External Publications

Jun 27, 2023

A New Burden-Sharing Formula in the Making?

How the EU and NATO Can Organise Security Together
Jens Stoltenberg and Charles Michelle in Brussels, June 2023
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Large-scale warfare returned to the European continent on 24 February 2022 when Russia launched its renewed and full-fledged attack on its neighbour Ukraine. Due to the war, the question of territorial defence has taken centre stage in European and Euro-Atlantic security debates once more, strongly affecting not only nation states but also the two most important institutional players in charge of European and Euro-Atlantic security and defence: the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Thus, this chapter aims to analyse and assess how NATO and the EU can meaningfully organise security and defence in a nascent European security order.



Large-scale warfare returned to the European continent on 24 February 2022 when Russia launched its renewed and full-fledged attack on its neighbour Ukraine. Due to the war, the question of territorial defence has taken centre stage in European and euro-Atlantic security debates once more, strongly affecting not only nation states but also the two most important institutional players in charge of European and euro-Atlantic security and defence: the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Thus, this chapter aims to analyse and assess how NATO and the EU can meaningfully organise security and defence in a nascent European security order. In addition, this chapter intends to discuss the likelihood of the emergence of a new burden-sharing formula between NATO and the EU in the organisation of security. After the provision of some background on how the two organisations have interacted in the past, the focus will be on the consequences of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine for NATO and the EU as security actors individually and in concert.

How did NATO and the EU arrive at closer cooperation?

The history of EU–NATO relations is simultaneously a tale of the United States’ attitude towards the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush initially expressed concern about the EU’s growing interest and initiative in the establishment of a common security and defence policy. Most of the unease was aired in connection with possible competition with and duplication of NATO structures and capabilities. Thus, ‘U.S. support for greater European defence efforts has always been conditional. Successive US administrations have supported European moves to bolster their defence capabilities, provided that such efforts would strengthen, rather than weaken, the political cohesion of the Atlantic alliance’ (Binnendijk, Hamilton, & Vershbow, 2022). Then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright boiled down the conditions the United States had in mind most prominently in 1998 when she spoke of the ‘three D’s’ in an article published in the Financial Times (cited in Rutten, 2001). In the piece, she cautioned EU Member States about discrimination against non-EU NATO countries, decoupling of the Euro-Atlantic security sphere, and duplication of the Alliance’s command structure lest Washington withdraw its support for greater European efforts in the realm of security and defence (cf. Drent, 2018: 3). However, a common misperception seems to be that the call to avoid duplication translated into US wishes that Europeans not invest in defence capabilities at all – in fact, quite the opposite held and still holds true. In fact, since institutionalised Euro-Atlantic security and defence relations, embodied in the shape of NATO, first came into being in 1949, consecutive US administrations have called upon European allies to increase their investments in capabilities within the Alliance. In turn, ‘U.S. concerns have centered more on the danger of [EU] competition and duplication with NATO structures and planning processes, along with doubts about the capacity of European militaries to conduct even small-scale operations without U.S. support’ (Binnendijk, Hamilton, & Vershbow, 2022). Thus, US insistence on greater European contributions to common defence efforts were contingent upon those efforts taking place within the Alliance rather than Europe developing independent capabilities and command structures.

US insistence on greater European contributions to common defence efforts were contingent upon those efforts taking place within the Alliance rather than Europe developing independent capabilities and command structures.

