PESCO: EU army one step closer after defense pact agreement

The prospect of a European army has gained momentum following a historic agreement by 25 member states. The new defense cooperation PESCO could reduce the EU's reliance on NATO.

Twenty-five European member states on Monday formally agreed to establish a European Union defense union, known as PESCO.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation could pave the way for the creation of a European army.

Read more: Can PESCO provide a new European identity?

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

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.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

High expectations

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."

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

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."

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

Franco-German foundations

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.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

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.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

Left outside

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.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

EU soldiers?

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.

What does this entail?

Officials have earmarked 17 joint projects that will fall under the scope of the PESCO agreement, including:

  • a pan-European military training center
  • common standards for military radio communication
  • the creation of a German-led European medical unit and logistics hub
  • an initiative to build up faster crisis response forces
  • intelligence exchanges on cyber threats
  • submarine drones

Read more: PESCO: EU paves way to defense union

'Sleeping beauty awakes'

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini called the decision "historic." 

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed the move on Twitter, posting: "She is awake, the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty: Permanent Structured Cooperation is happening."

A historic step: The deal fulfills a 70-year-old ambition among European nations to integrate their defenses and marks the biggest move in two decades to help match the EU's economic and trade prowess with a more powerful military. 

Read more: Rex Tillerson reaffirms US commitment to EU at NATO meeting

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Fallon: 'Defense is for NATO, not for EU'

What is PESCO? The alliance was first set out in the Lisbon Treaty — in effect the EU's constitution. It will allow member states to jointly develop military capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance their respective armed forces.

Why PESCO is being discussed now: The shift in US policy under President Donald Trump — who berated European partners on military spending at a NATO summit in May — has intensified efforts to reduce an over-reliance on  Washington for protection.

The member states involved: Only three EU member states refused to sign up to the pact: Malta, Denmark and the UK, which is set to leave the bloc in March 2019.

What happens next: Money for PESCO could be provided by the European Defense Fund, which is expected to be signed on Tuesday. The initial projects are expected to be formally adopted by the European Council in early 2018.

Read more: Is Europe bold enough to counter US ambivalence?

Germany's NATO missions

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

Germany's NATO missions

Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

Germany's NATO missions

Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

Germany's NATO missions

Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Germany's NATO missions

More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

Germany's NATO missions

German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

Germany's NATO missions

Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.

rt/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)