Defending Europe: Military Mobility & the EU-NATO Conundrum

Written by | Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Improved military mobility in Europe is identified as one of the key steps towards a more credible deterrence and has become one of the flagships for EU-NATO cooperation. Both NATO and the EU, as well as their member states, have an interest in being able to rapidly move defense forces, equipment and supplies across Europe. In some areas, the EU and NATO are jointly dependent on each other, which should make it into a very promising area for cooperation.

The EU, for example, has more to say on legal and regulatory issues and has available funds and programs on cross-border mobility. NATO is able to plan and calculate the military’s needs for transport across Europe to ensure credible deterrence. However, the EU and NATO still remain very different entities, which operate on a different political, legal, governance and membership basis. If military mobility is to be successful, stakeholders need to be aware of these obstacles and how to overcome them.

The EU and NATO’s military mobility challenges mainly fall into two categories. The first is logistical, which includes localizing roads and bridges that can support the weight?of military equipment or increasing capacity at key ports. This is a field that has been neglected after the end of the Cold War. The second is legal and regulatory, which involves ensuring that nations have the necessary administration in order to allow the armed forces of other nations to cross their borders more quickly. An enlarged NATO, the large number of stakeholders involved in the process and the rapid increase in legal and regulatory provisions makes this into a complicated task.

Overall, EU-NATO cooperation on the issue of improving cross-border military movement is?a relative success story, though it helps only to some degree to solve the EU-NATO cooperation conundrum. It is clear that it is part of a more general trend of better EU-NATO cooperation as a result of the increase in threat perception by the member states, whether part of the EU or part of NATO, or both. A well-functioning cooperation between the EU and NATO is of the utmost importance in the light of the level of threats to Europe, but also to offset implications of the UK leaving the EU.

Still, some aspects of military mobility contribute to its specific success. The nature of the issue of military mobility requires a whole-of-government and even a whole-of-society response, which makes it a matter in which both organizations are dependent on each other. This helps to push the sense of rivalry between NATO and the EU to one side. However, the case of military mobility shows that the traditional obstacles of the Turkey and Cyprus blockage still hamper cooperation. This does take place in an overall more open and positively developing experience of increased contact among staff, leading to better cooperation.

It should also be noted that some practices from the ‘military mobility’ case could be replicable in other EU-NATO cooperation cases. Through ‘best practices’ such as military mobility, the EU and NATO can show?that they are able and willing to work together and that the sum of the EU and NATO parts is more than what the EU and NATO can do separately or even complementarily.

EU-NATO cooperation on ‘new’ subjects such as military mobility, but also hybrid threats, works relatively well because Turkey and Cyprus tolerate informal staff-to-staff cooperation. The relative success of the EU-NATO cooperation in these fields lies in the added value that both organizations bring to the issue: notably, the EU’s role in building societal resilience and its (dis)information campaigns, while NATO’s added value lies in its wide range of military capabilities that are needed to counter hybrid threats.

There is a plethora of stakeholders involved in cross-border military movement, all of whom are required to contribute, but there is not a single entity coordinating what needs to be done and providing an overall overview. The ‘Structured Dialogue on Military Mobility’ launched in November 2018 could be a good format for the strategic level in that it ensures the coherence ?and mutual reinforcement of efforts to improve military mobility as well as to achieve?synergies wherever possible and to avoid unnecessary duplication.

‚Military Mobility and the EU-NATO Conundrum‘ – Report by Margriet Drent, Kimberley Kruijver and Dick Zandee – Clingendael / The Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

(The Report can be downloaded here)

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