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NATO’s impact on the European international security and counter-terrorism policy

On 5th and 6th December 2017, NATO Foreign Ministers meeting took place in Brussels. With a view to the next Summit in July 2018, NATO underlined three fundamental issues: the relations with the European Union (EU), the threat posed by North Korea for the international security, and the fight against international terrorism (particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan). These topics are also on the EU’s security and defense agenda. In this article, firstly, the measures taken by NATO during the meeting will be presented. Secondly, the EU positions on these issues will be shown, also considering the objectives of the Global Strategy (GS) updated in June 2017. Finally, the possible impact that NATO decisions can have on the international security and counter-terrorism policy of the EU will be exposed.


The results of NATO Foreign Ministers meeting

On 4th December 2017, in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg presented, during the press conference, the topics on which ministers from the 29 member countries had to reach an agreement on.

The first item on the agenda was NATO-EU cooperation. In fact, already during the NATO Summit in July 2016 in Warsaw, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, together with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, signed a package of 42 concrete measures with NATO Secretary General about the cooperation between the two institutions. The purpose of the meeting was to improve this cooperation by focusing on military mobility, precisely because of the current security scenario. The second point was international security with particular attention to the threat posed by North Korea. The third point was the fight against international terrorism.

At the first day of a meeting on cooperation between the EU and NATO, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, during the press conference, clarified the three main areas on which the two organizations have to work together: military mobility, international terrorism, and the promotion of the role of women in the field of peace and security. More specifically, the Common Set, the official document in which the cooperation points are specified, highlighted:

  • The hybrid threats: intensify the relationships between actors committed to counter hybrid threats and strengthen cooperation on assessments, including terrorism, from the south and east; coordinate strategic communications on security threats, including issues related to terrorism, and strengthen staff cooperation on civilian preparedness, including risk assessments.
  • The operational cooperation and cyber-security: based on experience in the Mediterranean Sea and the Horn of Africa, the two organizations want to explore further possibilities of mutual logistic support and information-sharing among the personnel involved.
  • The development of defense capabilities: regular meetings on military mobility in all sectors to ensure a coherent approach between the EU and NATO in order to organize informal meetings in the first half of 2018, to develop a shared vision on how counter-terrorism can benefit from the development of defense capabilities.
  • The exercises: to develop a plan for the implementation of parallel and coordinated exercises (PACE) between NATO and the EU in 2019-2020, and to establish a dialogue between staff to examine scenarios on the fight against terrorism.
  • The security and defense capabilities: exchange information on the security situation of eastern and southern partners (including Iraq, Libya and the Western Balkans), and support these countries and relevant international organizations.
  • The dialogue enhancement: by June 2018, staff must provide a written report to their respective Councils in order to specify how to cooperate, and implement joint proposals.

After presenting the Common Set, during the second day of the meeting, the main topics of discussion were international security (with particular attention to the threat posed by North Korea), and terrorism. Nowadays, NATO’s security is also linked to stability in East Asia. During 2017, the repeated North Korea ballistic missiles launch showed that all the NATO member states could be within range. According to NATO Secretary General, all countries should apply maximum pressure on North Korea for a peacefully negotiated solution. For this reason, NATO wants to continue to be in solidarity with its regional partners (Japan and South Korea), continuing to provide a strong deterrence, to keep all allies safe.

Concerning the fight against international terrorism, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, NATO has a great deal of experience in training local forces and building capacity of local institutions. According to NATO Secretary General, these are the best tools to make their partners more capable of defending themselves and fighting international terrorism. Moreover, this year started the training of local forces in Iraq. In fact, during the meeting, foreign ministers spoke on training activities in Iraq and expressed their full commitment. In addition, some states announced that they will contribute to the new Crisis Management Centre in Jordan, as part of the new NATO capacity-building package for this country. In Afghanistan, NATO is adding three thousand troops to the training mission.

