NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefs the media ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir(reuters_tickers)
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO and the European Union will formally declare a cooperation pact at the alliance's Warsaw summit in July, officials say, overcoming decades of confusion and mistrust over how to provide security beyond Europe's borders.
Forced together by fears of a Russian cyber attack, a migration crisis and failing states in Europe's neighbourhood, officials say the challenges requires both a military response and a softer security approach, combating propaganda and providing training to stabilise governments.
"If there was a Russian cyber attack, we would not want to spend two weeks in meetings discussing what each of us should do," said an EU defence official cooperating closely with NATO.
While joint plans are still being agreed before the Warsaw meeting, the tie-up could eventually mean that taxpayers, currently footing the double bill of separate military planning in both EU and NATO, finance less duplication towards common goals.
To underscore the cooperation, non-NATO nations Finland and Sweden joined a session of alliance foreign ministers on Friday at NATO headquarters with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
But while 22 of NATO's 28 members are also members of the European Union, both institutions face limits on what they can do together because of territorial tensions between Turkey and Greece that limit information sharing.
Turkey, which is a member of NATO but not of the EU, blocks the sharing of alliance intelligence with the European Union, while EU- and NATO-member Greece does not want Brussels sharing any sensitive information with the alliance because of Turkey.
There is also a reluctance to undertake missions without United Nations' support, which Russia, a U.N. Security Council member, is wary of granting with East-West ties at their lowest point since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine.
"We are facing challenges that are difficult to define," said Knut Hauge, Norway's envoy to NATO. "We are struggling to find quick fixes," he said.
Still, diplomats talk of a "strategic moment" in EU-NATO ties. NATO and the European Union say their operation in the Aegean Sea, launched in February, shows what they can do.
NATO patrol ships with powerful radars and the EU's border protection agency Frontex have brought together rivals Turkey and Greece to stop migrants risking their lives to reach Greek islands in flimsy boats off the Turkish coast.
But the mission has been fraught with difficulties as Greece and Turkey do not agree on the names for the islands in Aegean, meaning NATO ships only use coordinates to identify them.
Over ship radios, crews of Turkish and Greek boats can be heard bickering about who entered what territory illegally.
Still, NATO nations including the United States hope NATO's so-called Active Endeavour mission, which was set up after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, could link up with the EU's "Sophia" naval mission that is operating in international waters near Libya to stop traffickers there.
"We can and should do more," Stoltenberg said.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)