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Cooperation on European security issues

51 - Relations with the US on NATO and Eastern Europe

Grade: B
Unity 3/5
Resources 4/5
Strategy 3/5
Impact 3/5
Total 13/20
Scorecard 2015: B+ (15/20)
Scorecard 2014: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2013: C+ (9/20)
Scorecard 2012: C- (6/20)
Scorecard 2010/11: C- (7/20)

The US continues to play a critical role in NATO and in reassuring its eastern and northern members

The one part of the Russia–Ukraine crisis where the EU was ill-equipped to take the lead was on bolstering deterrence in Eastern and Northern Europe. It is here that the US played a leading role.

In 2015, the US expanded Operation Atlantic Resolve (OAR), which is intended to reassure NATO’s eastern members by bolstering the US and NATO presence there, including training initiatives in Eastern Europe. However, the 2016 fiscal year budget request for the European Reassurance Initiative, which provides funding for OAR, dipped slightly. The US commitment to bolstering NATO’s mutual defence clause, Article 5, looks set to increase with debate underway about the permanent stationing of troops in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Montenegro was invited to join NATO in 2015, but expansion to Georgia is unlikely due to concerns about Russia’s reaction. There are signs that Sweden and Finland are reconsidering their position on NATO membership. In any event, the US and NATO continues to deepen their engagement with both Stockholm and Helsinki.

Washington is concerned about the ramifications of rising anti-European, populist forces in Central and Eastern Europe. The illiberal and quasi-authoritarian government of Hungary has long been a problem for the EU, but the recent election of the Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland complicated matters further and increased US engagement to bolster democratic standards. Meanwhile, Eastern European states are nervous about Nord Stream 2, a Russian gas pipeline to Germany that could circumvent Eastern Europe, increasing their dependence on Russian oil firm Gazprom, while depriving Ukraine of approximately $2 billion in transfer fees. The fears of dependence may be overblown, however, as Germany could quickly resell gas to the east if necessary. Nevertheless, the US has been receptive to Eastern European concerns and publicly expressed its doubts about the pipeline.

Defence spending was less of a point of tension in transatlantic relations in 2015 than in previous years, as European nations increased their own capabilities in the face of multiple threats.