Over the last twenty years, the European Union has established itself as the primary stabilizing structure throughout the European hemisphere. This is most visible in the Balkans, where after years of Western military engagement EU-Membership now offers the best hope for sustainable long-term economic and political stability.
During the lengthy process of gaining EU-Membership, citizens will need clear public messages from the EU that their local politicians and societies are on the right path and that - even more importantly - the EU still cares enough to help them back on track if necessary. But due to the success of these missions and the resulting reductions of their military presence, the West will lose a very important tool for reassuring those societies.
The EU is currently planning to transform the ALTHEA-Mission into a training mission, limited in scope and future tasks. This is exactly the time to start thinking for the long term when ALTHEA has to declare "mission accomplished" and its soldiers are finally sent home. Regular military exercises, exchange of staff officers and cross-participation in seminars and courses on all levels and grades, might fill the gap and help to keep the message of ongoing European interest in the region alive.
Unfortunately, the EU and the ESDP are lacking the necessary instruments for this kind of institutionalized co-operation. Instead, Bosnia and Herzegovina would have to rely on ad-hoc agreements with individual states willing to invest money and resources, outside or in addition to, existing EU-Membership-Programs. Essentially relying on ad-hoc arrangements based on national interests (and funds) which might be diminished over time, this bilateral co-operation would remain a fragile arrangement, thereby limiting its potential for long term reassurance. In addition, all bilateral co-operation runs the risk of becoming desynchronized with European Commission's efforts towards the group of applicants for European Membership status. So what to do instead?
Looking for alternatives, there is an institution the EU could draw on as an example of how best to organize regular mil-to-mil co-operation, how to help new democracies on their way towards membership of Western institutions, how to reassure the population and how to establish transparency for all participants on processes and criteria for membership: NATO's Partnership for Peace Program.
The achievements of this endeavor were multiple: NATO gained time to prepare itself internally for enlargement while at the same time helping candidates to transform their armed forces and political structures in accordance with the criteria set by Western Nations. NATO's "open door policy" was explicitly linked to their wish of supporting the development of democracy, the market economy and the rule of law in the states of Central and Eastern Europe. The PfP structure also provided a successful instrument for testing the willingness, and proving the final readiness, of candidates to join the Alliance. NATO Members were also able to prepare their PfP Partners for participation in common military missions and allowed them to become familiar with NATO structures, regulations and procedures. All this was achieved with only minimal bureaucratic effort. The EU could easily set up a similar structure in order to engage with Bosnia in a more coherent, multilateral and institutionalized way.
Such an institutionalized approach would offer even more prospects if implemented as part of an extended offer, i.e. broadened to other addressees of the European Union's Neighborhood Program. By linking ESDP with Neighborhood Policy, this might even help to improve one of its often criticized weaknesses - namely a lack of incentives for co-operation - despite the explicit intention to encourage reform processes in Europe's wider periphery. Such a link could be successful in broadening the potential capabilities available for future ESDP missions, as the PfP has already been helping NATO in its attempt to gain reliable and interoperable Partners for its own crisis management.
Therefore, even though it may be more difficult to agree and implement a comparable structure for mil-to-mil co-operation within the European Union, there are good reasons to take a closer look at the Partnership for Peace - NATO's most successful tool for broad co-operation with its partners - as it usefully provides the conceptual base for a unique European approach in terms of a "Partnership for Europe".
Dr Olaf Theiler is a national specialist in NATO's Operations Division in the International Staff of NATO HQ in Brussels, Belgium. A longer version of this article appeared at Security Community.
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