The EU and NATO: Role of the Relationship

Maintaining stability and peace throughout the world is a challenging task, requiring the cooperation of forces from all countries of the globe. However, since the interests of many countries do not coincide in matters of world order, it is almost impossible to form one alliance. Therefore, the world community was divided into several associations responsible for ensuring the security of one or another part of the globe. The purpose of this essay is to analyze and evaluate the role of the relationship between NATO and the EU.

The Overview of NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO as a structure formed much earlier than the EU began its work in the middle of the 20th century. NATO is an alliance of the North Atlantic and European countries, which leads to the subject of the regulation of their interaction. Since the creation of NATO in 1949, the international community has faced questions about the management of international relations, maintaining peace and order between countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (Koops 317). First of all, this union of nations is a military-political alliance, which means the focus is on protecting the members of the association from external threats.

Such security is one of the main concepts of NATO – deterrence and protection from any form of aggression directed towards one of the members of the union. Moreover, the organization adopted the principle according to which an attack on one country is equated to an attack on the entire union. Such a policy, first of all, was called upon to defend from external aggressors, which at the time of the creation of NATO was the Soviet Union.

After the collapse of the USSR, not only the purpose of the union has changed, but the EU as a structure has emerged. NATO had to restructure its goals and redistribute responsibilities on the world stage, joining the so-called “Strategic Partnership” with the EU (Smith and Gebhard 304). According to this interaction, NATO had to retrain into an organization dedicated to global security issues around the world. Thus, the essence of the transatlantic union has changed, since the conditions of the world have changed from the downfall of the Soviet Union and the formation of new structures.

The Overview of EU

Unlike NATO, the European Union as an organization was formed relatively recently, in the late 20th century immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the countries included in this union have a vibrant organizational history, since there were many different organizations throughout the entire history of Europe (Smith and Gebhard 304). Thus, the EU differs from NATO primarily in its focus, its structure and its goals. While NATO is, for the most part, a military alliance aimed at protecting its members, the EU is more of economic and political cooperation. Therefore, the main goal of the European Union is the regional mutual integration of different countries, the creation of a joint economic and political structure.

It can be noted that the initial goal of creating the European Union was precisely the economic unity of countries based on a single market. Accordingly, with the development of this concept and the increasing number of participants, the union of European countries has become the EU, a structure with a common currency and policies. It is these factors that make the EU an economic giant that is hard to compete with (Smith and Gebhard 304). Nevertheless, it is precisely this orientation that makes the EU weaker concerning foreign policy and ensuring security.

Yet, in recent years there has been a tendency to change this situation. To a large extent, this is facilitated by the active cooperation between the EU and NATO, which was enshrined in 2016 in the “Statement on the implementation of the joint declaration” (Howorth 455). In 2018, two organizations discussed issues of a military nature and counter-terrorism forces. This step was one of many that the EU has done towards ensuring its security. Thus, the initial economic and political orientation of the EU has also changed as a result of interaction with NATO, taking on some features from the transatlantic alliance.

EU and NATO Relationship

The basis of the relationship between the two unions is, firstly, the intersection of their interests. Most of the countries of the Alliance are also members of the European Union, which inevitably leads to the interaction of the two organizations. Although the initial goals of the two organizations were utterly different, as described above, by the beginning of the 21st century, the areas of activity of the unions began to intersect.

Since the direct threat from the USSR disappeared, NATO switched from protecting the local area from a specific danger to ensuring security on a global scale. At the same time, the emerging EU became puzzled by its security issues, not wanting to ultimately depend on the transatlantic alliance with the United States and Canada. A clear division of labor between the two structures came to an end. In the context of a changing structure, it was necessary to resolve the issue of direct relations between the two unions (Koops 318). Thus, the relationship between the two organizations began, first of all, with the renewal of their interests, goals and views.

The main change that the EU structure underwent was the establishment of its military independence from NATO. EU legislation has shifted every year to limiting NATO’s influence on European security procurement (Howorth 456). However, independently building a combat-ready and independent defence system was a challenging task, so the EU ultimately went into cooperation with the transatlantic union.

The experience gained from NATO allowed the EU to build the organization in such a way that can help in the creation of free and independent Europe. This process is still far from complete; however, thanks to acts and proposals put forward in 2016 and 2017, the EU is making significant progress on this path (Howorth 457). The role of NATO is reassigned from the coalition to counter a specific threat to cooperation with Europe within the borders of the Atlantic, which is necessary to ensure a general order. Since the immediate danger from the USSR has long passed, NATO must withdraw itself from Europe and focus its strategic resources elsewhere (Howorth 457). However, to achieve this, significant progress is required in the structure of the European Union to ensure its independence.

Thus, we can conclude that the importance of NATO-EU relations lies in their mutual transfer of accumulated experience to each other and the joint formation of a stable and secure Europe. The EU, as a political and economic structure, should become more independent and able to ensure its security independently, without being tied to NATO. The Alliance, in turn, should minimize its influence in Europe, since this organization has long survived the threat for which it was created.

Thus, the leading role in the relationship between the two unions at the moment is the mutual formation of a politically stable Europe. Also, the goal of these two unions is to ensure collective security in the world, because, at the moment, NATO and the EU together represent the two most potent structures on the world stage.

Works Cited

Howorth, Jolyon. “EU–NATO Cooperation: The Key to Europe’s Security Future.” European Security, vol. 26, no. 3, 2017, pp. 454–459.

Koops, Joachim. “Theorising Inter-Organisational Relations: The “EU–NATO Relationship” as a Catalytic Case Study.” European Security, vol. 26, no. 3, 2017 pp. 315–339.

Smith, Simon, and Gebhard, Carmen. “EU–NATO Relations: Running on the Fumes of Informed Deconfliction.” European Security, vol. 26, no. 3, 2017, pp. 303-314.

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DemoEssays. "The EU and NATO: Role of the Relationship." January 4, 2023.