The European Union’s approach

The EU’s Global Strategy (GS) published in 2016, underlined the importance of both security (with particular attention to North Korea) and international terrorism. After a year, in June 2017, the first report on the implementation of the Strategy, addressed to the 28 Heads of State and Government that met in Brussels at the summit of 22-23 June, was published. According to the report, the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council (in November 2016) agreed on a new level of ambition in the field of security and defense, based on three strategic priorities: responding to external conflicts and crises, building the capacities of partner countries, and protecting EU and its citizens. The Council also approved a series of actions aimed at improving the preparedness, modularity and effective financing of the EU’s tactical groups, also keeping in mind to improving their flexibility. In early 2017, the Council also agreed to launch a coordinated annual review on defense (CARD). This mechanism aims to facilitate the communication between member states on their defense planning and on the implementation of the capacity building plan. Finally, the Council recently agreed to implement the activation of a permanent structured cooperation (PESCO). PESCO, as foreseen by the treaties, allows member states willing and able to engage each other in more binding commitments in view of the most demanding missions. The PESCO, the CARD and the new European Defense Fund are proof of the European commitment to strengthen their security in order to have an impact on the international level.

Concerning the threat posed by North Korea, the EU has adopted a multi-dimensional policy. The EU has a policy of engagement and its objectives are both political and economic. In fact, the EU supports a lasting reduction in tensions in the region and the international non-proliferation regime also in order to improve the human rights situation. Restrictive measures taken by the EU against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) began in 2006, and those sanctions included an arms embargo, a travel ban for people involved in the DPRK’s nuclear program, and a ban on a number of imports and exports. In 2016, after a period of apparent relaxation, characterized by occasional sanctions and in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, the North Korean rocket missile activity drastically intensified. Indeed, that year, the Council extended the restrictive measures in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2270. These measures concerned: the extension of the bans on exports and imports of products (except food or medicine) that could contribute to the development of the operational capabilities for the armed forces, an inspection of all cargoes to and from the DPRK, the ban of flights that carried prohibited articles, a ban on the import of certain minerals and exports of aviation fuel. In 2017, the Council further strengthened its measures by transposing sanctions imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2371. These measures aimed at the main DPRK exports, imposing a total ban on all exports of: coal, iron, iron ore, seafood, lead and lead ore. Further sanctions aimed at arms smuggling, banking and finance. In 2018, the Council added 16 persons and one entity to the lists of people subject to freezing of assets and travel restrictions. This decision implements some of the new sanctions imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2397.

Concerning the fight against the international terrorism, already in 2016 the EU’s GS stressed the importance to find a solution. The GS confirmed that the EU’s member states have to transform their commitments on mutual assistance and solidarity enshrined in the Treaties into action to counter the terrorist threat from North Africa and the Middle East. The EU therefore wanted to encourage greater intelligence sharing and cooperation between member states and agencies, which meant exchanging reports on violent extremism, terrorist networks, terrorists, and monitoring and removing illicit content from the media. One of the GS’s key points was the fight against radicalization thanks to the expansion of partnerships with: civil society, social actors, private sector, victims of terrorism, through intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. The aim was to develop (in particular with North Africa, the Middle East, the Western Balkans and Turkey) anti-terrorism cooperation. Concretely, in order to fight international terrorism, the EU has acted on five fields:

  • Response against foreign fighters: to guarantee the safety of citizens, prevent radicalization, protect values ​​and cooperate with international partners;
  • Appointment of a Coordinator: since 2007, Gilles de Kerchove is the EU’s counter-terrorism Coordinator, and one of his roles is to ensure that the EU plays an active role in the fight against terrorism and to improve communication between the EU and the countries third parties in this area;
  • Counter-terrorism strategy: based on four fundamental pillars such as to prevent, to protect, to respond and to pursue;
  • Fight against the economic resources of terrorism: strengthening and harmonizing controls on financial flows from high-risk third countries, increasing transparency and empowering national financial information units;

Passenger name record (PNR): it is personal information provided by passengers, collected and stored by air carriers and the purpose of the EU directive is to regulate the transfer of PNR data to law enforcement authorities and their treatment for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crimes.


