Majority of EU Nations Sign New Defense Proposal, “PESCO”

By Elinor Aspegren (PZ ’20)

20th century Europe was characterized by economic, territorial and ideological conflict. As a result of these conflicts, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) were both developed.

NATO, a 54-year-old collective security organization with 19 members, including the United States and Canada, guaranteed the security of Europe and North America against the Soviet threat during the Cold War. Additionally, the European Union encouraged economic and political cooperation between many European countries with hopes to secure a lasting peace.

On Nov. 13, 2017, 23 of the European countries part of the EU established the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) which will enable European countries to further cooperate on security operations and military development at large.

Rather than combatting the precedents of NATO, PESCO has been introduced by the EU as a means to cement unity in a fragile international climate. It is imperative to have more forces in place as a means to prevent anarchy.

The EU began in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The first six members of the ECSC were Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. These countries initially joined forces to remove trade barriers and form a common market over coal and steel, but then quickly expanded to integrate other economic markets and create a specialist market for nuclear power.

Denmark, Ireland, the UK, Greece, Portugal and Spain joined the ECSC between 1973 and 1986. The Maastricht Treaty of 1993 officially renamed the ECSC the EU to better encompass the scope of the organization’s responsibilities and cooperation. The Maastricht Treaty additionally paved the way for a universal European currency, now called the euro, and laid out certain economic guidelines for member countries.

Since then, an additional 16 countries have joined the EU and adopted the rules set out in the Maastricht Treaty or in the treaties that followed later. These rules ensure that the involved countries are stable in inflation, levels of public debt, interest rates, and exchange rate.

The EU’s authority has expanded beyond its initial role in purely economic matters. The EU now plays a key part in the international effort to promote sustainable developments globally, such as the Seventh Environment Action Programme which will guide European environmental policy until 2020 to transform the EU into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy. Additionally, the EU has established the ET 2020, which seeks to improve the quality of education and professional training.

Since largely increasing the breadth of areas regulated, the EU has thus began a new endeavor: formally address international security in the form of PESCO.

The main issues addressed in the PESCO agreement include discussions of potential deployments of an EU military task force, increased cyber security, and relaxed restrictions on moving military equipment and personnel across EU borders.

Because the majority of PESCO-participating European states are involved in  NATO, the question has been raised as to why these European countries need further military support.

There are a number of external factors that have prompted the decision to collaborate beyond the agreements set forward in NATO. Terrorist attacks and the flood of immigration brought forward by the refugee crisis have reminded European countries of their vulnerabilities.

Further contributing to this decision was the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016. As the US is one of the strongest economic and military contributors to NATO, having a US president who, on top of calling NATO “obsolete,” is considered by many European leaders to be volatile, makes NATO fragile.

On top of that, Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the EU, enabled the current members of the EU to sign the military pact with greater ease. The UK government had long been against military cooperation efforts, but the idea of a military pact has gathered new steam since Britain’s vote to leave.

So what exactly will PESCO’s relationship to NATO be? Some experts have characterized PESCO as a European alternative, especially in the wake of Trump and Brexit. Others simply describe PESCO as simply a complement to NATO that will strengthen the European pillar in the alliance.

Still, the idea of PESCO as a competitor to NATO persists. Some view PESCO as a more fit defense to escalating tensions in Ukraine than NATO, who recently risked confrontations with Russia by arming Ukrainian rebels. Some believe that the EU has long been a lame duck to the US in NATO, and that PESCO will finally allow the EU some military clout.

However, it is important to note that the capabilities that are developed under PESCO do not become collective EU assets. They remain the property of each member state.  5 EU members haven’t joined the military pact — and must be deployed through another method such as NATO.

Moreover, the sheer number of member nations that joined this cooperation effort will probably lead to slower processes of implementation. This speed largely depends on the resources provided to the group, which may not be substantial if Brexit still continues through.

While this military alliance in Europe may be a cause for alarm about the end of NATO, it is clear that the pact is not meant to nor shall attempt to circumvent its authority. Rather, experts and others should be more alarmed about the heightening tensions between Europe and the U.S. itself — this military alliance suggests that it nears its breaking point.


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