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The Transatlantic Link – Current and Future Significance. Part 2, NATO’s Role in European Defence
As mentioned in the previous article - The Transatlantic Link - Current and Future Significance Part 1 – Challenges and Opportunities (Geostrategic Pulse, no. 274/May-June 2019), the author continues his view on the transatlantic link focusing on NATO’s role in European defence.

          The transatlantic link takes various shapes and covers a large variety of domains. The most important of all is the defence of the Euro-Atlantic community. The concept of transatlantic link becomes meaningful with the signing of the North-Atlantic Treaty[1] (Washington 4th of April 1949) and its inclusion in Article 5: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”  

         Although the text of the Treaty doesn’t refer to the transatlantic link directly, it is obvious that “their efforts for collective defence in Europe and North America” could only be accomplished within the context of the transatlantic relationship. From this point of view, it is worth mentioning the fact that the USA provides more than 70% of NATO’s budget. In 2018 the USA spent 35.8 billion dollars for European defence and has now over 65,000 troops deployed on this continent. Taking into account the large amounts of military equipment and technique stationed on European territory, one can certainly say that, due to the North America’s involvement, the transatlantic link plays a decisive role in deterring and defending against any military aggression on allied European states.

        Initially, the transatlantic link became part of the military experts’ vocabulary out of the need to underline the role the two-way relationship between North-America and Europe plays in the collective defence of the North-Atlantic area. In time, even if the phrase remained the same, its meaning and content became more and more important to Euro-Atlantic security given the evolution of the international security, the political and military situation on both sides of the North Atlantic and, not least, the nature of relationships between NATO and the EU on one hand, and USA and European NATO/EU member states on the other hand. The geographical area of the transatlantic link, though, has gone through major changes. If the North-Atlantic Treaty collective defence concept has initially applied to NATO member states from Europe and North America, without referring to a distinct geographical area, it now sees its missions from a Euro-Atlantic perspective and the phrase Euro-Atlantic security and defence is used more and more often in the Alliance’s official documents.

         Thus, Article 3 of NATO Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization4, adopted at the NATO Summit in Lisbon (19th – 20th of November 2010) clearly defines the concepts of transatlantic link and Euro-Atlantic area as follows: “The political and military bonds between Europe and North America have been forged in NATO since the Alliance was founded in 1949; the transatlantic link remains as strong, and as important to the preservation of Euro-Atlantic peace and security, as ever. The security of NATO members on both sides of the Atlantic is indivisible. We will continue to defend it together, on the basis of solidarity, shared purpose and fair burden-sharing.” Moreover, the Strategic Concept introduces the phrases Euro-Atlantic area and Euro-Atlantic partners, thus defining NATO’s missions and values for a decade – 2010-2020, as the role the partner states play becomes more and more significant (Picture no. 1)


Picture no. 1, NATO and its partner states[2]

        Given the more and more diverse risks and threats to the Euro-Atlantic area over the past two decades, the member states and NATO itself are more aware of the growing importance of the transatlantic link. The subject has become a subject on the agenda of every foreign and defence ministers meeting and NATO Summits as well, where declarations on the transatlantic link have very often been adopted. The declarations of the last two NATO Summits are very relevant in that respect:

         - The Warsaw Declaration on Transatlantic Security[3], issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council (Warsaw, 8-9 July 2016) states the following (Article 1): „United by our enduring transatlantic bond, and our commitment to democracy, individual liberty, human rights and the rule of law, NATO will continue to strive for peace, security and stability in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area, in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter.”;

       - The Brussels Declaration on Transatlantic Security and Solidarity[4] adopted at the NATO Summit in Brussels (18th of July 2018) gives the transatlantic link a security and solidarity perspective. Whereas before this Summit the transatlantic link was approached from the point of view of Euro-Atlantic security, as a continuation of the decision taken in the Wales Summit (4th – 5th of September 2014) to give 2% of GDP to defence, at the insistence of the USA and Great Britain, the transatlantic solidarity has been added to the concept. Thus, Article 71 of the Declaration stipulates the following: „NATO recognises the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence. The development of coherent, complementary and interoperable defence capabilities, avoiding unnecessary duplication, is key in our joint efforts to make the Euro-Atlantic area safer. Such efforts, including recent developments, will lead to a stronger NATO, help enhance our common security, contribute to transatlantic burden sharing, help deliver needed capabilities, and support an overall increase in defence spending.”

