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15th May 2021

NATO chief tells EU not to 'replicate' army tasks

  • NATO vehicles in Afghanistan - the alliance needs the EU to help reconstruct the country (Photo: NATO)

The EU should not "replicate" NATO's military tasks and do more instead to help the alliance with civilian work like policing in Afghanistan, NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has urged.

"We need to break the deadlock between the EU and NATO," the NATO chief said on Monday (6 November), while sketching a far-from-perfect picture of global security co-operation between the two organisations.

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Speaking at a meeting of the Security and Defence Agenda, a Brussels think-tank, Mr De Hoop Scheffer stated that "it is remarkable how narrow the common agenda of the two institutions remains."

The two Brussels-based organisations - both engaged in security and peacekeeping operations around the globe - too often try to do the same thing rather than complement each other, according to the Dutchman.

"We should get away from replicating each other's initiatives," he said pointing to recent irritation between EU and NATO on help to the Sudanese region of Darfur as one example.

The two bodies last year clashed on who should co-ordinate an airlift for African Union peacekeepers to the war-struck region, a discussion which Mr De Hoop Scheffer said was "very unhealthy" as it was clear this was a NATO, not an EU task.

The NATO chief said he is "in favour of the EU developing its own defence identity," but added that much of the added value of the union lies in civilian tasks.

The training of police in Afghanistan, for example, is "typically something the EU could do" but which is "not enough on the EU's radar screen," he said, with Germany already making efforts in this area.

Formal co-operation stagnating

Mr De Hoop Scheffer's call on the EU to better complement NATO fits into his vision of "transforming" NATO itself which he also outlined on Monday.

He said the alliance, which currently has 50,000 soldiers deployed in missions in three continents, should work closer together with international organisations which specialise in reconstruction and development of conflict areas.

Again pointing to the example of Afghanistan - where NATO operates under a UN mandate - he said this country needs a "civilian answer" but added "we are neither a relief organisation nor a reconstruction agency."

He called upon European NATO ministers to also take the alliance's concerns into account when meeting in an EU or other multilateral capacity.

"I need their support even more when they meet in an EU framework...or in international donor conferences," he said.

EU-NATO co-operation is currently formalised under the so-called Berlin-plus arrangements which include EU access to NATO planning capabilities in crisis operations as well as the exchange of classified information.

But Mr De Hoop Scheffer suggested these official channels are stagnating, proposing informal meetings of EU and NATO defence ministers to break the deadlock.

"If it can't be done in a formal way, let's then find any formula," he said.

Poland moots EU army

The NATO chief's proposals follow more ambitious plans by Polish president Lech Kaczynski, who suggested a 100,000-strong EU army, tied to NATO.

The Polish leader told the Financial Times on Monday that "at the moment we have the situation where the EU needs about 8,000 troops in Lebanon and there is a problem where to find them."

The EU should be prepared for situations when "not just 8,000 but as many as 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers are needed," he said.

Mr De Hoop Scheffer also referred to the Lebanon troop shortages, pointing to the fact that there is an "increased competition" for troops with several multilateral operations going on at the same time across the globe.

The UN force in Lebanon is comprised of "exactly the same forces used in Afghanistan," he said.

Last week saw clear indications of military "overstretch" among EU states with Germany and the UK considering pulling out troops from Bosnia and Herzegovina due to engagements elsewhere in the world.

The EU is currently running a 7,000 strong military force in the Balkan country having taken over the task from NATO in 2004.

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