Sign Up

Looking Beyond NATO

Is a new U.S.-EU treaty needed to complement NATO?

February 18, 2005

Is a new U.S.-EU treaty needed to complement NATO?

So far, NATO has been the structuring feature of transatlantic relations and — to some extent — the only reliable institutional tie. In a way, NATO was the ultima ratio of transatlantic relations.

But NATO's primary goal was to discuss the security threats that both Europeans and Americans faced from the Soviet Union — and how to organize the defense of the European continent accordingly.

But the security threats have changed profoundly since the early 1990s — and so must the means to deal with them. NATO's military lens is simply too narrow to adequately comprehend the new challenges. The EU, in contrast, could offer a wider range of policy approaches.

NATO and the EU differ widely in terms of their structure, their tasks and their capabilities. NATO is intergovernmental, while the EU is supranational. Both institutions have their place — and they are complementary.

Whether in the fight against terrorism, the stabilization of the European neighborhood or the search for common solutions in the Middle East, the European Union has increasingly become an actor in its own right. It has tools to offer that NATO does not possess.

The European Union can do things that the United States cannot, but which are in the latter's interests. And that is why the institutional fabric of transatlantic relations needs to be modernized.

For instance, NATO is required to help bring peace to the Balkans, but a durable perspective of stability and prosperity can only come from the EU. Similarly, the EU is also stabilizing Turkey — and perhaps soon Ukraine — through negotiations and a perspective for eventual membership.

Could the U.S.-EU annual summits fill the institutional void? The answer is no — or at least not yet. These summits currently are too technical, dealing with such arcane questions as hush kits and biometrical data in passports.

They cannot properly address what the United States and the EU should do together in the world — and how. In short, they are not the geostrategic forum that the United States and Europe need.

The time has therefore come to think about a new U.S.-EU Treaty. A precedent for such a treaty already exists: In 1995, the United States and the EU signed a comprehensive New Transatlantic Agenda.

This New Transatlantic Agenda was meant as a forum of dialogue on many issues, such as trade and customer relations or ties between trade union and employer associations. However, the results have been less than had been hoped for.

The question then is: In what forum other than NATO can an increasingly independent EU discuss geostrategic issues with the United States?

What has to happen, first and foremost, is that the non-military geostrategic dialogue between the United States and Europe needs to be shifted to a U.S.-EU forum rather than NATO. A U.S.-EU Treaty could be the missing link and create such a forum.

The Treaty should open with a preamble assessing the common values and goals that the United States and the EU share with respect to international relations and global governance.

The first chapter could address the international agenda, and include a list of issues of common concern and of the principles and more specific goals guiding the external action of the EU and the United States.

A second chapter should deal with cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs, and a third with trade and related issues.

Development and environmental policies could also be embraced, as well as co-operation in R&D, consumer protection and competition policies. In all policy areas, the Treaty should lay the common ground of what we want to achieve together.

In addition, the Treaty should contain clear arrangements for the cooperation of the parliaments, such as the exchange of documents and information.

There should also be the possibility for an observer-status for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in the Committees of the U.S. Senate and the House and for U.S. Senators and Representatives in the Committees of the European Parliament (EP).

This should account for all policy areas on which the EP is empowered to co-decide on EU policies.

It should also contain stipulations on staff exchanges. Hence, in institutional terms, the Treaty would establish a two-pillar cooperation that reflects both the executive and legislative branches of government.

Globalization will require that legislators — and not only governments — work closer together, as cross-national, world-wide citizen interaction will become as important (and sometimes even more effective) than state-based co-operation.

This interaction could give many legislators across the Atlantic the feeling that they are confronted with the same difficulties.

All legislators face the same domestic problems and constraints arising from globalization, such as lobby groups or trade unions that ask for restrictions for national market access, or the difficulties to trade off short-term costs against long-term benefits on various issues.

Increased co-operation on the parliamentary level would help break up this pattern.

In the transatlantic framework, this would be essential to most of the policy areas that matter internationally such as the Millennium development agenda, environmental issues, trade agreements and many others.

A sort of 'transatlantic parliamentarism could pave the way to re-solving situations that often result in deadlock — and the U.S.-EU Treaty could constitute the framework for it.

It is time for governments on both sides of the Atlantic to give serious thought to how they can complement NATO with a new institution that can shape transatlantic cooperation for the 21st century.

The author is writing in a personal capacity and her views do not necessarily reflect those of the German Marshall Fund