These issues only arose after the Cold War ended; during the decades shaped by the systemic rivalry between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the tasks of NATO and the EU did not overlap. Only with the EU’s development of a common foreign security policy in 1992, and later a security and defence policy in 1999, did the two organisations’ competencies and areas of responsibility begin to intersect. While in practice a sense of competition between the two Brussels-based institutions surfaced, steps were taken to direct the relationship into a complementary and cooperative lane. Consequently – especially in order to alleviate US concerns about the EU developing into a counterweight to NATO (cf. Hopia, 2013) – both organisations stressed their common intention to avoid duplication and a competitive relationship. Thus, the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s most important decision-making body – adopted the ‘Berlin agreement’ in 1996 (cf. NATO, 1996). In it, NATO members pledged to support the EU’s growing security and defence policy realm by providing the Union with the capability to conduct military operations on its own if it so desired. In the same spirit, the allied member states once more committed themselves to help strengthen the EU’s CSDP in NATO’s Strategic Concept of 1999 (cf. NATO, 1999). In 2003, the relationship between the two organisations was further elevated with the passing of the ‘Berlin Plus’ framework agreement. The goal of the deal was to avoid the duplication of crisis management capabilities. To that end, the agreement contained a provision allowing EU Member States access to NATO planning capacities among other things. Furthermore, an information exchange agreement was reached and regular consultations between the two bodies were established (cf. European Union, 2003). However, in reality cooperation proved to be less constructive than was assumed on paper. Part of the reason for that boiled down to political animosity between Turkey and Cyprus (the latter joined the EU in 2004, one year after the ‘Berlin Plus’ framework was agreed upon): ‘Turkey and Cyprus could exercise, in NATO and the EU respectively, vetoes on each other’s participation in a joint EU–NATO endeavour’ (Williams, 2018). In addition, ‘Berlin Plus … avoided the problematic questions of whether there should be a division of labour between the two organisations and whether either would have a right of first refusal over engagement in crisis management operations’ (Hofmann & Reynolds, 2007: 2). Going forward, formal relations and cooperation between the two bodies were directly blocked by Turkey: ‘Formal meetings between PSC [the EU’s Political and Security Committee] and NAC [the North Atlantic Council] were suspended as Turkey objected … to Cyprus sitting in on such meetings without a NATO security agreement – which Turkey refuses to allow’ (Smith, 2019). The political problems notwithstanding, exchanges of an informal nature have been possible at various levels (cf. Hofmann & Reynolds, 2007). Against this backdrop, it is adequate to recognise that relations between the EU and NATO amounted to treading water for quite some time.

Yet a fundamental shift in attitudes can be detected starting in 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea illegally and began instigating a covert attack on the country’s eastern region. Besides unanimously condemning Russia’s actions, the two organisations responded with a Joint Declaration in July 2016, which was signed by then President of the European Council Donald Tusk, then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker, and NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The Declaration identified seven policy areas that ought to be prioritised in the institutional relationship: 1) defence against and response to hybrid threats; 2) operations, including in the maritime sphere; 3) cyber security and defence; 4) defence capabilities; 5) defence industry and research; 6) exercises (including hybrid scenarios); and 7) partner resilience building (cf. European Council, 2016). A few months later, a list containing 42 concrete measures to fulfil the pledge to work together more closely was established. The addition of 32 projects to this list in 2017 was supposed to underline the importance both bodies attached to joint actions and cooperation. A second Joint Declaration, published in 2018, essentially corroborated the content of the preceding document and expanded the scope and depth of the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO. Measures against and dealing with the spread of disinformation in the run-up to elections were added to the list of joint endeavours (cf. European Council, 2018). All in all, the two organisations with the largest role in shaping Euro-Atlantic security and defence have moved closer together in view of Russia’s revisionist behaviour since 2014. In addition to the changed security environment on the European continent highlighting the need to cooperate more intimately, the United States’ more relaxed attitude towards greater European defence efforts can be adduced to explain these changes. The next section will zoom in on the strategic foundations on which both the EU and NATO currently rest in order to gauge whether (joint) strategic action can be hoped for from both bodies.

From strategic documents to (joint) strategic action?

