Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) on the table of NATO Defense Ministers amid US concerns

Federica Mogherini
Date: 07/12/2017. Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union , 2018 Source: EC – Audiovisual Service. Photo: Mauro Bottaro

NATO Defense Ministers are gathered today in Brussels to discuss the modernization of the NATO Command Structure, NATO-EU cooperation, NATO’s defense posture and its role in providing stability and fighting terrorism. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a press conference yesterday as a forerunner of the meeting mentioning the issues to be adressed.

However, NATO-EU cooperation and the increase of defense spending across European Allies and Canada will be the main topics in the two-day meeting agenda as High Representative-Vice President Federica Mogherini is also going to participate in the discussions.

More defense investments

The Secretary General stressed out the need to spend more on defense and meet the target of 2% or more of GDP in order to share a fairer burden. More specifically, Jens Stoltenberg said: “After years of decline, since 2014 we have seen three years of increasing defense spending across European Allies and Canada. In 2014, only 3 Allies spent 2% of GDP or more on defense. This year, we expect 8 Allies to meet the target. And by 2024, we expect at least 15 Allies will spend 2% of GDP or more on defense. But we still have a long way to go”.

EU’s plans on defense & U.S. concerns

Last December the EU adopted the creation of the Permanent structured cooperation also known as PESCO which is a European defense and security cooperation network. The bloc is establishing a union in order to be able to develop military capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance their respective armed forces. According to the EC, this defense pact is going to provide greater cooperation among EU member states through projects in areas of EU medical command, military mobility, maritime surveillance and cyber security.

However, the U.S. has expressed concerns on the fact that the EU is forming networks which empower the defense relationships between the EU countries and undermining NATO’s structure and role.  More in detail, Katie Wheelbarger, a senior Pentagon official, said that: “Washington was supportive of Pesco as long as it’s complementary to and not distracting from Nato’s activities and requirements. Military mobility if implemented right would work both for Europe and Nato. But if we don’t have full transparency, if we don’t make sure that the requirements, whether it be for infrastructure or legal changes within and between countries, aren’t based on Nato requirements, then we’re working at cross purposes.”

Will PESCO be NATO’s complement?

NATO Secretary General supports the new defense cooperation which is created among the EU member states adding that NATO will benefit from the increase of the EU defense spending. But Jens Stoltenberg stated that the latter should be achieved only in a supplementary way and not as replacement of NATO. Particularly, Mr Stoltenberg said: “More European defense spending and capabilities can strengthen NATO and contribute to fairer burden-sharing. But only if the EU’s efforts are developed as a complement and not an alternative to NATO. It’s not an alternative and it’s not going to compete with NATO and, therefore, I welcomed the efforts to strengthen European defense and the EU efforts because I think that can strengthen NATO; it can strengthen Europe and the European Union, and by providing stronger European defense we can strengthen the European pillar within NATO and this has been clearly stated again and again also from European leaders.”

The European Commission had commented on the issue that “all PESCO efforts towards European defence integration will complement defence cooperation within NATO” and that “PESCO can significantly strengthen the European pillar within NATO and ensure that the two main suppliers of collective security in Europe can live up to future demands”. Thus, this defense pact will add to NATO’s command structure and role rather than replace it.

All in all, the NATO Defense ministers’ meeting is going to be crucial for the developments of the EU-NATO cooperation and the fair-burden share leading to the summit of the NATO leaders next July. It is too soon though to judge PESCO and its projects as the decision to formally establish it was adopted two months ago and it hasn’t actually been fully deployed.

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