NATO, EU deal could quicken US Army convoys in Europe

STUTTGART, Germany — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Tuesday with allies in Brussels, where NATO is coordinating efforts to loosen regulations that slow down the transit of military convoys across Europe.

 Details of the plan, a top priority for U.S. military commanders who have complained about cumbersome customs rules that slow deployments, are still being negotiated inside the alliance and with the European Union.

“Our aim is to make military mobility a new flagship for our cooperation,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference Monday. “In an unpredictable security environment, our troops and our equipment must be able to move quickly whenever we need them to. This is vital for our security.”

For the past two years, Army leaders have called for a military “Schengen Zone” in Europe, which would allow U.S. and other national contingents to move freely en route to missions in places such as the Baltics and Poland. Currently, those convoys can be delayed by inspections at border crossings. However, the idea of a free-travel zone for the military has gained momentum inside NATO and the EU in recent months.

Stoltenberg has touted NATO’s closer ties over the past year with the EU in areas such as cyber and the establishment of a new “Hybrid Center of Excellence” in Helsinki. Going forward, NATO and the EU need to cooperate more to counter terrorist threats, he said.

“At this week‘s ministerial, our aim is to take a step further, with a new package of measures,” Stoltenberg said ahead of the regular year-end meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

Instability on NATO’s southern flank and how to deal with it also is on the meeting’s agenda.

President Donald Trump has called on the alliance to take on a larger role in countering terrorism and has insisted that member states provide more troops for the mission in Afghanistan.

“On Wednesday, we will address NATO’s role in projecting stability and the fight against terrorism ... Ministers will consider how NATO’s role should evolve,” Stoltenberg said.