Pentagon pitches law changes to enable US-EU defense cooperation

Drew Angerer
·2 min read

WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders are asking Congress for new authorities when it comes to cooperative defense programs with the European Union, a prospect officials on both sides of the Atlantic have said will complement traditional NATO processes.

Defense officials here circulated legislative language to that effect on Capitol Hill this month in hopes of having it included in the annual defense policy bill now on the congressional docket.

The proposed bill text would name the European Union, plus its associated bodies like the European Defence Agency, in the Arms Export Control Act, thereby enabling routine defense work with the bloc and its member countries.

“The United States must be able to pursue information sharing and potential cooperative projects with the European Union and member countries to maintain a strong transatlantic relationship at the government, industry, and academic levels to meet common threats and to maintain consonance with NATO activities and interoperability of systems,” reads the legislative proposal, published on a Pentagon website.

Its primary focus, according to the document, is on authorities needed for joint research, development, test and evaluation, “including potential procurement of articles or services” to support such activities.

The congressional push essentially lays the domestic groundwork for Washington to have a hand in the European Union’s emerging weapons development efforts, though the jury is still out on their effectiveness. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has shown that America’s military prowess remains the backbone of transatlantic deterrence, as governments orchestrate military and humanitarian aid for Kyiv.

“The United States is not a member of the EU and does not have a formal voice in the defense requirements discussions within the EU,” the proposed language notes. “In addition, European defense and security development efforts are increasingly being established under EU-managed efforts.”

Meanwhile, work on a crucial pact between the U.S. Defense Department and the European Defence Agency remains unfinished, a Pentagon spokesman told Defense News. A so-called administrative arrangement between the two organizations has been in the works since last year. The document will define key rules governing future cooperative projects, such as channels of participation, information sharing and intellectual property use.

In the EU’s eyes, having a non-bloc member participate in join programs and — potentially — multibillion-euro funding streams meant primarily for member countries requires careful justification on the basis of case-by-case exceptions.