        By reading the Strategic Concept and the two Declarations, one can draw the conclusion that the transatlantic link maintains its relevance from the perspective of both European defence and security of the Euro-Atlantic area. Moreover, after 2014, the transatlantic link has been assigned a new dimension as a consequence of the measures taken by NATO and the EU in the fields of Euro-Atlantic defence and security. These measures are meant to strengthen the European member states defence capabilities, which will lead to greater defence responsibilities undertaken by the European allies. And they will contribute to a fairer distribution, between North America and Europe, of the budgetary efforts required by the Euro-Atlantic security and to a rise in the potential of European defence capabilities.

       During the last three NATO Summits the USA permanently pressured its European allies to accomplish, by 2024, the two major objectives decided at the 2014 Summit: 1) 2% of GDP allocated to defence and 2) 20% of the defence budget is to be spent for defence equipment aquisition. This position of both Washington and London is definitely justified if we only take into account the fact that in 2017 the US defence expenditures amounted to 602.78 billion dollars, out of which 30.7 billion were allocated explicitly for direct expenses on USA’s military contribution to European defence. For comparison, the defence expenses of the European allied member states amounted to 239.08 billion dollars while the defence expenses of the EU member states amounted to approximately 220 billion dollars (Picture no. 2). These figures represent the most relevant proof of the fact that European defence and security depend significantly on the consistency of the transatlantic link.


Picture no. 2, USA and EU Military Expenses

         Following the terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001 and as a consequence of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine starting with 2014, NATO must face the serious deterioration of the security situation in its proximity and is facing now a series of risks and threats it has to deal with. Practically NATO is facing now security risks that are more dangerous and more difficult to fight against than during the Cold War. As a consequence of the Russian military aggression in the proximity of NATO’s Eastern flank and of the hybrid, cyber, and terrorist threats against its member states and partners, the need to defend Europe is more pressing than ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is unanimously agreed that only NATO is capable of doing this, starting with investing in defence and undertaking decisions to thwart threats and defend Europe. This was the main subject on the agenda of the latest NATO Summits, starting with 2014, the Alliance taking the necessary steps to discourage any potential attacks against its European pillar and, if it comes to it, to defend its European Allies. Practically NATO is now capable, including through its cooperation with the EU, of deterring and defeating any threat to European security, conventional or unconventional. NATO member states are aware of the fact that Europe is currently up against an uncertain and unstable security environment that demands extra defence investments, development of proper military capabilities, contribution to NATO missions and operations, and consolidation of the partnerships with the EU and third parties.

         The NATO Readiness Action Plan adopted at the Wales Summit (New Port September 2014) ensures the Alliance’s capability to respond to any threat that endangers the security of NATO’s territory, population, air and sea, especially its European side. Although the Plan covers the entire Euro-Atlantic area, most measures taken until today are dedicated to European defence against Eastern and Southern threats, thus emphasizing NATO’s crucial role in defending Europe. The measures that have been taken, including at the latest NATO Summit in 2018, enable the Alliance to benefit from the necessary capabilities to be in the right place at the right time, with a view to undertake deterrence and defence missions all over its territory. The Allied main focus is to defend the Eastern and Southern flanks, that have a direct impact on European security, and to fight against hybrid and cyber threats that affect all NATO member states.

        Today, NATO’s enhanced forward presence on the territory of its Eastern flank members is an important element of the European deterrence and defence and is based on four Multinational Battlegroups deployed in the Baltic States and Poland. They comprise almost of 4,500 troops from several Allied states and have the necessary equipment and logistics to undertake deterrence and defence missions together with the Armed Forces of the host nations (Picture no. 3). In addition to these, there are the Multinational Division Headquarters in Elblag (Poland) and Bucharest (Romania). Already fully operational, they have the role to plan, command and control the NATO forces at division level that would be deployed on the Eastern allied flank in crisis situations.


