Press release | Summit builds transatlantic consensus on stronger European defence

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Peace, Security & Defence

BRUSSELS – Senior officials from the United States and Europe gathered at Friends of Europe’s annual peace, security and defence summit today to welcome ongoing strategic rethinks at NATO and the EU as a vital chance to strengthen transatlantic defence in response to an increasingly challenging security environment.

“We really have welcomed the launch of the Strategic Compass,” Molly Montgomery, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the US State Dept., said of the EU strategic security blueprint presented in Brussels this week. “We look forward to having consultations on it as we move forward.”

Montgomery emphasised the current ‘close relations’ between the EU and US and the ‘shared perception of the threats that we face and how we need to move forward together as a transatlantic alliance’.

Bringing together speakers and participants from the world of European and transatlantic security, this year’s 2021 summit, entitled ‘Strategic foresight: a zero-sum game?’, explored potential synergies between the EU’s Strategic Compass and NATO’s Strategic Concept review.

The rise of authoritarian powers, global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and new disruptive technologies were identified among the key threats where EU and NATO need to boost cooperation. Given the fast-evolving range of threats – emphasised by the current tension on the borders of Belarus and Ukraine – there was broad consensus among speakers on the need for NATO and the EU to work close together, and for Europeans to strengthen their security capabilities to the benefit of both organisations.

“There is an enormous awareness now, including in our public opinion, that the comfortable age that we’ve lived through over several decades has come to an end and the security threats that we face are real, they are palpable,” said João Gomes Cravinho, Portuguese Minister of National Defence. “Collective security through NATO is not the solution to all of the challenges that we face, so we have to have the capacity to respond in other manners, including through the European Union.”

Benedetta Berti, Head of Policy Planning in the Office of the Secretary General at NATO and International Policy and Security Consultant, explained how closer cooperation with the EU was factoring into the development of the Alliance’s Strategic Concept review.

“We all agree, this is no time for bickering, no time for institutional competition,” she said. “Our security environment is deteriorating, the Euro-Atlantic area is in a complex situation like it has not been since the end of the Cold War … this is the time to work together more than ever.”

Innovation must be prioritised to ensure NATO can maintain its technological edge over competitors, explained Gen. Philippe Lavigne, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. “Our competitors are shaping the environment,” he cautioned in a pre-recorded video interview. “We need more and more innovation to adapt faster, to be agile and we need innovation coming from our societies, open innovation, in order to continue to get the advantage.”

Taking a look eastward, the summit also saw the launch of the executive summary of Friends of Europe’s latest European Defence Study, authored by Senior Fellow Paul Taylor.

In ‘Murky waters: the Black Sea region and European security’, Taylor argues that NATO promised Ukraine and Georgia more than it could deliver by declaring in 2008 that they could one day join the Alliance without saying when or how. When Russia took military action against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, the two countries were left to fend for themselves.

“The truth is that neither Americans nor Europeans are willing to go to war with Russia over Ukraine and Georgia. Nor are they willing to risk rushing them into NATO to test whether President Vladimir Putin is bluffing or not,” Taylor says.

Instead, NATO should help the Ukrainian and Georgian armed forces to strengthen their own deterrence and resilience with training, equipment, more-frequent joint exercises and intelligence sharing. For its part, the EU needs to develop a comprehensive strategy for the Black Sea region and raise the level of political engagement with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova in an ‘Eastern Partnership Plus’.

Access the executive summary here. The full report will be published on 26 January 2022.

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