July 15. 2024. 8:08

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The Brief – At NATO, names matter (a little)


The Western military alliance has a lot on its plate: Its members have to figure out how to secure defence aid to Ukraine, deal with the impact of China’s relations with Russia, when to use their mutual defence assistance clause Article 5… and how to name new things.

We’re talking about the name for NATO’s role in coordinating the delivery of military assistance to Kyiv and training its armed forces. Its goal is largely to prevent Donald Trump, if he returns to the White House, from halting the flow of defence aid to Ukraine by moving that task away from politicians and into the hands of an institution.

It could have been easy, but it is not because someone in NATO initially called this coordination platform “The Ukraine Mission”.

Without a second thought, the Germans rebelled: We shall not name this platform a “mission”, they said, according to several people familiar with the process.

A “mission” for the Germans rings the same way as “troops on the ground”, a move which the country’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz bluntly disagrees with as he does not want the Western military alliance to get involved in the war.

But what do you name this thing, then? A framework, a mechanism, a hub, a platform, a command, an initiative, a coordination platform…? The problem is that if “mission” is too much for Berlin, most Russia-hawkish capitals will see any garden-variety term like “mechanism” as simply boring and bureaucratic.

In the end, “UNITE” – standing for “Ukraine-NATO Initiative for Training and Equipment” – appears to have won the hard-to-get approval of the 32 members around the table, according to a draft document seen by Euractiv.

How many hours of debate it took to come to this, no self-respecting diplomat would probably ever dare to admit.

Another name used around the alliance’s HQ is NSATU, for “NATO Security Assistance and Training for Ukraine”. NSATU, however, does not seem very likely to make the cut.

“We are still working on how to capture and describe it. We’ve been juggling possible acronyms,” a US State Department official said earlier this week. And just in case you did not know, nowhere do acronyms flourish as well as in the military.

Debates around names can take a while and are often not reported publicly, but they carry political weight and a message one that the Kremlin could misuse as a reason to (wrongly) justify its war.

But as one other NATO diplomat put it, very few people care outside the NATO walls: “Sometimes, we argue and discuss things that only we care about, instead of trying to explain to people outside the HQ walls how important NATO’s role is”.

And in the meantime, Ukrainians are fighting on.


The Roundup

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán travelled to Moscow on Friday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin – only a few days after visiting Kyiv – on a trip that earned him stern rebukes from EU officials and diplomats.

Germany’s government coalition reached a political agreement on its budget on Friday, working around a self-imposed borrowing limit with “quite a few tricks”.

The EU should control agricultural prices and abandon its policy of free trade agreements (FTA), including the long-stalled trade deal with Mercosur, a representative of the farmers’ organisation European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) told Euractiv in an interview.

Euractiv has learnt that NATO is set to provide a platform to help its members shape national production strategies in a new attempt to boost production.

Germany adopted its Medical Research Act on Thursday, a new law that will allow pharma companies to negotiate the price of patent-protected medicines in private.

While previous attempts to integrate South-Eastern Europe’s electricity markets appeared to have stalled, they have been given a new dynamism amid a collective push for EU membership and a looming punitive CO2 duty.

Hundreds of gigawatts of wind energy projects are waiting for permits to connect to Europe’s power grid, a backlog that threatens to slow the shift to green energy, industry association WindEurope said on Friday.

For more policy news, check out this week’s Tech Brief, Agrifood Brief, and the Economy Brief.

Look out for…

  • Second round of French legislative elections on Sunday.
  • Commissioner Stella Kyriakides in Moldova: meets with PM Dorin Recean on Monday.
  • Informal meeting of competitiveness ministers (Internal market and industry) on Monday-Tuesday.