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The military Schengen

If anyone had considered the possibility that the EU could soon create autonomous united military forces of its own, perhaps they had overestimated the ability of the Brussels bureaucrats to act swiftly and resolutely. They might've also underestimated Britain's willingness to fiercely defend their national interest. Despite all the political talk about an all-European army and the informal meeting of the EU leaders last month, real action on the issue has boiled down to modest measures, compared to Juncker's loudly proclaimed intentions.

This does make a lot of sense, though – given Britain's resistance. The UKanians are obviously determined to push back until the end of their membership, no matter how nigh it may be. "We're a full EU member and we'll continue to oppose any attempt to create a rival structure to NATO", UK's defense minister Michael Fallon said, threatening outright to veto any such plans. London is practically still a EU member, they haven't started the leaving procedure (which they'll likely do in February at the earliest), and the procedure is expected to last at least for 2 years. Britain will retain all tools for blocking the increased military integration of Europe in the meantime, and they look determined to do just that, despite their promises for a "civilized divorce" with Brussels. And despite all assurances from the pro-federalist Euro politicians that such a structure would in no way be a rival, or double the functions of NATO, the British are having none of it. Not just because they're America's puppy, but because it's actually in their interests to have a European continent that does not emancipate itself too much from American dominance (because that would mean Britain would become increasingly isolated in that no-man's buffer zone between the two power centers).

What the European leaders have hinted at during their Bratislava meeting is an attempt at a middle-ground solution aiming to take the interests of the more skeptical countries into account. The idea was promoted by EU's foreign policy and security representative Federica Mogherini. She talked of a system of voluntary defense cooperation between several European countries, without a necessity to revise the fundamental agreements of the Union. The more specific terms will have to be cleared out in December.

For that purpose, a specific part of the Lisbon treaty will be applied, the so called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) which has been in place for quite a while, but has stayed dormant. It allows for bilateral or multilateral integration of groups of countries without this becoming obligatory for the rest of the EU. In the case with defense integration, the core would be formed around France, Germany and Italy. The idea is to create a permanent HQ in Brussels, which could then direct the multinational forces at a strategic level, and manage a certain shared budget for joint operations. Even right now the EU has 18 such units (at least on paper), about 1500 troops each, featuring military personnel from all member states. They're directly managed by the EC, although they've never really been used in military action. The new plan includes the creation of integrated logistical units for transporting military units by land, sea and air, as well as medical units. The hi-tech equipment, including satellite surveillance, will also be managed by this center, as will the cyber-defense and the drone fleet.

Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni recently told Politico that this initiative is something like a "Defense Schengen". He argued that the new system would allow a group of like-minded states sharing the same geopolitical space and similar cultural and civilizational values, to also share their military capabilities and resources, based on a system of ad hoc agreements. Then the initiative could be expanded to all member states, based on procedures that are similar to the Schengen agreement. This so-called military Schengen could then integrate countries from Central and East Europe, and ultimately, even skeptics like Ireland, Poland and the Baltics, if they overcome their skepticism at some point (potentially seeing that the system is working). He also assured the public that the purpose of this new system would not be to compete with the US or NATO, or take away from their defense functions, but to complement and enhance trans-Atlantic defense cooperation, and allow Europe to respond more adequately to the current geopolitical realities.

Interestingly, despite the concerns of the Euro-skeptics who believe a possible EU defense integration could undermine NATO's foundations, one of the very first advocates for the defense Schengen was in fact a US commander, who's hardly an opponent of Euro-Atlantism. I'm talking of Gen. Lt. Ben Hodges, the commander of the US ground forces in Europe. He says the biggest problem right now is not the low defense capabilities of the allied militaries, but their inability to swiftly react and freely dispatch personnel, equipment and resources across the European continent at times of need.

The Russians have shown they're able to move large military formations to vast distances at extreme speeds. During their surprise training exercises along the borders of adjacent NATO states or countries like Georgia and Ukraine, you'd see 20K+ people and all relevant equipment suddenly popping up as if out of thin air. That's been possible because they have full freedom of movement within the Russian borders. In order to achieve the same effect, Europe has to get across multiple borders, and there's a number of administrative, bureaucratic and political obstacles and procedures hindering this. In order to achieve an adequate deterring effect (as opposed to having to do damage control and conduct "liberation campaigns" after the fact), we should be able to reach the crisis spot within a couple of days. And right now, that's impossible. So the defense Schengen is aiming to amend just that. That's the whole purpose of major EU countries like Germany, France and Italy. If the plan starts working properly, perhaps others would join, too. If not, well… back to square one.

Source: Talk politics.

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