NATO and the European Union: a defensive relationship

, by Translated by Lorène Weber, Voix d’Europe

NATO and the European Union: a defensive relationship
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry points the way before he and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini pose for photographers on December 1, 2015, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, before a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO Ministerial meeting. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Often compared, often criticised, NATO and the European Union (EU) are two organisations which have been shaping Europe. Yet, one country determined their fate: the United States. Always influent, the American power has constantly known how to take advantage of crises. However, the relationships have become strained, and the giant has been losing influence.

NATO, or the American hegemony

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in 1949 in order to establish an alliance driven by the United States against the Soviet Union. In the middle of the Cold War, the Americans wanted to base their defence in Europe and secure the borders at the “Iron Curtain”.

NATO’s principle is its Article 5. It consists in saying that if a NATO country is attacked, all others should consider themselves as attacked and thus come to the rescue. This collective defence, although very honourable, was mostly thought in view of supporting the United States in the event of a Soviet attack.

NATO includes a military part, properly dedicated to defence, and a political part, much more inclined to diplomacy. If officially, Europeans and Americans share the organisation’s leadership, in fact, the United States lead the entire organisation. They are also the biggest contributor to the budget, with a participation amounting to 22%. Germany and France follow with a contribution to NATO’s total budget of 14% and 10% respectively.

The EU, or the imaginary defence

The European Community has always struggled with the creation of a common defence. Perhaps traumatised by the two World Wars, the European countries have preferred favouring economic, social and monetary matters. What would be the point of creating a defence when the goal is to build peace?

The existence of NATO also had an impact, mostly with vetoes against the creation of a European Defence Community, first from former French President Charles de Gaulle and then from the United Kingdom, but for very different reasons. General de Gaulle wanted to prevent an American intrusion into European affairs, whereas the Brits didn’t want to betray they dear ally across the Atlantic by establishing a European defence without the United States.

At the end of the Cold War, the EU established the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Although modified and slightly improved over time, this defence policy has never found success, and still remains into the background today.

However, in a context of terrorism and massive illegal immigration, but also of upcoming Brexit, the idea of a genuine European defence has been relaunched.

NATO and the EU: a competition?

All 29 NATO member countries do not belong to the EU. Yet, this transatlantic alliance between EU, European and North American countries doesn’t have the power it could have. A real question arises today: what is NATO’s purpose and real power?

The Cold War is over, all European countries and the United States maintain relations (good or cordial, let’s say) with Russia. NATO’s original goal is thus finished. In 2001, after 9/11 attacks, all NATO countries did not follow the United States in Afghanistan, despite Article 5. NATO was not useful in the wars led by the US power.

The United States want to keep their European “backyard” and a stranglehold on its defence, as the saviour they’re not anymore.

The EU focused on the economy and extended NATO’s life. We can even say that the two organisations complemented each other. But a EU defence would put an end to NATO.

NATO has lived these difficulties for almost twenty years. They have however escalated with Donald Trump’s election to the White House. Thinking (if there is thinking…) as a businessman, he has never stopped sniping at the EU and NATO. He puts into question the high American budgetary participation for little benefits. His arguments mostly revolve around the United States’ protection (too important, in his opinion) towards Europe. In short, according to him and his “America first” ideology, Americans pay for Europe. This might seem true, but Trump forgets that his country created NATO to protect itself.

NATO is threatened, whether regarding its influence, its budget, or its infrastructure. In addition, it has also become a bone of contention between Europe and the United States, which haven’t been on the same wavelength since Trump’s era. Formerly a bond of the transatlantic relationship, NATO is today just like the current relations: on stand-by.

NATO is losing speed. However, the indecisiveness of the European Union and the crisis it has endured for several years gives it some reprieve. Will NATO continue? With or without the United States’ support? Will Trump shelve his European allies? Stay tuned.

This article, courtesy of Voix d’Europe, is a part of “Le Grand Format Européen”, a cooperation initiative between The New Federalist and three Paris-based student journals. This week, we publish articles concerning the transatlantic relations from Voix d’Europe as well as Courrier d’Europe - Made in Sorbonne and Eurosorbonne.

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