The impact of NATO decisions

Already in July 2016, during the Summit in Warsaw, NATO and the EU signed a Joint Declaration, in which the two organizations wanted to strengthen their cooperation in various areas, including hybrid threats, security in the central Mediterranean, and strategic communication. The fact that NATO perceives the same threats as the EU, not only shows the sharing of values but also the impact that NATO policies can have.

Concerning the North Korean threat, on 2nd November 2017, the Secretary General, during his visit to South Korea, affirmed: “NATO takes that threat very seriously. The Alliance maintains a strong deterrence posture.  We have the capabilities and resolve to respond to any aggression.  Our position is clear:  North Korea must abandon its nuclear programme, once and for all.  It must suspend the development of ballistic missiles. […]North Korea must understand that complying with international law is not optional. […]Europe is now starting to become within reach of the missiles of North Korea. And that’s the reason why we have once again sent a very clear message that our deterrence, our resolve, our capabilities to respond, they are in place, and NATO is always ready to respond and to counter any attack from any direction”. This shows that NATO has a different approach from the EU, which until now has been mainly based on sanctions. This difference is quite normal if we consider the different nature of the two organizations. However, the two approaches can influence each other: there is a direct impact of NATO on EU policies concerning North Korea, but at the same time it can be seen that the two organizations can act in synergy. On the one hand, we must recognize the fact that most of the EU member states are also members of NATO. As a result, although now North Korean missiles may pose a threat to European states, the EU knows that NATO can mobilize its « capabilities to respond« . Thus the EU can continue its approach based on economic sanctions, declarations and bans. On the other hand, NATO knows that in parallel with its ability to « counter any attack from any direction« , there is a political and economic power (the EU) that is mobilizing soft power to counter the Korean missile threat. In this case too, NATO can continue its defensive policy, aware that the EU is simultaneously adopting an approach based on sanctions. The two organizations complement each other and each one can continue to play its role.

Concerning the international terrorism, the issue is almost analogous. NATO supports the global coalition to defeat ISIL by providing data thanks to AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System). Furthermore, NATO has created the « Hub for the South », based in Naples, to manage threats from the Mediterranean. NATO has been strengthening its role in the fight against terrorism, thanks also to the sharing of information and the appointment of a coordinator to oversee efforts in this field. On the ground, as anticipated, NATO launched a training program in Iraq in February 2017, teaching Iraqi security forces to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The objective is to strengthen the country’s ability to combat ISIL and provide for its own security. Considering the EU policies listed above, there is a substantial difference concerning the approach to terrorism. However, the two organizations are working together to combat it and to limit proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, they regularly exchange information on anti-terrorism projects and related activities. The relationship between the counter-terrorism section of the European External Action Service and the counter-terrorism coordinator’s office help to ensure mutual understanding. On December 2017, at the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, the two organizations agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including by strengthening the exchange of information, coordinating their counter-terrorism support for partner countries and working to improve national resilience to attacks. Even in this case, the two organizations have an impact on each other because, as well as working individually, they promote their own programs and strategies but they have the same objective. That allows the EU to continue to legislate through soft power and NATO to use its military capabilities to counter the terrorist threat. This means that NATO’s approach has an impact on the EU’s approach. Thanks to the measures most concentrated on deterrence and collective defense, NATO allows the EU to continue its sanctioning policies. Therefore, thanks to this form of mutual compensation, the EU knows, at least for the moment, that it can count on NATO’s cooperation, experience and capabilities, and consequently maintain a soft power approach.

Maria Elena Argano


For further information:

European Council website, Fight against terrorism:

NATO website, Press Point:

European Council website, Response to foreign terrorist fighters and recent terrorist attacks in Europe:

NATO website, Countering terrorism:

EEAS website, DPRK and the EU:

European Council website, Joint Declaration:

European Council website, EU restrctive measures against North Korea:

NATO website, Common Set of new proposals:

NATO website, Pre-ministerial press conference:

NATO website, Doorstep statement:

European Union Site, EUGS at 1:

NATO website, Joint Press Conference:

NATO website, Press Conference:

NATO website, Press Conference:

European union website, Global Strategy:

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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