EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini supported the move, hailing it as an “historic moment.” Backed by a €5-billion ($6.5-billion) EU defense fund, PESCO “will enable member states to use the economy of scale of Europe and in this manner to fulfil the gap of output that we have.”
The agreement signed by 23 defense ministers in Brussels will come into force in December, after which members will be legally bound to participate in projects under PESCO.
Work on the agreement started last year amid uncertainty over the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union, and US President Donald Trump’s continued criticism of European NATO members for failing to deliver on defense-spending commitments.
European heavyweights Germany and France are leading the effort to bring the EU closer to having a permanent joint armed force. The UK, which has been opposing a pan-European military force for decades, is not part of the agreement. Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, and Malta opted out; while Austria, not a member of NATO, agreed to join at the last moment.
PESCO is touted as a path to boost the efficiency of the European military by eliminating redundancies, streamlining defense acquisitions, and boosting logistics through a network of hubs spread across the continent. It is also intended to establish joint training of military officers. NATO’s attempt to reform the contribution of European allies goes along similar lines.
According to Reuters, Germany and France were in disagreement over the future role for a joint European military force, with Paris advocating for a more exclusive and capable defense club with potential for overseas deployments. Berlin, which championed a more inclusive approach, apparently prevailed with its vision.
Unlike some other efforts in Europe to consolidate their military, PESCO is not being opposed by NATO, which says it will make the militaries of European members stronger.
How the future pan-European military would be used is yet to be seen. However, the EU may be preparing for a possible significant instability affecting some of its members, suggested geostrategic expert Konstantin Sokolov.
“In a scenario of social disruption in a country, its police force becomes unreliable because it is staffed by regular citizens, who have local families and friends and may not support the government policies. They are affected by the turmoil,” he told RT. “But an international force would just follow orders and are less impacted by the sentiment in the local population.”
PESCO in practice: what and how?
PESCO should not be used merely as an umbrella for a loosely coordinated range of cooperative projects among different groups of member states.
This said, a certain degree of flexibility should be ensured through a modular approach, to allow participating member states not to contribute to every single project implemented within PESCO. At the same time, as strong internal cohesion is needed, the bulk of participating member states should join the vast majority of PESCO activities, so as to create a stable and reliable centre of gravity able to make this endeavour effective and efficient.
To this end, the organizing principle should be that each participating member state joins all PESCO projects with the exception of those where it has no capabilities to share or develop together.
In order to ensure sufficient cohesion, the PESCO governance should be linked with EU institutions. First, the High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP) should have a chairing role, in order to align PESCO’s level of ambition with the EUGS and ensure coordination with the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Second, EDA should support PESCO by performing the necessary preparatory work, as well as developing case studies and scenario analysis. Third, developments within PESCO should be reported to the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) meetings.
These are planned to involve all EU member states and should envisage the participation of the HR/VP and a member of the European Commission at appropriate level in order to ensure an appropriate link with EDAP.
The HR/VP should report twice a year to the European Parliament about developments
within PESCO, in order to apply the aforementioned transparency and openness principles.
PESCO should be output-oriented, and the Defence Ministers of participating member states should regularly discuss capability development and military operations at a strategic level, chaired by the HR/VP and supported by EDA.
Regular discussions would ensure coordination among different modules of PESCO, building on the fact that the bulk of participating member states join in the vast majority of PESCO activities. PESCO should prioritize the development of new capabilities and the ability to keep the existing ones operational, in order to address European military shortfalls.
This should be done also on the basis of the Capability Development Plan (CDP) regularly reviewed by EDA. To this end, the CDP should become more detailed, outputoriented and linked to national defence planning.
The EDA Collaborative Database (CODABA) should also serve for a bottom-up analysis of PESCO member states capabilities aimed at developing cooperation proposals, provided that member states validate and share information via CODABA itself.
Possible capability development projects to be jointly launched in the PESCO framework include, but are not limited to: a logistic and support hub; medical command; advanced training; remotely piloted aircraft systems capability; combat search and rescue; military capacity to counter nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological threats; strategic surveillance of EU borders; and shared access to satellite imagery.
Existing pooling and sharing efforts such as the European Air Transport Command and Air-to-Air Refuelling initiative should be further developed within PESCO, but priority should be given to the cooperative development of the new capabilities that are needed.
Moreover, participating member states should constitute the vanguard to establish a fully fledged EU operational headquarters, by providing the necessary political mandate and the bulk of resources and personnel.
In this way, the EU headquarters will be able to both run current and future CSDP missions and operations, including executive military interventions, and become the operational arm of PESCO. In turn, the EU Military Committee (EUMC) and the EU Military Staff (EUMS) should be involved in PESCO activities to provide the necessary military linkage with CSDP and all EU member states.
Capabilities developed and/or pooled via PESCO should be made available for operations to be performed by PESCO member states. To this end, a “security of disposal” clause should be introduced to prevent single participating member states from vetoing the use of PESCO assets and capabilities, provided that a decision to intervene has been adopted by the EU Council. Such a “security of disposal” clause requires a convergence of defence policies with specific reference to the EU’s neighbouring regions where European armed forces are likely to be deployed in the future. This means that PESCO member states should make a steady effort to define common strategic priorities for actions with respect to: the crises in the Mediterranean and Middle East region, from Libya to Syria; the crisis in Ukraine and relations with Russia; the stabilization of sub-Saharan Africa; and the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.
Close coordination and cooperation between PESCO and NATO should be
developed in the following sectors:
• capability development, by ensuring maximum coherence between the NATO Defence Planning Process and the EDA Capability Development Plan, improving contacts and ensuring a smooth information/documents exchange, as well as reinvigorating the EU-NATO capability group;
• military-to-military contacts, by establishing a constant and structured working cooperation between NATO International Military Staff, Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation on the one side, and the EUMC, EUMS, EDA, and the future EU operational headquarters on the other;
• increased coordination of PESCO member states within NATO, aimed at both improving their contribution to the Alliance, and streamlining the Alliance decision-making by establishing a functioning PESCO core within NATO.
A PESCO so constituted would be demanding for member states able and willing to join it, both in political and military terms.
Therefore, its establishment should be supported by a range of incentives, including but
not limited to those already provided by EDAP. Namely:
• European Defence Fund: support for technological innovation aimed at developing participating member states capabilities via the Preparatory Action for defence to be financed by the European Commission in 2017- 2019 and by the European Defence Research Programme (research window), envisaged by EDAP for the next EU budget (the European Defence Fund would also finance projects other than those prioritized via PESCO).
• Use of the EDAP “capability window”, so that member states investments in PESCO capability development projects are counted as “one-offs” under the Stability and Growth Pact.
• Access to European Investment Bank funds for PESCO capability development projects.
• VAT exemption for PESCO capability developments projects, including but not limited to those performed within EDA framework.
• Specific agreements on security of supply and intra-community transfer of equipment among participating member states, in order to: rapidly achieve the full implementation of 2009 directives; reach a liberalization of the European defence market by moving from ex ante authorization to ex post export control of intra-PESCO transfers, and relying on the mutual recognition of PESCO member states authorizations; make the voluntary Framework Agreement for security of supply legally binding.