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Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2018

The Fog of Day Zero – Joint Air & Space in the Vanguard

Conference Read Ahead

NATO-EU Relations and Day Zero Challenges

By Major Victoria Thomas, USA AF

Major Victoria Thomas (USAF) is a NATO Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) Subject Matter Expert. She is also a founding member of the Global AAR Strategy Team which aligns NATO and EU AAR programs of work.


‘NATO doesn’t have the luxury of choosing the security threats we face. We must be ready and able to operate decisively across all operational domains – land, sea, air and cyberspace.’
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg


Despite individual differences and myriad challenges, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) have remained mostly unified in their commitment to peace and security among and between their member nations. In keeping with their founding principles, the 28-member EU focuses mainly on economic issues while the 29-member NATO Alliance continues to be mostly defence-oriented. Over the years the aperture of each organization has expanded, prompting both champions & critics to highlight areas where the two organizations could and should cooperate better. The necessity of working more closely was magnified as the world recovered from the 2008 financial crisis amid resurgent global actors and unprecedented migration flows which were the result of weak governments, a spread of violent extremist organizations, and climate change. Simultaneously, unconventional threats like cyber-attacks on financial institutions and foreign elections became de rigueur. The ability of either organization to address security challenges before they become existential threats can only be achieved through a strong NATO and a strong EU that cooperate on a day-to-day basis and not only when urgent or convenient. During the 2018 Joint Air and Space Power Conference, panellists will examine air power’s role in the ambiguous period preceding a possible armed attack, and will refer to this time, including initiation of armed hostilities, as ‘Day Zero’. Theoretically, the necessary cooperation, collaboration and communication needed to navigate the fog of Day Zero should not be that difficult to achieve. NATO and the EU share a majority of member nations & have basic overlapping values, principles and interests. Twenty-two nations belong to both organizations and in recent years, executive leadership of both have loudly touted the benefits of working together. Just as each organization is greater than the sum of its parts, integrating parallel work strands would allow NATO and the EU to meet objectives even more efficiently & effectively. Nonetheless, differences do exist and in some cases they have resulted in serious barriers to aligning programs of work, reducing costs and shortening program timelines. Unfortunately, project hoarding and petty vying for ownership of particular projects by individuals, nations or even the EU and NATO undermine the many success stories of NATO-EU cooperation. In order for civilian and military personnel to differentiate between threats and challenges, and prepare appropriate responses should deterrence fail, the two organizations will need to leverage both their differences and their similarities. The world has now experienced the ‘longest period of peace and stability in Europe’s written history’2 – more than 70 years. Unfortunately, peace now does not guarantee peace forever. Successfully navigating the fog of Day Zero will require an integrated NATO and EU accustomed to practicing active engagement at every level.

The NATO-EU Joint Declaration and Proposals

Day Zero definitions vary by domain and perspective as do assessments about whether it has already passed. Some analysts contend that Day Zero is long behind us. Theories vary on how NATO and the EU should recognize, prepare for, and respond to threats in each domain. NATO’s Secretary General has said that, ‘a cyber-attack can trigger Article 5’3 of the Washington Treaty4 but has cautioned that ‘it’s also important to understand that cyber is not something that always triggers Article 5’.5 The one thing that is clear is regardless of domain NATO and the EU must commit to greater cooperation in order to define threats, recognize indications and warnings, and determine next actions. While inter-organizational agreements alone do not guarantee action, they are a critical step toward cooperation. When taken at the highest levels, they give guidance to the operational and tactical-level action officers who innovate and implement. Furthermore, they send a strategic message to potential adversaries of unity and intention to act if necessary. At the 2016 NATO-Warsaw Summit, NATO and EU leaders signed an unprecedented Joint Declaration (JD) solidifying their commitment to greater cooperation in seven major areas:

  1. Countering Hybrid Threats;
  2. Operational Cooperation, Including on the Sea;
  3. Coordination on Cyber Security and Defence;
  4. Developing Coherent, Complementary and Interoperable Defence Capabilities;
  5. Facilitating a Stronger Defence Industry, and Greater Defence Research and Industrial Cooperation;
  6. Exercise Coordination;
  7. Building Defence and Security Capacity and Fostering Resilience of Partners.6