Picture no. 3, NATO Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States and Poland[5]

         NATO Readiness Initiative adopted at the Brussels NATO Summit (11th -12th of July 2018) will ensure that the Alliance has well trained and equipped national forces. The level of readiness of these forces will allow them to engage in collective defence missions anywhere on the Allied territory, within 30 days. According to this Initiative, in addition to the rapid response forces already engaged through NATO’s Readiness Action Plan, NATO member states will provide 30 naval combat vessels, 30 air squadrons, and 30 mechanised battalions along with the necessary warfare support. Their missions will be deterrence and defence anywhere on the Allied territory, including high-intensity war fighting and rapid intervention in crises. The measures to modernize the command structure and enhance mobility are in various stages of implementation and their purpose is to ensure the rapid deployment of troops and equipment on NATO’s European territory whether it is for training purposes, deterrence or in support of its members Armed Forces, in crisis situations.

         One must underline the fact that NATO’s new deterrence and defence posture ask all the member states to invest more in the fields of conventional forces, enhanced forward presence on the Eastern flank, joint air and maritime forces, defence intelligence, cyber-defence, countering hybrid threats, and in the preparation of its territory and population for defence. It is obvious that in many of these fields NATO and the EU must cooperate, as they agreed on over the past years. Already, after 2014, NATO and the EU have been cooperating to increase their military mobility in Europe, to coordinate their defence needs, to adapt their legislation on defence equipment and personnel border-crossing, and to inventory and modernize transportation infrastructure that can be used for deployment of troops. The EU is more open than ever to cooperating with NATO, being fully aware that European defence can only be ensured by NATO. To support this statement, it is enough to know that, should a collective defence scenario be applied, NATO’s enhanced forward presence is supported by its Rapid Reaction Force of approximately 40,000 troops.

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        As shown in this article, NATO continues to demonstrate its capacity to ensure European peace and stability. Above anything else, the Alliance has been keeping European peace for 70 years. Confronted with a dynamic and complex international security environment, including in its proximity, starting with 2014 the Alliance has embarked upon a complex adaptation and transformation process, in order stay effective in the 21st Century too. Nowadays, NATO successfully accomplishes its three main tasks – collective defence, crisis management, and security through cooperation, thus ensuring deterrence and defence against potential adversaries, including by promoting stability and strengthening the resilience of its members from East and South. Thus, NATO continues to be the guarantor of peace and stability in Europe and, in cooperation with the EU, the most important source of stability in an international security environment characterised by unpredictability, as well as multiple and diverse challenges and threats from state and non-state actors, including terrorist, hybrid, and cyber attacks.

        Facing conventional and asymmetrical treats that can seriously endanger European security, NATO has consolidated its European deterrence and defence capabilities including by deploying forces on its Eastern flank, by ensuring enhanced Allied presence in the Extended Black Sea Region, and by paying more attention to the Southern flank. It is worth mentioning the fact that NATO’s European members are aware of the current threats to European security and have decided to increase their defence budgets in order to develop military capabilities that are necessary for both national and collective defence missions and participation in NATO led missions and operations. Taking into consideration the NATO-EU cooperation on development of military capabilities, we can speak about a joint effort of the two organizations to ensure European defence and security including by strengthening the transatlantic link.

        The importance of the transatlantic link for European defence and security keeps on growing, as NATO and EU member states join forces and cooperate both bilaterally and multilaterally for deterrence and defence against any external threats they come up against. The transatlantic link is expected to be again an important issue on the agenda of the NATO Summit (London, December 2019), which will mark 70 years since the founding of the Alliance. According to Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General, the Summit agenda will include, among other “the security challenges NATO has to face at present and in the future and the measures it has to take to adapt continuously, in order to guarantee the freedom of almost one billion citizens” of the member states.