10 Racing Tips on NATO-EU Cooperation inside Iraq

Picture: Head of EU Advisory Mission Dr. Markus Ritter meets Deputy Governor of Anbar, Chief of Police, and other key officials in Anbar Province. Source: EEAS


In 2017, NATO and the EU deployed teams to Baghdad to engage the Iraqi Security Forces. In NATO’s case to train and build defence capacity (including Security Sector Reform) and in the EU’s to advise senior officials at the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) on their coherent implementation of the civilian aspects of SSR.Although their mandates were slightly different, the potential for duplication, mutual irritation or competition caused, perhaps, consternation in respective institutions in Brussels and nations’ capitals.As the EU steps ever closer into Defence issues, consternation may again be rising in some quarters. The following ‘racing tips’ from the field in Iraq, may be pertinent to ease worried brows, back a winner and advance NATO-EU cooperation.

Horses for Courses

1. NATO and the EU both have complementary and respective strengths in the defence and security domains, such as NATO’s training capacities and the EU’s border and civil-police expertise. These complementary strengths are applicable to nations who split their security and defence institutions.  So although Iraq’s huge Ministry of Interior (MoI) could deploy combat hardened battalions, armoured and artillery units, the bulk of Iraq’s internal security apparatus naturally leaned towards the skills and competence that the EU could bring, but NATO would struggle with.  The reverse was true with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).  Up front tacit inter-institutional agreement to respect the EU’s pre-eminence with the MoI and NATO’s with the MoD, gave clarity of task to all stakeholders. 

Watching the Form

2. NATO and EU teams watched each other’s form and gained from invitations to observe the other’s engagements with the Iraqi ministries. The EU appreciated the value of NATO’s deployment of a small team that spent over a year training, building, learning and defining requirements, prior to agreeing to launch a large scale NATO Training Mission.  NATO appreciated the value of the EU’s decision to build its headquarters inside the MoI’s main compound and so work closer with the MoI, demonstrate true partnership and accept equally the threat from Da’esh.  Appreciation, certainly on NATO’s side, which has been reflected in Lessons Learned reporting.

Walking the Course (together)

3. NATO and EU teams walked in the same Iraqi political, defence and security environment. Both observed, though due to their engagement, experience and perspective, spotted things the other did not and actively, deliberately, routinely and frequently shared them through regular planned and irregular contact meetings.  For example, the EU’s political access to some Iraqi politicians who were challenging the security situation, helped NATO tailor its approach and reduce the threat NATO faced.  NATO’s better understanding of the Global Coalition Against Da’esh’s intentions once Da’esh collapsed, helped EU staffs appreciate potential downstream impacts upon the EU mission.

4. NATO and the EU, each have a plethora of bodies or affiliates, which can bring to bear a multitude of skills and competencies to assist the complexities of Iraqi Security Forces’ challenges.  Through discussing these challenges together, the EU or NATO staffs in Baghdad could find solutions within their own sub-structures, which could benefit the other partner organisation, even when the challenge was not sitting in the grey zone between MoD and MoI functions. Teams from NATO’s Centre of Excellence and some training schools ran a series of week-long workshops involving over 17 Iraqi ministries and their representatives from Deputy Minister to General Manager level, to discuss some of the security challenges they collectively faced. The EU team participated in these workshops and gained a broader understanding of challenges beyond those faced by the MoI but impacting the MoI (and hence the EU’s engagement with them).

Overcoming Hurdles and Ditches

5. NATO and EU teams’ activities are regularly reported and reviewed in Brussels, allowing activities in the field to be changed over time and hurdles or ditches to be avoided for an optimum outcome.  This opportunity allows NATO and EU to gradually align areas where mutual benefit, ’customer’ benefit, economies of scale, appropriate redefinition / re-allocation of task, alignment of objectives/delivery/engagements or a joint outcome, can be achieved to optimise the impact delivered by both institutions. 

Facing the Steward’s Inquiry (together)

6. Detailed Reports from the field are communicated up through respective hierarchies and eventually reach the ‘Stewards’ of good governance.  These reports are precise as they pass up through various staff levels. However, if a critical piece of information is removed, this could give the stewards a wrong impression and cause to launch a Stewards Inquiry.  This was the case soon after the EUAM arrived in Iraq, because nations of NATO and the EU received the impression that NATO and the EU were duplicating efforts.  When the NATO and EU leadership in Baghdad became aware of the misunderstandings taking place in Brussels and other capitals, they came together to ensure the correct situation was communicated.  Subsequently, they worked together, sharing information and draft documents, to ensure the contents of respective reports not only spelt out the facts on the ground, but emphasised where duplication should not be inferred and where closer NATO-EU cooperation could be advanced.

7. Senior Leaderships from NATO, the EU and member nations, rightly wanted to see for themselves what was happening on the ground.  Both institutions’ teams ensured visit schedules included meeting key staffs from the other institution’s team, so senior leaders could appreciate the other institution’s activities and the level of NATO-EU cooperation (and its benefits) in the field.     

Racing the Race (together)

8. The in-place NATO team held six meetings with the EU’s CSDP reconnaissance team in the few weeks it was in Iraq, establishing a positive working relationship and impression of the EU proposed mission. The NATO team was one of the first groups EUAM met when they deployed.  From the outset in Iraq, the NATO and EU teams’ leadership not only chose to be transparent with each other while respecting each other’s constraints; they also chose to be jointly constructive and mutually supportive in the face of the Iraqis and other International Partners. The NATO-EU Partnership in Iraq was visibly the strongest between any of the International Partners and enabled NATO and the EU to cooperate in ways others could or would not.     

9. Perhaps due to the common culture and heritage of staff within the EU and NATO teams, personal friendships developed easily and were led by the example of the two teams’ leadership.  When the leadership showed they trusted, respected and supported each other, their example flourished at other levels across the teams and in both working and social environments.  It is an age old tip, but applicable today as it has always been no matter the race.

The Post Race Weigh-in

10. At the end of every race, the jockey’s and their saddles are weighed.  The weighing room offers the runners a chance to reflect and discuss the race.  In Iraq, as NATO and the EU engage their respective ministries in their respective tasks, the question will arise over who is best placed to engage and support with the outlier structures of each ministry, such as the heavily militarised MoI Emergency Response Division or the MoD’s loosely controlled plethora of community raised militias - Popular Mobilisation Forces.  Closer NATO-EU cooperation may be required to tackle these ministries’ outlier structures, not only drawing on the skills and competencies of the other, but strategising and planning together a coordinated, possibly joint approach.  Who knows, Iraq may be the birthplace of the first Joint NATO-EU mission.

Paul Smith is the former NATO Senior Civilian in Iraq.