Through the Joint Declaration the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the NATO Secretary General acknowledged challenges facing both organizations and agreed to address them through information sharing, asset interoperability, and integrated exercise and training programmes. In December of 2016 the respective Councils released a ‘Statement on the Implementation of the Joint Declaration’.7 The Statement included 42 proposals explaining how NATO and the EU would cooperate, collaborate and coordinate across the 7 major areas. The majority of Proposals emphasize that NATO and EU personnel must identify inter-organizational counterparts and complementary programs. Then they must build capabilities to meet current and future challenges or threats ‘through continued and intensified staff-to-staff contacts,’ ‘staff-to-staff sharing of time-critical information,’ and ‘a spirit of reciprocity’.8 In some cases this is already happening. The NATO Secretary General and EU High Representative/Vice President hold joint press conferences and attend ministerial meetings at each other’s organizations. Various lower level experts meet with increasing frequency, share lessons identified and align programs of work. With regard to countering hybrid threats, since 2016, ‘EU and NATO [have been] implementing and operationalising parallel procedures and playbooks’.9 Also in 2016, ‘NATO and the EU concluded a Technical Arrangement on Cyber Defence to help both organisations better prevent and respond to cyber-attacks’.10 More broadly, a Joint Progress Report stated that, ‘Complementarity of multinational projects/programmes developed in the EU or NATO context is pursued with concrete results such as in the area of Air-to-Air Refuelling,’11 a critical force multiplier for allies and partners. Progress was also reported in naval operations, combined hybrid threat response exercises, partner capacity building, and in aligning the NATO Defence Planning Process and the EU Capability Development Plan.

The JD and Statement have provided freedom of movement for personnel to initiate or continue cooperation. But not all personnel have been educated on the guidance and unfortunately some that are educated do not see its benefits and therefore do not contribute to its success. Furthermore, lack of specificity and lack of tools to measure success make it difficult to set goals or prove progress. Only 17 of the 42 Proposals list specific timelines and despite a requirement to publish a Joint Progress report every six months, it can be difficult for staffs to measure progress toward non-specific output requirements. Expanding the Proposals with specificity and measurements of success would make it easier to build roadmaps and track success. Furthermore, visible evidence of meaningful progress would validate to sceptical parties the need for cooperation.


Most of the JD’s 42 proposals list complementary NATO and EU programs already in existence that must integrate operations. Still, bureaucratic stumbling blocks like NATO consensus and EU majority voting requirements have encouraged nations to seek out smaller organizations of like-minded entities such as the EU’s new Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in order to achieve goals more quickly. ‘PESCO is a Treaty-based framework and process to deepen defence cooperation amongst EU Member States’.12 Of concern to some is the appearance of duplication when compared to the Joint Declaration & its Proposals. PESCO’s 17 inaugural projects aim to ‘jointly develop defence capabilities and make them available for EU military operations’.13 The projects span 3 areas which overlap greatly with the 7 focus areas of the Joint Declaration:

  1. Common Training and Exercises;
  2. Operational Domains (Land, Air, Maritime, Cyber);
  3. Joint and Enabling Capabilities (Bridging Operational Gaps).

Twenty-five EU member states have signed on to at least one PESCO project. While PESCO will undoubtedly enhance Europe’s ability to detect, deter and respond to threats, neither the EU nor NATO can afford to have member states simultaneously contributing resources in full to duplicative projects. Though defence spending in NATO as a whole has increased, still only three European Allies reported 2017 expenditures as meeting the Alliance’s required 2 percent or more of their GDP.14 Nine European nations will act as the lead for one or more PESCO project, but only one of these nations currently meets the NATO spending target.15 16 In his 2017 ‘Initiative for Europe’ speech French President Emmanuel Macron championed PESCO as part of an effort to ensure ‘Europe’s autonomous operating capabilities, in complement to NATO’.17 The challenge for nations will be to balance their resource allocation to projects and missions while contributing to cohesion rather than detracting from it. One way to do so would be to ensure PESCO projects are nested inside the JD’s Proposals. This would foster trust while building capacity and capability in an unprecedented manner for both organizations. In a JD joint progress report, leaders stated, ‘cooperation between the two organizations is now becoming the established norm, a daily practice, fully corresponding to the new level of ambition referred to in the Joint Declaration’.18 Leaders in both NATO and the EU must embrace programs like PESCO while integrating them into pre-existing initiatives to responsibly build capacity and capability. Doing so will further prove that cooperation is an intrinsic core value.

