NATO’s foreign ministers recently launched a Reflection Process to further strengthen the political role of the Alliance. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will lead this process and appointed a group of experts to support him. Their efforts will hopefully contribute to more effective cooperation between NATO and the European Union.

One challenge that the group should address is military mobility — how NATO moves, how Europe moves, and its importance in crisis management and ensuring Europe’s security and stability. NATO-EU cooperation is essential to this effort since the EU holds the keys to fixing many of its challenges.

Effective deterrence requires three types of speed: the speed of recognition of the threat or potential threat, the speed of decision-making at all levels, and the demonstrated speed of assembly of forces needed to prevent a crisis from escalating or turning into a conflict. Without these “speeds” and the enabling “military mobility” required to move NATO forces to a threatened region — including rapid American reinforcement from the United States — an opportunistic adversary could misperceive Alliance commitment and resolve. It may calculate that it could achieve its objectives before NATO responds and present the Alliance with a fait accompli scenario, which might include the threat of nuclear weapons.

But attention in Allied capitals has understandably now shifted from deterrence to containing the coronavirus and dealing with its devastating impact. Defense budgets will be under massive pressure as governments struggle to find resources to salvage and rebuild their economies and protect millions of people. Yet today’s threats will remain after the current pandemic has passed — and so will the need for deterrence. So how can we help our political leaders deal with today’s coronavirus-related challenges while also ensuring effective deterrence in the future?

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Thinking of mobility in civilian terms — as “crisis mobility” — might be the right approach.

Recall the recent images of massive lines of trucks and cars at European borders after countries began closing crossing points without prior coordination. This reaction was intended to contain the fast-spreading virus. Yet also caught in these traffic jams were essential medicines and medical supplies, health care workers who live in one country but work in a neighboring one, perishable food items, seasonal laborers needed for agriculture, and citizens trying to return home to comply with governmental orders.

The EU must develop mechanisms for “crisis mobility” that will enable the fast-tracking of medical supplies and other essential commodities while containing the spread of the virus. But many of those same mechanisms are necessary for improving “military mobility” — so a focus on “crisis mobility” by the EU can still improve “military mobility.”

One of the projects under the EU’s PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) framework focuses on military mobility with the Netherlands as the lead nation. The EUGS (European Union Global Strategy) addresses the protection of Europe and the 2016 Implementation Plan on Security and Defense specifies its responsibilities as protecting Europe, building capacity, and crisis response. But these documents do not clearly address responsibilities and resources. To help unify and operationalize these strategic concepts, Germany has proposed a “Strategic Compass.”

Germany will assume the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the EU in July. As such, it will shape the agenda of the EU and will look to produce tangible results. The Council is where decisions are made on foreign policy and defense within the European Union. The “Strategic Compass” can address the mechanisms needed to improve crisis mobility in a way that also contributes to military mobility.

Both NATO and the EU will have to work together to effectively confront the full range of strategic and regional threats and challenges, including the coronavirus. There is much potential for effective collaboration. The development of the EU’s “Strategic Compass” should take into account NATO’s Military Strategy and the soon-to-be-published Comprehensive Concept for Deterrence and Defense. This is of strategic importance to the United States as well, so the administration should encourage this cooperation.

One of the guiding principles of NATO-EU cooperation should be that the capability to move military forces to and across Europe has many of the same features required to move essential commodities and people across Europe in pandemics and other non-military crises. Mobility underpins NATO and EU strategy and must therefore be advanced by both in close cooperation.

At the recent Munich Security Conference, one panelist remarked that “NATO is for life, the EU is for better life.” So, to the Secretary General’s Reflection Process group: for the sake of life and a better life, help improve NATO-EU cooperation so that we can “get moving.”

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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