US warns against European joint military project
The US has warned that greater military co-operation between EU countries would be a “dramatic reversal” of three decades of transatlantic defence integration, in the latest sign of the fraying relationship between Washington and Brussels.
In a letter seen by the Financial Times, Washington threatened retaliation if the Europeans pressed ahead with rules that it said would restrict the involvement of US companies in pan-European military projects.
The correspondence was sent this month to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, by Ellen Lord, US under secretary of defence, and Andrea Thompson, under secretary of state.
It said that Washington was “deeply concerned” that approval of the rules for the European Defence Fund and the Permanent Structured Cooperation, or Pesco, launched in 2017 to plug gaps in Europe’s military power, would “produce duplication, non-interoperable military systems, diversion of scarce defence resources and unnecessary competition between Nato and the EU”.
“It is vital . . . that independent EU initiatives like EDF and Pesco do not detract from Nato activities and Nato-EU co-operation,” the letter said.
Washington said the rules for the EDF contained “poison pills” that would prevent companies based outside the EU, including the US, from participating in military projects.
The letter also warned that the US could respond with its own restrictions on EU groups. “It is clear that similar reciprocally imposed US restrictions would not be welcomed by our European partners and allies, and we would not relish having to consider them in the future,” the letter said.
Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU, said in March that if the bloc persisted with its “stubbornness or protectionism” on its multibillion-euro joint military projects, the US would consider various responses unlikely to “be positive for either side”.
The broadside will stoke anxiety among EU diplomats, who think the US has misinterpreted what European military upgrades are intended to achieve.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding of how the European Union works,” said one EU member state official.
“They are reading language in it that is fencing the European continent off from American co-operation possibilities — and that’s not true.”
Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defence minister, said Europeans “are doing what our American friends have been demanding we do for years. Our task now is to convince our allies that Nato will only profit from the efforts to create a European Defence Union,” she said.
Twenty-five of the bloc’s 28 member states have signed up to Pesco, which involves projects ranging from a spy school to a new generation of battlefield missiles.
The EDF is set to receive €13bn in the EU’s next seven-year budget. EU officials said Pesco was a response to longstanding demands from Washington for Europe to contribute more to Nato, which have grown louder since Donald Trump became president.
The EU said it wanted to improve its military capabilities without undermining Nato’s responsibility for Europe’s collective defence.
But US officials argue that the EU’s military plans could weaken Nato rather than enhance it. Some Nato officials also worry that initiatives such as Pesco could duplicate the alliance’s work and discriminate against non-EU members.
The letter to Ms Mogherini also attacked rules that require ownership of intellectual property arising from an EU project to remain with the recipient in Europe, even after the work is complete. Washington argued this would discourage non-EU companies from bidding.