ supplies of military equipment to the Ukrainian armed forces through the European Peace Facility. I strongly welcome this historic paradigm shift. Before the decision was taken, several Members States individually provided Ukraine with weapons to fight the invaders.

These deliveries have been decisive so far to counter the Russian aggression. The delivery of weapons must continue and be stepped up to allow Ukraine to defend itself effectively.

The Versailles declaration, made by the 27 EU heads of state and government in March, called for a generalised increase in defence expenditures, which represents an important step towards a fully-fledged European defence union.

The Strategic Compass, endorsed by the European Council on 24 and 25 March, will allow the European Union to develop autonomy in security and defence matters, strengthening its capacity to act credibly as a strategic partner defending an international system based on rules and multilateral cooperation. If fully implemented, it will give the EU the tools to be an effective security provider in a hostile environment and a more assertive global actor for peace and human security.

On the development of defence capabilities, we need to overcome the existing fragmentation and duplication. National vanity remains an issue. 

In the European Parliament’s annual report on the implementation of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), for which I am the rapporteur, we called for the Strategic Compass and the Nato Strategic Concept to align to ensure strengthened collaboration and burden sharing, and to identify ways to reinforce cooperation between the European Union and Nato. 

In the wake of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the EU needs to reassess the peace and security architecture established during the last decades. Real political will is required to make genuine progress in foreign policy and defence cooperation at the EU level.

Ultimately, the EU needs to establish a defence union with more ambitious short, medium and long-term objectives. This should serve as a starting point for implementing a common EU defence policy. In doing so, we must ensure that these enhanced European strategic capabilities and structures are compatible and complementary with Nato. This will contribute to the increased security of Nato allies and Member States alike.

On the development of defence capabilities, we need to overcome fragmentation and duplication. National vanity remains an issue. Instead, we should follow the principle of pooling, sharing and specialisation. This is a long-term process that requires coordinated and upfront planning. The EU budget is already providing considerable funding, but we must complement the European Defence Fund with a joint procurement mechanism. The new Joint Communication on the Defence Investment Gaps Analysis and Way Forward could be a helpful tool to strengthen the European defence industrial and technological base. The EU budget must work for our security and defence policy wherever it adds value. 

Facilitating the movement of military troops and assets – so-called military mobility – is an essential aspect for the security of European citizens and to build a more effective, responsive and joined-up Union. The objective is to overcome legal and infrastructural barriers to move heavy military equipment from a Dutch or Belgian North Sea port to Poland or the Baltic States. 

This is where close cooperation between the EU and Nato makes sense. Improving Europe’s transport infrastructure and streamlining customs procedures will allow us to be more effective in preventing crises, more efficient in deploying troops throughout Europe in a timely manner, and quicker in reacting when challenges arise. 

Energy diplomacy must become a key tool among the EU’s foreign policy instruments. 

We need to significantly increase funding for and speed up the implementation of projects. This would be another crucial step in deepening our cooperation at the EU level as well as within the framework of the Permanent Structured Cooperation with our partners, starting with Nato. 

At the same time, we are working harder to protect ourselves against hybrid warfare by strengthening cyber resilience, protecting our infrastructure and fighting disinformation. The EU needs to increase its strategic sovereignty in areas fundamental to its continued pre-eminence on the international stage, for example by achieving full security of energy supply, energy diversification and energy independence, and by prioritising the reduction of energy dependencies. 

Energy diplomacy must become a key tool among the EU’s foreign policy instruments. Our goal must be to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The EU has already decided to impose an embargo on coal, beginning in August. 

Tackling oil, as the Commission proposed in its sixth sanctions package against Russia, is the next step. In the long term, we need to seize this opportunity to accelerate the transition towards a carbon-free economy.

The challenges of the 21st century call for more, not less, EU action on the global scene, and call for more, not less, multilateral governance and rules-based cooperation. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has accelerated the need to improve our common foreign, security and defence policies. 

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