EU's new defense union must not undermine NATO, warns Stoltenberg
The US fears the EU could undermine NATO if it uses its military cooperation pact to protect the bloc's defense industry. NATO's chief warns there is "no way" the EU's armed forces pact could replace the alliance.
On the eve of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg cautioned EU partners not to weaken the alliance with their new armed forces pact.
It wouldn't make any sense for "NATO and the EU to start to compete," adding that there was "no way" the agreement, known as PESCO, could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing Europe's safety.
The European Union's "permanent structured cooperation on defense agreement" (PESCO) has recently come under fire from US officials who fear it could divert resources away from NATO and undermine the alliance.
Launched in December as a way for EU member states expand collaboration post-Brexit, the framework aims to spend military funds more efficiently.
Union within a union
With 25 of the EU's current 28 member states joining the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), there seems to be a great deal of consensus among member states but a few remain on the fence. The new defense union is expected to address immediate threats without having to rely on NATO for all of the EU's defense needs.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had been campaining for PESCO for several years. He expects the new military pact to deliver a "European Security and Defence Union (which) will help protect our Union, which is exactly what EU citizens expect."
A 'new era' for European security
EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Chief Federica Mogherini welcomed the establishment of PESCO as the dawn of a "new era." Mogherini further described the initiative as "an inclusive framework to facilitate the joint investments and projects that we so much need to strengthen the ability of the European Union to be a credible security provider for its citizens and globally."
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen are among the chief supporters of the PESCO defense union. Von der Leyen stressed that with the United States taking a critical stance on NATO, launching Europe's very own defense initiative was "important - especially after the election of the US President," referring to Presiden Donald Trump.
A new direction
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (pictured left) welcomed the launch of PESCO in the face of those fears over US President Donald Trump's commitment to the transatlantic defense alliance. Stoltenberg said that PESCO will "strengthen the European pillar within NATO" adding that it will be "good for NATO" as well.
The majority of EU states signed up to PESCO. Malta still mulling over it, Denmark has opted out for the time being, and the UK is expected to reject the proposal, as it is set to leave the EU by 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is free to join PESCO at a later date however - even after Brexit - if the terms of that cooperation would benefit the entire EU.
It is unclear to what extent there will be concrete military cooperation between EU states, as is the case with the EUFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The signing of PESCO initially provides only the framework for expanded collaboration and more efficient spending of military funds.
The United States Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said that "we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU." She said there could be "serious consequences" if the bloc shut US defense companies out of cooperation projects.
"European allies are absolutely aware that the defense, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO," Stoltenberg told the defense ministers on Tuesday.
Stoltenberg's warning comes amid pressure on NATO members to step up efforts to increase national defense spending. In 2014 only three members spent more than the target of 2 percent of GDP on defense. Fifteen members have laid out concrete plans to reach these goals by 2024.