Finally, while one might conclude that a nation with dual NATO and EU membership would approach each organization similarly, this is not always the case. In 2015, the Brookings Institution wrote that, ‘Today, member states often send separate and sometimes contradictory instructions to their NATO and EU delegations’.19 ‘The Fog of Day Zero’ leaves little room for separation and contradiction. Indeed, any confusion or discord over allocation of forces to NATO vs. PESCO, or insistence by each organization on maintaining autonomy from the other in a crisis will create seams that any intelligent adversary will exploit to create strategic paralysis in nations and in turn, NATO. Also in 2015, the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations published a study outlining how NATO and the EU should respond to new threats. In exploring why cooperation and sharing between two organizations with so much in common is so difficult the authors wrote, ‘Much has to do with the past and with the behaviour of certain member states, which has little to do with substance but all the more with domestic political agendas’.20


The constructs of the EU and NATO provide established frameworks from which to share information and increase both capacity and capability. In March of 2018 NATO’s Secretary General told reporters that ‘NATO doesn’t have the luxury of choosing the security threats we face. We must be ready and able to operate decisively across all operational domains – land, sea, air and cyberspace.’21 It is obvious that this applies as well to the EU. Considering the wide array of multi-domain challenges to both organizations, neither can afford to waste another minute on resistance to cooperation. Furthermore, neither can afford duplicative programs. The Joint Declaration and Statement on Implementation were unprecedented first steps. But in order to fully capitalize on the successes already reached and prove their concepts, the 42 Proposals need more specificity and tools to measure success. Secondly, NATO and EU leaders must discourage divergent initiatives and make every effort to nest programs like PESCO within already existing constructs. NATO and the EU have individually effected major achievements for their citizens but the guidance from the top is clear. Now is not the time for resting on laurels or driving wedges. Future success of either organization depends of the success of both.

1. J. Stearns, ‘NATO Members Post New Defense-Spending Increase’, Bloomberg, 15 Mar. 2018,, (accessed 4 May 2018).
2. ‘The European Story: 60 years of shared progress’, European Political Strategy Centre,—60-years-of-shared-progress_en, (accessed 4 May 2018).
3. Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the North Atlantic Council meeting at the level of NATO Defence Ministers, 14 Jun. 2016,, (accessed 9 Apr. 2018).
4. ‘The North Atlantic Treaty’, Washington D.C., 4 Apr. 1949,, (accessed 9 April 2018).
5. Ibid. 3.
6. ‘Joint Declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’, EU/NATO, Warsaw, 2016. Online at, accessed 20 April 2017.
7. ‘Statement on the Implementation of the Joint Declaration signed by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’, EU/NATO, Brussels, 2016,, (accessed 30 Mar. 2018).
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. ‘NATO Cyber Defence Fact Sheet’, NATO, Brussels, 2016,, (accessed 5 April 2018).
11. ‘Progress Report on the Implementation of the Common Set of Proposals Endorsed by NATO and EU Councils on 6 December 2016’, Jun. 2017,, (accessed 5 Apr. 2018).
12. ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) Factsheet’, European Union External Action Service (EEAS), Brussels, 5 Mar. 2018,, (accessed 30 Mar. 2018).
13. ‘Permanent Structure Cooperation – PESCO: Deepening Defence Cooperation among EU Member States Fact Sheet’, European Union External Action Service (EEAS), Brussels, 2017,, (accessed 5 Apr. 2018).
14. Ibid. 1.
15. Ibid. 1.
16. J. Barigazzi, ‘New EU Defense Pact: Who’s Doing What’, POLITICO, 14 Dec. 2017,, (accessed 30 Mar. 2018).
17. E. Macron, ‘Initiative for Europe Speech’, Paris, 26 Sep. 2017,, (accessed 30 Mar. 2018).
18. Ibid. 11.
19. W. Drozdiak, ‘Why Can’t NATO and the EU Just Get Along?’, The Brookings Institution, Washington D.C., 28 Sep. 2015,, (accessed 30 Mar. 2018).
20. M. Drent, R. Hendriks, and D. Zandee, ‘New Threats, New EU and NATO Responses’, Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, The Hague, Jul. 2015, 4 Apr. 2018).
21. Ibid. 1.