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Potential of EU-NATO cooperation

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13th-Jul-2018       
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Andreas Marazis :
On 8 July 2018, the EU-NATO Enhanced Cooperation turned two. During the past two years we heard a lot about increased cooperation between the EU and NATO in many fields, from hybrid threats to cyber security and maritime cooperation. Deterrence, resilience, cyber security are few of the buzzwords that dominate throughout statements and official documents.
The question is whose capabilities and resilience are the EU and NATO trying to strengthen? Some will seek to draw a firm line between NATO's allies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and its partners just beyond the border, notably the Eastern Partnership (EaP) members. However, deterrence in CEE is inextricably linked with NATO policy in partner countries like Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.
The two progress reports that were released following the endorsement by the North Atlantic Council and the Council of the European Union of a common set of proposals in December 2016 highlighted the importance of the Black Sea region and the need to assist our partners in the Western Balkans, and in our Eastern and Southern neighbourhood.
In the meantime, the Baltic States and Poland, in light of growing Russian military resurgence, requested and were granted NATO combat forces on their soil - three to four thousand soldiers - to be stationed on a rotational basis. Indeed, multinational battle groups in the east of the Alliance are now fully operational, while at the same time NATO steps up its efforts against cyber-attacks and hybrid threats.
In September 2017 the biannual, defensive, military exercise Dragon-17 was completed in Poland with the participation of several NATO forces from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, United Kingdom, Slovakia, Italy, Bulgaria and Romania as a response to the Russian-led Zapad-17 military drill.
The drill was focused on countering hybrid warfare tactics, similar to the ones used in Ukraine, as well as cyber-attacks. It is worth mentioning that Ukrainian and Georgian forces participated in the exercise as well.
One might rightly say that this is already something substantial and that strengthening the states that lie between Russia and NATO is primarily a task for these states themselves; a political and economic task. And this is perhaps what countries like Ukraine need.
It is not about promising membership status or protection under the EU-NATO umbrella, rather it is about providing assistance in order for our partners to be able to address their security challenges. Solidarity, unity and cooperation among EU and NATO members would send a stronger message than any military hardware.
In the framework of EU-NATO Enhanced Cooperation, there are currently three pilot countries: Moldova, Tunisia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with three key areas of interaction, ammunition storage and safety, cyber security and strategic communications.
These cooperative efforts will strengthen the resilience of the non-member partners against potential aggression, and will also contribute to their reform process. The pilot phase is well underway and the expected results will benefit other partner countries - like Ukraine - immensely.
On 30-31 May 2018, the potential of an increased EU-NATO cooperation in relation to Ukraine in the fields of cyber security and strategic communication was mentioned for the first time. The discussion took place during the NATO-Ukraine two-day conference was co-organised by local and Brussels-based organisations with the support of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre (NIDC) in Kyiv.
Energy security, hybrid warfare, cyber security and strategic communications prevailed throughout the discussions. The latter two require further attention though. It is not a coincidence that on the 14 June 2017 progress report on the implementation of the common set of proposals endorsed by NATO and EU Councils, special reference was made on the fact that ten out of the forty-two actions are dedicated on countering hybrid threats, including cyber-attacks.
Strategic communications also have a central role in conveying messages of unity and solidarity towards our partners, increasing the visibility of both organisations and countering disinformation.
When it comes to EU-NATO cooperation in Ukraine on strategic communications, already before the Warsaw Summit we witness elements of coordination through regular meetings, exchange of training plans, sharing expertise in various communication disciplines and the delivery of joint training. However, such initiatives are insufficient on their own since there is no concrete strategy for strategic communications.
Cybersecurity in Ukraine faces similar challenges as strategic communication does. Ukraine has many skilled hackers and cyber experts. They lack, however, inter-agency coordination. There is an ongoing battle just to determine which agency is in the lead.
Lack of interagency coordination and the absence of a concrete strategy discourage and confuse the donor community.  The basic principle is that the recipient country must have a strategy and the donors have to align their efforts according to the priorities of the strategy.
In the next EU-NATO progress reports, Ukraine could potentially be in the spotlight if the authorities in Kyiv keep up the reform pace. Emphasis on interagency coordination and subsequently creating the right conditions for EU-NATO cooperation potential to unfold in the areas of strategic communications and cyber security is required.

(Andreas Marazis is the project manager and head researcher for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC).

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