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has underpinned the urgent need to address the matter of territorial defence once more, which oftentimes is equated with collective defence. The heightened prominence of the overlapping tasks of organising security and defence in and for Europe ‘means for NATO a renewed focus on its original raison d’être … [which] is more difficult to navigate for the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)’ (Perot, 2022: 3). It stands to reason that the tasks for which the CSDP was initially set up and towards which it has been geared ever since  – that is, the conduct of crisis management operations – will take a back seat to territorial defence matters. Parsing NATO’s New Strategic Concept, which was adopted by all 30 member states at the Alliance’s annual summit in Madrid in June 2022, reveals that the changes in threat perception and thus task prioritisation are adequately reflected. Consequently, the NATO Alliance singles out the Russian Federation as ‘the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area’ (NATO, 2022: 4). While it should not have come as a surprise that the peril emanating from Putin’s Russia would take centre stage in NATO’s updated strategic thinking, it was also – rightly so, as it turned out – anticipated that the Alliance would ‘maintain the triad of deterrence and defense, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security (in other words, the open-door policy and partnerships with non-NATO states)’ (Matlé, 2022). The expected changes and continuities notwithstanding, another conceptual adjustment is notable in comparison with the predecessor document dating back to 2010: the concept of collective defence is regarded as the guiding principle, including the other two core tasks NATO is upholding. According to the new allied strategy, crisis management and cooperative security should complement deterrence and defence to guarantee the security of all NATO member states. In that sense, collective defence is an overarching responsibility which is supposed to be safeguarded via different means and channels. Furthermore, parsing the new Strategic Document brings to the fore that while a ‘conceptual gradation of the three main tasks’ is avoided, conventional and nuclear deterrence and defence constitute the unofficial primus inter pares of NATO’s renewed strategic outlook (Matlé, 2022). In conclusion, ‘the new-old guiding principle of the alliance for the coming years is collective defense’ (Matlé, 2022). While this task – along with the corresponding allied force structure – is mainly directed at hedging against a possible Russian attack on NATO territory, the 30 member states stress that ‘NATO is determined to safeguard the freedom and security of allies. Its key purpose and greatest responsibility is to ensure our collective defence, against all threats, from all directions’ (NATO, 2022: 3). Analysing the EU’s equivalent to NATO’s New Strategic Concept – the Strategic Compass (SC) for Security and Defence – it becomes apparent quickly that the Alliance will continue playing the central role in the collective defence of Europe and the Euro-Atlantic arena, as even the SD itself readily acknowledges: ‘Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has shown … how essential NATO is for the collective defence of its members …’ (European Union, 2022: 5). Yet this is not to say that the EU cannot contribute to the security and defence of its Member States meaningfully beyond crisis management operations, for which the Compass recommends setting up a Rapid Deployment Capacity, allowing the Member States to ‘quickly deploy up to 5,000 troops for different types of crises’ (European Union, 2022: 6).

According to the new allied strategy, crisis management and cooperative security should complement deterrence and defence to guarantee the security of all NATO member states.

Supporting and contributing to the collective defence task in a territorial sense, which will most likely dominate the strategic outlook of the EuroAtlantic arena in the years, possibly even decades, to come, can be done by the EU in indirect and direct terms, as pointed out by Perot (2022). Indirect steps may include, among other things, further enhancing military mobility on the continent – which is desperately needed in order to forge the logistical and legal perquisites of troops and military equipment being able and allowed to move across Europe quickly (Antinozzi, 2022). In a scenario involving an attack on one or more NATO allies situated along the eastern flank, ‘the rapid transfer of large numbers of troops and military equipment from Western Europe’ (Perot, 2022: 4) would be required. Military mobility is one of 60 common Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects, in which not only EU members but also third countries, including the United States, Canada, and Norway, participate. Recently, the United Kingdom joined the initiative as well (cf. Antinozzi, 2022). Additionally, and in structural terms, the EU, according to Perot, ought to consolidate its efforts in the realm of defence capability development and production.

Next to instruments that are supposed to enable EU Member States to make headway in this regard – including the European Defence Fund, PESCO, and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence – the Commission is ‘push[ing] member states to engage in more joint defense procurement’ to offset ‘years of uncoordinated European defense cuts’ (Besch & Quencez, 2022). To that end, the Commission has put forward other proposals as well since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Among other things, a short-term instrument aimed at reinforcing joint defence procurement has been set up by the Commission, dedicating 500 million euros to the endeavour through 2024. Beyond the short term, the Commission came up with a ‘European Defence Investment Programme’ regulation to set out the conditions and criteria for a ‘European Defence Capability Consortium’. The rationale is guided by the aim to procure and develop defence capabilities jointly within the EU (cf. European Commission, 2022: 9–10). The capabilities that are needed and that are supposed to be acquired through these channels include ‘long-range cruise missiles, air defence systems, armed drones or artillery’ to be able to engage in ‘state-on state, high-intensity warfare’ (Perot, 2022: 4).

