BACKGROUND: Since the end of the Cold War, and especially during the past decade, the EU and NATO have sought to cooperate more effectively to address the security challenges facing Europe. After decades of informal talks between their officials and member governments, the two organizations established formal institutionalized relations in 2001 in response the EU’s expanding range of security and defence activities, as manifested in its European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The 1992 Maastricht Treaty had designated the Western European Union (WEU) as the EU’s defence component. Its main responsibility was to undertake the “Petersberg tasks” (humanitarian missions, search and rescue operations, crisis management, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and environmental protection). Maastricht also established an intergovernmental Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
In March 2003, NATO and the EU finalized the adoption of the so-called “Berlin-Plus” arrangements that allow the EU to use NATO's collective assets and capabilities for EU-led crisis management operations, when NATO as an institution was not involved. Only EU members that are either also NATO members or that have joined its Partnership for Peace (PfP) Programme and established a bilateral security arrangement with NATO are eligible to use these NATO assets. Furthermore the two institutions have signed an agreement to share classified information, conducted joint exercises, and established liaison teams at one another’s military headquarters.
Since 2007, NATO and the EU have had 21 common member countries. But since they both decide many important security and defence issues by consensus, countries that have membership in one organization but not the other can exert substantial influence on the level of cooperation between the institutions. At present, NATO members Canada, Iceland, Norway, Turkey, and the United States have not joined the EU, while the traditionally neutral or non-aligned EU members Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden are not NATO members, but all except Cyprus have joined NATO’s PfP. With Malta’s entry into PfP in April 2008 and France’s re-entry into NATO’s Integrated Military Command in 2009, Cyprus has become the main outlier within the NATO-EU partnership. Cyprus is not a PfP member and, partly due to a Turkish veto, does not have a security agreement with NATO for exchanging classified documents.
IMPLICATIONS: Turkey’s national security establishment has watched this process unfold with great unease. Whatever their disagreements with NATO, Turkish policy makers prefer having a transatlantic institution of which Ankara is a core member dominate European security affairs rather than having EU structures potentially displace it along with the WEU, in which Turkey was also a major player thanks to its status as one of the six “associate members.” After the December 2000 EU Summit in Nice decided to exclude non-EU NATO members from the EU’s security and defense decision-making mechanisms, Turkey’s national security community worried that they could have little impact on EU policies that could affect Turkey’s security. They also anticipated that the EU would therefore pay less attention to Turkish concerns than would the WEU and NATO.
More generally, Turkish policy makers were concerned about the EU’s lack of will and ability to defend Turkey. In addition to their often grudging support for Ankara against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), many West European governments proved reluctant to render Turkey military assistance during the 1991 Persian Gulf War with Iraq. Due to its persistent capabilities-expectations gap, moreover, the EU did not (and still does not) look like it would soon develop more robust military assets comparable to those available to NATO thanks largely to the U.S. membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Conversely, there was the theoretical possibility that, in a confrontation between Turkey and Greece, the WEU would be obliged to side with Athens simply due to its EU membership.
From late 2000-2002, Turkish diplomats labored hard to ensure that the ESDP took their country’s interests into account. At their October 2002 Brussels Summit, the EU governments adopted “ESDP: Implementation of the Nice Provisions on the Involvement of the non-EU European Allies.” This Nice Implementation Document served as the basis of the December 2002 NATO-EU Joint Declaration and the decision of the December 2002 European Council session in Copenhagen that the Berlin Plus arrangements would apply only to EU members that also belonged to NATO or PfP. The Copenhagen Summit also agreed that Turkey could participate in EU-led operations in its geographic vicinity if Ankara wanted to do so. Turkey has since contributed to a number of ESDP missions in the western Balkans.
Like his predecessors, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan argues that Turkey’s extensive support for EU-led operations undertaken within the framework of the ESDP, the deepening of NATO-EU security cooperation, as well as Ankara’s process of accession to the EU warrant Ankara’s participation in EU decision-making bodies dealing with security. Alluding to the Ankara and Nice Implementation Documents, Erdoğan also insists that “this is a commitment that the EU has made to Turkey.” According to many Turkish officials, however, NATO failed to live up to this commitment, resulting in Turkey being asked to contribute to ESDP operations that Ankara had little input in planning or initiating.
Cooperation between the EU and NATO has also been hampered by the Turkish-Cypriot dispute. Turkish objections to sharing sensitive NATO military information with the government of Cyprus pending a political settlement acceptable to its Turkish minority, currently protected by some 35,000 Turkish troops, have limited formal NATO-EU intelligence sharing since May 2004, when Cyprus joined the EU without accepting a UN peace proposal acceptable to the government in Ankara. The Cyprus government, sometimes assisted by Greece and other EU members, has retaliated by blocking Turkey’s participation in certain EU defense activities, such the European Defense Agency.
The dispute has escalated to the point today where it impedes a broad range of possible EU-NATO cooperative efforts. Whereas NATO seeks to exclude Cyprus from discussions relating both to the “Berlin Plus” arrangements and general “strategic cooperation,” the EU – partly out of solidarity with Cyprus, partly due to the desire of some members to limit EU-NATO collaboration – insists that the exclusion only applies in the former case, and currently refuses to engage in the latter process unless the government of Cyprus participates. Thus far, only “informal” NAC-PSC meetings involving all 27 countries (including Cyprus) have occurred. Since they lack the authority to make decisions, they have simply discussed mutual concerns, such as Darfur and Kosovo.
These mutual antagonisms have limited NATO-EU cooperation in general and disrupted the joint NATO-EU security missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. For example, the various EU-NATO institutional arrangements and meetings in Europe have been constrained by an inability to hold formal sessions with an agreed agenda or the authority to reach substantive decisions. In Afghanistan, the EU and NATO have been unable to reach a comprehensive agreement on how to protect EUPOL trainers. In Kosovo, Turkey has prevented Cyprus from helping train the Kosovo police force.
CONCLUSIONS: Neither the EU nor NATO will be able to realize important security goals without Turkey’s full support. Turkey’s potential contribution for helping Europeans enhance their energy security and counter radical Islamist movements is well known. Thanks to its large population and the geographically broad perspective of its national security community, Turkey also has one of the largest and most readily deployable armies in Europe. Turkish troops and commanders have assumed important roles in Afghanistan, the western Balkans, and other Western-backed peace missions. Turkey’s location is pivotal for sustaining any major EU or NATO military operation in the eastern Mediterranean or northern Middle East.
The solution to many of the EU-NATO problems involving Turkey is to address their root causes rather than merely their symptoms. Expanding Turkey’s role in ESDP decision making would ease many of the anxieties in Ankara about the Union’s growing security roles. If Turkey is not soon offered EU membership, then it should receive at least as much influence in ESDP decision-making structures as Ankara had previously enjoyed as a WEU associate member—a status that was evidently pledged at NATO’s April 1999 Washington Summit. Alternately, undertaking a more genuine effort to bring Turkey into the EU would make Turkish policy makers tolerate exclusionary ESDP practices since they would know that this discrimination was a temporary phase pending Ankara’s membership accession.
Richard Weitz, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis, the Hudson Institute, Washington D.C..
© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2010. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center".