Carnegie Europe was on the ground at the NATO leaders meeting in Brussels on May 25, giving readers exclusive insights into the high-level event.
Brevity is a lost art—if it ever was one—in the EU and in NATO.
Successive American presidents have had to endure endless speeches from leaders of both organizations. During summits, they all bask in the extended opportunity to address the leader of the West, who has continued—despite doubts among some allies—to provide Europe’s security guarantee.
The problem is that long speeches allow the chance to say nothing. That is why brevity matters. A succinct point can be made in two minutes. The question is whether EU and NATO leaders have a clear strategy to present to U.S. President Donald Trump. This is their chance to dispense with platitudes. The challenges the West face have become too complex and multi-faceted to be glossed over with generalities, instead of spelling out realistic recommendations.
Let’s take the EU, which Trump visits on May 25.
Trump has been no fan of the EU. He dismissed it during his presidential election campaign. He praised UKIP, Britain’s anti-EU independence party, which successfully advocated for the UK to pull out of the European Union. Better to control your own destiny, argued UKIP, with Trump’s support—as if going it alone were possible in the wake of terrible terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Ankara, Berlin, and most recently Manchester (among others.)
Trump also supported Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front party, who wanted to take France out of the Euro and the EU. His backing the French far right must surely have been music to Vladimir Putin’s ears. How extraordinary for the American and Russian presidents to be colluding over the breakup of the EU, an institution that the United States was instrumental in establishing after World War II to strengthen Western resilience against what was then the Soviet Union.
The election of the Emmanuel Macron as France’s new centrist, pro-European president could change the dynamics in Europe and the transatlantic relationship.
Now that Britain is leaving the bloc, France holds the key to the EU’s security and defense policy—and to the future structure of Europe’s relations with the United States. Yes, Donald Trump leans on Angela Merkel (as did his predecessor, Barak Obama) to hear the German leader’s views on Russia, Ukraine, and other issues. But it is France that has the potential to shape the future security and defense relationship inside the EU and between Brussels and Washington. Indeed, France, after first refusing, now supports NATO joining the international coalition against ISIS. But the alliance will not be engaged in combat operations, Jens Stoltenberg said.
Macron will have a bilateral meeting in Brussels with Trump. This is important. France is no novice when it comes to dealing with Islamic terrorism, Iran, nuclear proliferation, and the immense security challenges facing Europe from Algeria and the Sahel. The country is also a hard power, one of the very few in Europe. In addition, intelligence and threat assessment have become even more central to French strategic thinking.
Indeed, Macron could have far more authority than any other EU leader in explaining why intelligence sharing with Washington matters.
The problem is that Trump’s understanding of the intelligence agencies, and his low esteem for them, may make Paris hesitant about sharing information. Both sides would lose unless Macron obtains cast-iron assurances that any intelligence shared would not be passed to a third party—such as Russia, for one.
The intelligence issue might—and that’s a big might—spur the EU into developing a serious intelligence culture and strategy. At the moment it’s lacking. National intelligence services are loath to share analyses among each other due to the lack of trust, the different political cultures, and the need to protect one’s own turf.
Recent terrorist attacks across Europe are slowly changing this, certainly when it comes to sharing on a bilateral level. As for the EU institutions, the intelligence community and culture, to put it mildly, is underdeveloped.
This affects the development of the relationship between NATO and the EU.
Since last June’s NATO Warsaw Summit, which lauded and launched a new cooperation between NATO and the EU, there have been any number of meetings and papers and recommendations about how to make the two organizations jell.
In terms of substance, they have a long way to go. The main reason is that neither share a strategic goal, let alone have one. Is it to harness the hard power of NATO with the soft power of the EU? If they both agree—as they do—that resilience matters, then why can’t NATO spell out in concrete terms how both organizations are going to make their members and their societies resilient to the complexity and unpredictability of threats?
As for the EU, it externalizes resilience by making the stabilization of its Eastern and Southern neighborhoods its priority. Its recently updated neighborhood policy is so overloaded that the idea of resilience is linked to too many issues, from training the security services to judicial reforms to human rights to gender issues.
It is puzzling that the EU and NATO do not try to reach a common definition of resilience for their common constituencies. Europe’s energy supplies, nuclear plants, roadways, harbors, airports, railway stations and networks, convention centers, and sanitation plants are all up for grabs. All the more reason for the EU and NATO to communicate to the public why resilience matters and why intelligence sharing is crucial.
That is why Trump should hear why NATO and the EU matter, and why—with political will—hard and soft power could mesh. That’s a lot to ask of brevity. Maybe next time.