Author: Jahangir HUSEYNOV
The meeting of the Council of Europe planned for December 11 will be a very significant event for the EU.
It will activate the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) protocol adopted on November 13 by foreign and defence ministers of 23 EU countries. The document was not signed by the UK, which is expected to withdraw from the Union in 2019, Denmark, which is not participating in any of the EU's military initiatives, and Ireland, Malta and Portugal that have not determined their positions yet. But several non-NATO states (Austria, Cyprus, Finland and Sweden) joined the new protocol. The participation of non-EU states is also envisaged.
The studies show that security issues are one of the three priorities for Europeans. At the same time, three quarters of Europeans support the coordination of security and defence efforts.
According to Der Tagesspiegel, the EU countries rank the second in the world after the U.S. in terms of defence expenditures but the effectiveness of European military is far from perfect. The main reason is that the European countries are exploiting too many (178) different types of weaponry such as tanks, aircraft, cannons, etc., while the United States uses only 30. Due to the lack of coordination, integrated military strategy and cooperation, the EU countries currently have 40 different types of armoured cars and about 20 types of aircraft.
Existing military structures on the continent perform mainly advisory functions, such as the European Defence Agency, or operate as inter-state associations like the Weimar Combat Group including military personnel from Poland, Germany, and France.
The only real military alliance in Europe is NATO, which includes twenty-two EU member states, four non-EU countries (Albania, Iceland, Turkey, and Norway), the U.S., and Canada.
The idea of consolidating European military resources has emerged long before the establishment of the EU but many objective and subjective reasons (such as the fear of the revival of German militarism or the U.S.’s reluctance to reduce its military presence on the continent) prevented this.
Since the beginning of this century, EU has taken many steps towards the establishment of its own defence alliance. The first decision was adopted back in 2000 at the Nice summit. Then, in 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon on reforming the EU was signed, which added possibilities for defence cooperation.
It took exactly ten years until the Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence (PESCO) became a reality.
Trump and Brexit
What threatened to destroy the European Union, on the contrary, contributed to its greater consolidation and strengthening. The UK has been resisting military integration for twenty-five years, since the founding of the EU, reluctant to duplicate the functions of NATO by all possible means.
The U.S. President Donald Trump has played an instrumental role, perhaps unwittingly, in accelerating the process of establishment of the EU defence alliance. During his election campaign, Trump accused the EU countries of overdependence on the U.S. and explicitly stated the reluctance of his government to spend the money of American taxpayers on European defence needs. His statements resonated unexpectedly controversial hinting the need to disband NATO. When he took the office, he changed his mind: "I said the Alliance was obsolete. Now it is no longer obsolete," quotes Voice of America president Trump. However, the requirement for all NATO member-states to contribute 2% of their GDPs to the organization and to pay all the debts remains unchanged. In February 2017, for instance, Trump presented the German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting Washington, DC a bill for $375 billion.
Europeans have one more concern about the incumbent U.S. president. Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations Ulrike E. Franke formulated this as follows: "Trump is considered a militarist; that's why the Germans are concerned that the U.S. can start a war, and Germany, as a NATO member, will have to participate in it."
That is why Merkel’s "we, Europeans, truly have to take our fate into our own hands" was perceived in Europe with understanding. In fact, she and the new French president, Manuel Macron, became the main drivers of European defence integration.
Most of the EU members, signatories of PESCO, expressed their readiness for military integration in the broadest sense including political, economic and technical aspects. The three main objectives of combining military efforts are to build on defence potential, to protect the EU and its citizens, and to respond to external conflicts and crises.
Since the military of each European country is too small, poorly financed, and therefore poorly equipped and inefficient, the first step under PESCO will be the establishment of the European Defence Fund designed to increase the effectiveness of military spending. This fund will be mainly used for military and technical research, development and acquisition of military equipment. Brussels hopes that by the end of this decade Europe will create at least two or three prototypes of authentic European weapons systems.
PESCO also provides for cooperation in the restructuring of civil infrastructure (roads and railways, runways and ports) for military requirements to accelerate the rapid transfer of troops (manpower and equipment) to different regions. The EU countries also agreed to create a sort of "military Schengen" to develop simplified rules for border crossing. After all, some European states require that the NATO leadership notify them a month in advance about its intentions to deploy military units.
The signatory countries commit themselves to "regularly increase defence budgets." As not every country can afford it, it is proposed to use the idea of Two-speed Europe so far applied in economic cooperation. "We do not want to be slowed by the slowest; let the faster go ahead and set an example," said the representative of the European Commission.
Is it an alliance?
Trump and Brexit have launched a flywheel of gradual but purposeful movement of Europe towards a unified army but this is not a widely pronounced event. The EU administration constantly repeats the same words: neither PESCO nor any other EU military initiatives in any way mean the establishment of an organization alternative or competitor to NATO. Moreover, there are assurances that the relations between the EU and NATO are only getting stronger and PESCO is going to strengthen the potential of the North Atlantic Alliance.
A few days before the launch of PESCO, the EU defence ministers took part in the NATO meeting, which announced the decision of the Alliance command to establish two additional command structures in Europe.
The first is the Atlantic Command, which, according to the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg, is to maintain "free and secure maritime links between Europe and the United States". The second command structure will coordinate the efforts to implement the above-mentioned "military Schengen".
Stoltenberg also noted that he welcomed the establishment of PESCO but "which is complementary to NATO. We do not need duplication, we do not need competition, but what we need is cooperation and a European defence which is complementing NATO."
A new military alliance is being formed In Europe. Previously, each European state would coordinate the efforts with NATO individually. Now Europe is going to have an alliance of two alliances. In the future, the conflicts of interest will be inevitable given that European military initiatives are aimed at creating a full-fledged defence alliance with all the same functions and powers as NATO.
Last year, hardly anyone paid attention to the words of the EC President Jean-Claude Juncker: "We need to take a new approach to the European Defence Union, including the long-term goal of establishing a European army. That is the direction in which we are already heading, even if many Europeans are not yet aware of that fact." Now this direction becomes clearer and more realistic.