Furthermore, the acceleration of production is another issue that EU Member States (and those of NATO, for that matter) ought to address given ‘the short-term need to replenish and expand defence stocks including to compensate for the military assistance to Ukraine’ (European Commission, 2022: 1). When it comes to a direct role for the EU in collective defence, the Member States can, if desired, resort to Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union. The Article states that ‘[i]f a Member States is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter’ (European Union, 2012: 27). While the Article was invoked once by France in response to terrorist attacks perpetrated on French soil in 2015 (cf. Traynor, 2015), and although the ‘wording of Article 42.7 is much stronger … in comparison to NATO’s [collective defence] Article 5’ (Tidey, 2022), the EU’s provision is not yet backed up by ‘practical arrangements for its implementation’ (Perot, 2022: 4). Limitations include the lack of a common command structure and a deficit of military capabilities. It could become even less important in light of EU members Finland and Sweden striving to join NATO given that both countries have been adamant about further development and implementation of the EU’s collective defence clause in years past (cf. Puglierin, 2016: 4). With the prospect of both countries being allowed into NATO, ‘only four EU member states will not be part of the Alliance …, [thus] the collective defense of the EU is almost entirely covered by Article 5’ (Besch & Quencez, 2022). Hence, it is more than plausible that collective territorial defence will remain in the hands of NATO instead of being taken over by the EU. The likelihood of this scenario unfolding calls for a reinvigoration of NATO’s ‘European pillar’ (cf. Ringsmose & Webber, 2020).

This concept (‘European pillar’) could be put into practice by implementing what some experts have referred to as European ‘strategic responsibility’ (cf., e.g., Alphen Group, 2022). According to Binnendijk, Hamilton, and Vershbow (2022), European allies ought to hone in on two military goals: ‘First, [they] should build their conventional military capabilities to a level that would provide half of the forces and capabilities, including the strategic enablers, required for deterrence and collective defense against major-power aggression.’1 The second element of ‘strategic responsibility’ includes the development of military means to ‘conduct crisis management operations in Europe’s neighborhood without today’s heavy reliance on U.S. enablers …’ (Binnendijk, Hamilton, & Vershbow, 2022). If put into practice, the concept of ‘strategic responsibility’ could thus be used as a bridge for the two organisations to work together closely, complementing instead of competing (with) each other.

Conclusion: New burden-sharing arrangement in the making

 Both NATO and the EU are and will be in charge of working towards the security of their respective member states (though with Finland and Sweden most likely joining the Atlantic Alliance soon, the overlap of membership will increase). The analytical part of this chapter has brought to the fore that NATO will continue being the major provider of collective defence – in fact, the recently released third joint EU–NATO declaration supports that deduction in that the statement underlines that ‘NATO remains the foundation of collective defence for its Allies and essential for Euro Atlantic security’ (Michel, von der Leyen, & Stoltenberg, 2023) in the light of Russia’s war against Ukraine and its intentions to rewrite the map of Europe.

In this context, it should not be forgotten that President Putin put forward his ideas about a future European security architecture in December 2021. Couched in ultimatums directed at the United States and NATO, Putin insisted on, among other things, the reversal of NATO enlargement and a de facto American (nuclear) withdrawal from the European continent (cf. Fischer, 2021). Against this backdrop, it is prudent to further put NATO in charge of securing allied territory (which for the most part overlaps with EU territory on the European continent anyhow), especially along the particularly exposed eastern flank, to prevent a Russian fait accompli. At the same time, the coordinating and regulating power of the EU should not be underrated. Not least, the quick announcement of nine sanction regimes during 2022 targeting Russia in response to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine underlines the organisation’s value in the joint efforts to counter Moscow. Furthermore, and relating more closely to the matter of collective defence, the EU is continuing to follow a path ‘as a capability provider and defense industrial power rather than as an operational defense power’ (Besch & Quencez, 2022). NATO being in the lead on collective defence while the EU is making good on its aspirations to become an industrial power could well set the foundation for a clear-cut and functioning burden-sharing formula for the years and decades ahead.

Bibliographic data

Matlé, Aylin. “A New Burden-Sharing Formula in the Making? .” June 2023.

This article was first published in the European Liberal Forum (ELF) Study 6 "Towards a New European Security Architecture". The full text including footnotes can be accessed here