East-West division trickles into PESCO

The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is expected to be initiated before the end of the year and launched in early 2018. To this day, it stands for the most significant and symbolic European defence integration initiative. It is the first key step to potential synchronisation of security cultures across the EU. Yet, its ambitions mirror difficulties and the East-West divide can easily downplay its impact.

PESCO follows the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) ambition to achieve strategic autonomy. What that means specifically remains an issue. The Implementation Plan on Security and Defence for the EUGS proposes many military capabilities that the EU should build but their choice and development is still up to member states consensus and decision. Consequently, there is no explicit goal for Europe’s strategic autonomy and at this point, it does not include territorial defence. This remains a problem that further carries the risk that the current defence integration efforts will be mainly oriented on crisis management capacities. Under the Franco-German leadership, this means a more strategic focus on North Africa. Such issue goes precisely along the East-West divide in Europe, between countries like Italy and France prioritising the Southern agenda in Africa or the Middle East and Eastern European member states viewing historical Russian revisionism as a question of nation survival.

Flexibility for inclusion

The hope is that PESCO will offer a lot of flexibility. It is a project-based initiative. Out of 30 different projects that are currently being discussed a final 10 are expected to be started with. To court as many member states as possible, they will range in their focus, size, ambition, region or strategic goals.

 

Without a definition of what strategic autonomy really means it will be difficult to prioritise and quantify PESCO projects.

 

Grandiose Franco-German integration goals can be viewed as unattractive in the East – from Warsaw that remains sceptical of the Common Security and Defence Policy and cherishes NATO as its only real defence from Russia, to Budapest struggling to find any reasonable finances for its military. PESCO needs to be as inclusive as possible to avoid further rifts in the Union. Smaller states should not only be able to have their own projects customised to their own goals and budgets but they should also be at some capacity included in the big ambitious ones to avoid such divisions.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation is a good but limited started. Without a definition of what strategic autonomy really means it will be difficult to prioritise and quantify PESCO projects.

It all starts with the defence industry

There is no question that cooperation of defence industries, joint technology developments, training or acquisitions would yield immense benefits not only limited to defence. Just like the massive investments in military technology development set the core fabrics of Silicon Valley, an integrated multi-billion defence industrial base could do the same for Europe.

Here again, currently struggling defence industries of Eastern Europe are also at risk of being left behind. Questions about where the annual €5 billion for defence investment and €90 million for research from the European Defence Fund will end up represent this risk. For smaller and struggling Eastern European defence industries, big Franco-German projects such as the development of major land combat, artillery, maritime systems as well as a combat aircraft could be out of reach in competition with Western defence giants (the possible Polish involvement in the production of a French-German MTB should be viewed rather as an exception). However, their inclusion at some smaller capacity into the supply chains of bigger projects is crucial.

 

A failure to fully integrate post-Communist defence industries into the EU’s funding and the European defence industry base would likely leave them uncompetitive.

 

Post-Communist defence industries continue to recover from the damages from the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, privatisations and influx of foreign capital in the 1990s. Consequently, cross-border defence cooperation has been in the past hampered by protectionist concerns. More, arms acquisitions from the United States tend to be utilised as a foreign policy tool as well. These obstacles need to be stepped over. A failure of post-Communist defence industries to be fully incorporated in the EU’s defence funding and the European defence industry base would likely leave them uncompetitive and on the outskirts of European defence integration.

Strategic Culture

It is no surprise that the French president Emmanuel Macron called for the ambitious establishment of a European intervention force in September, as this would explicitly follow interests of Paris in the South. Meanwhile, German interests in EU defence integration are viewed as politically motivate and are led by its Foreign Ministry to advance the integration and credibility of the European Union. Yet, NATO and collective defence still remain the core of their security policy. Berlin is likely to act more inclusive. Still, the divergence in what precisely EUGS strategic autonomy mean will stay. At least for now.

 

PESCO has the potential to set the EU on the path that moves towards strategic converges through a wide spectrum of projects that accommodate all member states.

 

PESCO can serve as a vehicle and commitment for other defence integration programs, especially if it is linked with the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) or the Capability Development Plan (CDP) managed by the European Defence Agency (EDA). In the past, member states kept EDA from bigger funding and a mandate to undertake big projects of strategic importance. The flexibility and the nation-state format of PESCO seem to be a better platform to achieve it. This can be a key step for fostering a shared security culture through synchronisation of defence planning and capacity building.

Should European defence integration achieve bigger commitments, it needs to ensure that strategic autonomy serves as an umbrella for national interests, capacities and ambitions. PESCO has the potential to set the EU on the path that moves towards strategic converges through a wide spectrum of projects that accommodate all member states. Inclusiveness will remain the main precondition for the synchronisation of security cultures. Only then can a more concrete East-West definition of strategic autonomy be reached.

About author: Petr Boháček

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