Nato defence ministers yesterday gathered for talks amid US concerns over the EU's landmark defence cooperation pact and increasingly strained relations between Washington and Turkey.
Washington and Ankara, two of the transatlantic alliance's most important members, are at loggerheads over Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday warned was detracting from the fight against the Islamic State group.
The two-day meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels is expected to approve changes to Nato's command structure aimed at making the alliance fit for the challenges of warfare in the 21st century, particularly cyber tactics and hybrid warfare, as fears grow about Russian assertiveness.
But a working dinner with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini later yesterday has taken on greater significance after senior US officials voiced fears about the bloc's defence pact.
Despite concerns from the alliance's biggest power, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the right balance could be struck.
"Done in the right way, these efforts can make a contribution to fairer burden-sharing between Europe and North America," Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for talks with Nato defence ministers yesterday.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged allies to increase their share of spending to ease Washington's burden.
On Tuesday Stoltenberg said efforts to boost EU defence spending were welcome, but only if they were coordinated with Nato plans, warning there was "no way" the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.
"It will be absolutely without any meaning if Nato and the EU start to compete," the former Norwegian premier told reporters.
"European allies are absolutely aware that the defence, the protection of Europe is dependent on Nato."
The EU's so-called permanent structured cooperation on defence agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
But on Sunday a senior official working with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Washington had concerns some of the proposed initiatives risked "pulling resources or capabilities away from Nato".
And on Tuesday US ambassador to Nato Kay Bailey Hutchison ramped up the pressure, warning the EU there could be serious consequences if it shuts US defence companies out of cooperation projects.
"Certainly we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU and we're going to watch carefully, because if that becomes the case then it could splinter the strong security alliance that we have," she told reporters.