On December 19, the leaders of the European Union will meet for a rare summit focusing on security and defense issues. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has urged European leaders to "seize the opportunity" of this special meeting to make NATO and the EU "more ambitious to complement and reinforce each other." The best way to do this is through the creation of a permanent EU military headquarters within NATO.
The EU needs a permanent operational headquarters because it has conducted 29 operations since 2003 that were all created and managed on a case by case basis. Last year, the EU activated an embryonic Operation Center, but it is a far cry from a fully operational headquarters because it is limited in size and does not have command responsibility. As the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton explains, "If you have three or four military operations under way it suggests there is an operational need for it [a permanent HQ]."
Clearly, the EU needs the capabilities of a permanent operational HQ, but the opponents of this idea have warned that it is wasteful for the EU to acquire capabilities that already exist within NATO and risky to exclude non-NATO members with a stake in European security. As British Foreign Secretary William Hague argued, "we are opposed to this idea because we think it duplicates NATO structures and permanently disassociates EU planning from NATO planning."
NATO and the EU share 22 members, so an effective compromise would be to create an EU permanent military HQ within NATO. This would allow the EU to contribute to and utilize the capabilities of NATO's integrated military command in a manner that strengthens NATO's European pillar, rather than building an alternative capability outside of NATO. NATO's top military commander (SACEUR) is an American, but his deputy (DSACEUR) is always a European. By placing the European DSACEUR in charge of a permanent EU military HQ, European allies would become able to staff and resource the 24/7 operational command they need for ongoing EU missions, without losing their freedom of action and without duplicating the resources already invested in NATO.
In 2002, NATO and the EU took the first steps toward implementing this compromise with the Berlin Plus agreement, which allowed the EU to use NATO capabilities and authorized DSACEUR to also serve as an EU Operation Commander. Unfortunately, this was only conceived on an ad hoc basis and has only been put into action twice; Operation Concordia in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and EUFOR Althea in Bosnia. It is time to make this a permanent solution by creating an EU operational HQ under NATO's DSACEUR.
Changes in the political landscape in Europe make it now possible for a compromise to be reached at the EU summit in December. One is the severe effect of the economic crisis. It is now clearer than ever before that there are simply not enough resources to fund two European military headquarters; the existing one in NATO and a new separate HQ for the EU. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen articulates this very persuasively: "We don't have the money for it, and our taxpayers don't have the patience for it. Cooperation, not duplication, is the way to success."
For many years, France blocked such cooperation between the EU and NATO. But in 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy returned France to NATO's military command. This ended the tumultuous relationship between France and NATO created by Charles de Gaulle's 1966 decision to separate the French military from the operational command of the Alliance. France's commitment to be a full participant in NATO's integrated military command has been affirmed by the Hollande government in the Vedrine Report and the White Paper on Defense. NATO leaders should seize this historic closeness between France and the Alliance to sweep away the cobwebs of Gaullist intransigence to closer cooperation between NATO and the EU. Just as Paris has ended the separation between the French military and NATO, it is also time to bridge the gap between the EU and NATO.
To date, all of NATO's Deputy SACEURs have been either British or German. It may thus be time for a French DSACEUR. The Hollande government is seeking more leadership roles in NATO, so the timing seems right for this unprecedented incentive to help convince Paris that the best hope for an EU military HQ to become a reality is by creating it under a French DSACEUR.
An EU military HQ under NATO's top European commander, DSACEUR , achieves the main objectives of both sides of this persistent debate. It provides the EU with a permanent, fully staffed operational headquarters for managing ongoing missions and long-term access to NATO capabilities. It provides NATO with additional European military personnel/resources and a consultative link for coordinating with EU missions.
Unfortunately, NATO and the EU still do not fully cooperate even though they find themselves working together in Afghanistan (ISAF/EUPOL), Kosovo (KFOR/EULEX), and Somalia (Ocean Shield/ATALANTA). The time has come to end these one-shot, "separate but equal" arrangements between NATO and the EU. An EU military HQ under NATO's DSACEUR will provide a permanent and mutually supportive link between these two organizations that is so sorely needed. This is the best step to fulfilling Rasmussen's challenge to European leaders; "At the European Council in December… We should build capabilities, not bureaucracies. And we should build them together -- as Europeans cooperating with each other and with our North American Allies."
Jorge Benitez is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Marine Artz is member of the Atlantic Council's Transatlantic Security Initiative.