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date: 24 February 2020

Summary and Keywords

Neither NATO nor the EU are full-spectrum security providers. They are complementary institutions with offsetting strengths and weaknesses. The EU, unlike NATO, has treaty-based legislative prerogatives enabling it to implement common policies on a pan-European basis that touch upon both internal and external components of security. It also commands substantial technical and financial resources devoted to coherent regional security strategies. But if the EU is the more capable actor where security threats have a substantial civilian component, it is NATO that retains an unchallenged primacy on matters of collective defense and deterrence. Together, the two organizations function as agents of collective securitization across a wide range of issues to shape the security agenda and the allocation of national resources. The institutional interlocking of NATO and the EU has evolved over the course of the post–Cold War period. In most cases, the development of the EU as a security actor has not impeded NATO or undermined the cohesion of the alliance. Such complementarity can be demonstrated by reference to defense-related institutions within the EU that reinforce NATO efforts, the emergence of a “fuzzy” division of labor between both bodies, and an operational level of ambition derived from their security strategies. Institutional complementarity is evidenced by two empirical cases: the eastward and southern enlargements of the EU and NATO and out-of-area military and civilian operations beginning with the Balkan wars in the mid-1990s.

Keywords: NATO, EU, security, operations, enlargement, level of ambition, institutions, European Union politics

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