The independent resource on global security

4. Euro-Atlantic security and institutions: rebalancing in the midst of global change


I. Introduction

II. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

III. The European Union

IV. Renewing pan-European security cooperation?

V. Conclusions

Table 4.1. Selected European Union member states’ personnel contributions to Common Security and Defence Policy missions


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In 2009 the chief institutions of the Euro-Atlantic space—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)—celebrated several anniversaries but had no cause for euphoria. In face of setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2008 Georgia conflict, and a global economic crisis, each institution had to rethink its strategies and even its raison d’être.


NATO in its 60th anniversary year faced continued obstacles, both military and political, to success in Afghanistan, with more voices questioning the realism of its aims. NATO–Russia relations improved as NATO echoed President Barack Obama’s attempt at a ‘re-set’ and resiled from early eastward enlargement. Obama’s revised missile defence plans were also less provocative to Russia, yet the overall relationship remained fragile. NATO began a debate on revising its Strategic Concept, which will raise difficult and divisive issues about NATO’s underlying guarantees, its nuclear doctrines and its newer security tasks.


The EU proceeded cautiously with enlargement plans in the Western Balkans and sought to reinvigorate its Neighbourhood Policy towards the former Soviet Union. The year 2009 marked the 10th anniversary of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), but little progress could be noted on harmonizing member states’ defence spending or force structures. CDSP missions have filled useful niches but remain a minor aspect of the EU’s overall security impact. The Lisbon Treaty entered into force in December, creating new political leadership posts in Brussels albeit first filled by little-known candidates. It creates new openings for EU ‘solidarity’ operations to help members in non-warlike crises, but national choices will determine how far these are explored.


Russia published in November 2009 a full draft of the European security treaty it proposed in 2008. The treaty is seen by many in the West as aiming to freeze strategic frontiers while downplaying the human rights-related and reforming principles of the OSCE. Nevertheless, interest was shown from many sides in exploring options for a more inclusive pan-European approach to security, and this discussion is being pursued through a ‘Corfu process’ of informal dialogue rooted in the OSCE.


The EU, NATO and the OSCE must learn lessons but also find new dynamism to justify their continued existence. Many current security challenges require global cooperation and the West must increasingly focus on how to work with new ‘rising’ powers.



Alyson J. K. Bailes (United Kingdom) is a Visiting Professor at the University of Iceland, specializing in security studies.


Dr Andrew Cottey (United Kingdom) is Senior Lecturer and Jean Monnet Chair in European Political Integration, Department of Government, University College Cork.