COLOGNE, Germany – U.S. defense officials want to be admitted to an internal European Union project aimed at easing the flow of military forces across the continent.
The request aims to cement an American role in tackling a key problem here, which officials from both sides of the Atlantic have traditionally worked through NATO: cutting through the red tape of cross-border logistics and putting in place transportation infrastructure capable of shipping a sizable fighting force to points east.
It also represents an initial test of whether Washington can play a role in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) process, designed to improve defense cooperation among its members.
Led by the Netherlands, the Military Mobility PESCO project aims to “simplify and standardize cross-border military transport procedures,” according to a description on the European Commission website. “This entails avoiding long bureaucratic procedures to move through or over EU member states, be it via rail, road, air or sea.”
The U.S. request to join the project “not only aligns with ongoing and complementary work at NATO but is a critical step to identify how the United States and the EU can work together in other PESCO projects and to inform possible U.S.-EU cooperation under other EU defense initiatives,” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell told Defense News.
“The United States welcomes swift EU approval for U.S. participation in Military Mobility in line with EU and member state commitments that EU defense initiatives are open to the United States,” she added.
Pentagon officials consider Military Mobility participation as something of a bellwether because all 25 EU members signed up for PESCO are represented in the effort.
Officials from both sides of the Atlantic were at odds during the Trump administration about the degree to which the U.S. government and its defense contractors should be allowed to play in the PESCO framework. Germany helped broker a deal last fall that allows so-called “third-country” participants, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, to partake when there is political common ground to be found and no acquisition money is at stake.
Those access rules appear to sit well with the new defense leadership under U.S. President Joe Biden, whose top officials have rushed to repair U.S.-European relations strained by Trump-era acrimony.
“The United States maintains regular dialogue and consultations with the EU to further shared security objectives,” the Pentagon spokeswoman told Defense News in an email. “The third-state guidelines for PESCO projects allow the United States to deepen this relationship and support the trans-Atlantic commitments outlined in the 2016 and 2018 Joint NATO-EU Declarations.”
American troops stationed in Europe have traditionally made up a large chunk of the military mobility calculus here, as allies scramble to field a collective deterrent vis-a-vis Russia. There has been a fresh focus on the topic recently, with planners trying to achieve greater agility to make up for a potential loss in U.S. military muscle if American forces are urgently needed in the Indo-Pacific.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.