Why the NATO is in the Aegean? What is the European reaction? Waiting for the European Council answer on 17 Mars
Why the NATO is in the Aegean? What is the European reaction? Waiting for the European Council answer on 17 Mars

Why the NATO is in the Aegean? What is the European reaction? Waiting for the European Council answer on 17 Mars

The European Union has promptly responded to Turkey requests for the migrant question. Since 2014, two European naval operations have taken place in the Mediterranean in order to deal with human trafficking. However, two European countries have asked NATO for help in the Aegean, and even Turkey, despite the planned aid, didn’t hesitate to plaid for NATO assistance. Is the EU ineffective according to Turkey? This article wants to explore the European weakness, analysing at the same time the issue of NATO presence in the Aegean.

The main challenges of future Europe

According to Stephen M. Waltz, professor of International Relations at Harvard University, the EU suffers from growing tensions and several self-inflicted wounds. For this reason, the EU is facing five challenges:

  • Over-expansionism: EU member states are independent nationals with their own internal politics and their government. Expansion has made the EU more divided and less popular. Indeed, in 2014 a lot of European citizens believed that their voice didn’t count in EU decision-making and didn’t understand the importance of being Europeans citizens.
  • The fall of the Soviet Union: the absence of an external danger encouraged European leaders to focus more on selfish national concerns and seeing the EU as a way to limit and constrain German dominance. Furthermore, the recent events in Ukraine and the incoherent European response to it have shown the lack of consensus on basic security issues.
  • The economic crisis: the 2008 financial crisis exposed the EU weakness. Seven years have passed since the crisis hit and the EU lacks the political institutions and personalities needed to sustain it. EU member states such as Greece and United Kingdom are taking advantage by this difficult period to justify their desire to leave the Union.
  • The internal nationalism: the economic stagnation, high youth unemployment and concerns about immigration have also incited a resurgence of Eurosceptic nationalist parties that reject the core principles on which the EU is built.
  • The tensions in the neighbour areas: state failures in Libya, Syria, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa have produced a flood of refugees seeking to get in, while the emergence of the Islamic State. The EU has been unable to agree on new measures to address any of these challenges, however, further underscoring its dysfunctional decision-making process.

These problems represented a problem for the future of Europe, particularly for the Neighbourhood Policy: concretely, the question of relations with Turkey for control of migration flows. On 7 August 2015, the Foreign Policy Journal wrote that it was vital to reset and revitalize the relationship between Turkey and the West in all areas, including cooperation in combating the Islamic State in Syria. European officials emphasized the distance Turkey needed to travel to be “good enough” for EU membership — rather than the distance it had come. Turkey and the EU already agreed in May 2015 to renew talks on the Customs Union in early 2016 and to discuss extending it to include services, government contracting and most agricultural goods. Both sides need to begin consulting internally and work to build confidence in its mutual benefits. At the theoretical level, this type of relationship is represented by the comprehensive and the multilateral approach, typical of the European Union (already analysed in previous articles like « Not About defence, not about Common »). However, the ideological, legal and institutional structures of the European Union requested the external assistance from NATO in the context of military operations. Here we will face the question of NATO presence in the Aegean.

The NATO in the Aegean

On Tuesday 9 February 2016, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said that the aim of meeting (9 – 11 February) was the reinforcement of dissuasion and collective defence. In this occasion, the defence ministers of the alliance’s member countries wanted to speak about the political situation of the Alliance East Area. The major subjects were the situation in Georgia (about its political and security reforms), and the fight against ISIL. Consequentially, the Syrian crisis was tackled. That same day, the Defence Ministers of Turkey, Greece and Germany formally asked NATO’s military assistance in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, in order to manage the monitoring of migration flows. On Thursday 11 February, Jens Stoltenberg affirmed in his official speech that NATO would have supported the joint request of Germany, Turkey, and Greece in order to assist them in the management of the refugee and migrant crisis. The goals were:

  • To participate in the international effort to stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean,
  • To contribute critical information, surveillance, and reconnaissance at the Turkish-Syrian borders,
  • To provide tools and advice in specifics areas, thanks to collaboration with the European Union.

However, at the request of the United States, NATO also decided to send surveillance planes to patrol the Turkish-Syrian border: the official purpose is to degrade and destroy ISIL. However, it seems important to note that this operation can have two interpretations. The first is that this mission can be interpreted as an operation to dual purpose: on one hand, to deal with the issue of migration; on the other hand, to have an excuse for squeezing NATO ships close to Turkey to fight ISIS and to provide further « American support » to the Turkish domestic lawsuit against Russia. On the other hand, this mission is parallel to the Operation Sophia: the EU operation in the central Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, the EU has not been affected by the backlash at all: two European states have turned to NATO and not to the EU to resolve an issue that could be carried out within the framework of the EU defence policy and common security. In addition, until now, the European Union has not had a political reaction to the request made by Turkey to NATO, considering that Turkey will receive a large sum of money by Member States. Indeed, in the Conclusion on migration of the European Council on 18 and 19 February, the EU welcomed NATO decision to offer assistance in order to monitor and control the Aegean. Moreover, the High Representative (HR) Federica Mogherini, after the meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, said that the EU and NATO would have worked in coordination, and she informed NATO’s Secretary General of the decision to establish an EU cell to facilitate clear coordination arrangements and ensure effective cooperation with NATO at all levels. The HR underlined that the EU was ready to share with NATO the experience it has gained through Operation Sophia and that appropriate operational contacts will be established.

In 2014, the EU launched Operation Triton in the coastal waters of Italy. Both the Operation Triton and Operation Sophia were aimed at combating people smuggling between Libya and southern Europe, and their effectiveness in this area is still debated. It seems essential to point out that, according to the Foreign Affair Journal, NATO’s mission has a more limited scope than some of these earlier efforts. The Eastern Mediterranean routes that NATO will target are far less deadly for migrants than voyages over the central Mediterranean (where the EU ships are). The aim of NATO’s mission is similar to that of the EU’s Joint Operation Triton, which was launched (to monitor the people smuggling networks operating in the in the territorial waters of Italy). One difference between the EU’s naval operations in the Central Mediterranean and NATO’s deployment in the Aegean is that NATO will send rescued migrants to Turkey, rather than transport them to the EU. Although NATO will have fewer restrictions on its geographical area of operations, the scope of its mission will be more limited than that of Operation Sophia.

Why does the European Union accept the NATO presence? What are the real reasons of NATO presence? What will it be the European answer to Turkey?

Maybe the European Council in 17 – 18 Mars could give us an answer.

Maria Elena Argano


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Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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