Warsaw European Conversation

United Europe should become the pillar of NATO

Takeaway 2023-05-31
Russian aggression has changed Europe's perception of its security environment. A new model of relations within NATO is now being forged.


The war has transformed the Europeans' perception of the world. During the panel "The long war in Europe: defence strategy for a continent in need", Nathalie Tocci, director of Istituto Affari Internazionali, said that Russian aggression made Europeans aware of the need to work on common security. European institutions responsible for this area had been created earlier but were not designed to deal with a conventional conflict. An equally significant "Copernican revolution" was the understanding that security in Europe cannot be built with Russia. However, according to Pierre Haroche, a professor at Queen Mary University, more EU-oriented thinking is needed in some countries, such as France, where policymakers often think first about what is good for Paris and then what is good for everyone.

We should not separate cooperation within NATO from the EU's strategic autonomy. According to Haroche, European security efforts can be integrated into efforts to attain strategic autonomy. This will make the EU an effective actor within NATO. Strengthening the European defence industry will be crucial. In his opinion, the issue of creating an EU defence budget should be considered - in this vision, the Alliance would be responsible for strategic planning, and the EU would provide equipment. However, according to Dominik Jankowski, a political adviser in the Office of the NATO Secretary General, this would require a significant increase in European defence spending. Jankowski also pointed out the need for the allies to achieve the assumed goals - not only in terms of funding but also in the development of their own defence capabilities.

NATO must balance the European and Asian theatres. Jankowski stressed that Europe's support for Ukraine is a way of showing what the EU's support for the US in the dispute with China could look like in the future. The West's cooperation with Kyiv is multi-level - it includes both the sanctions as well as equipment and training assistance. According to Tocci, Europe's growing dependence on the US may have undesirable consequences, as successive US presidents may focus on Asia, which will weaken Washington's support for Europe. As a result, according to Harroche, Europe's long-term strategic planning should take into account the fact that by 2027 the Chinese army is to achieve the capabilities to attack Taiwan.

Ukraine is set on the road to joining the Alliance. Jankowski said that Ukraine is going to become a member of NATO, although the exact timetable is unknown. This membership will increase Europe's potential within NATO. The war changed the optics of various alliances within NATO with regard to enlargement. Previously, it was Washington that pushed for the NATO expansion and Central European countries supported this policy, while Western Europe blocked the process. Today, the countries of Central and Northern Europe continue to support enlargement, Western Europe is slowly coming to terms with this process, and the United States is trying to slow it down.

EU and NATO partners must jointly develop strategies for action. Tocci believes that the Russian aggression against Ukraine proved that the strategic documents developed in the pre-war period were necessary. Jankowski stressed the need for cooperation in the field of mobility of military equipment between the EU and NATO. No one is discussing this topic now, because the system created before the war works flawlessly, allowing, among other things, free movement of equipment. Currently, in the capitals of NATO and EU member states, there is a greater political will to cooperate and work out common positions. According to the panellists, this readiness should be properly used.

the bottom line

The thoughts shared by our guests indicate that the transatlantic security system is adapting to the reality in which Russia is an adversary, not a partner, China may be a risk, while the United States must divide its involvement between the European and Asian theatres. However, NATO and the European Union are reluctant to formulate confrontational strategies for the time being and prefer ongoing cooperation even in areas that require strategic arrangements. In order for the adaptation to the existential threat in Europe to be effective, cooperation between the EU and NATO must be deepened and the defence role of European countries increased.

Marek Świerczyński contributed to this analysis.

* The Warsaw European Conversation conference was organised by Polityka Insight and the European Council on Foreign Relations. The event's partners included Orange, Deloitte, European Climate Foundation, McDonald's, Nexity, Polish Association of Developers, Veolia, Visa and Żabka Group.

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Kacper Wańczyk
fmr. Analyst for Eurasian Affairs
Kacper Wańczyk
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