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22nd Feb 2020

European defence league poised for debate on dormant pact

A group of the EU's major foreign policy players is waiting to find out what happens to the Lisbon Treaty before deciding if it should keep or scrap an old "musketeer" defence pact.

The security pact is found in Article V of the Modified Brussels Treaty, created in 1954 at the height of the Cold War.

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  • Illustration from an 1894 edition of Dumas' book "The Three Musketeers" (Photo: Wikipedia)

"If any of the high contracting parties should be the object of an armed attack in Europe, the other high contracting parties will ...afford the party so attacked all the military and other aid and assistance in their power," it states.

The contracting parties are EU and Nato member states France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece.

The pact is similar to Nato's Article 5, which is sometimes called the musketeer clause as it echoes the "all for one, one for all" motto of the protagonists in Alexandre Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers.

The Brussels Treaty is significant because it is the only European defence pact in existence.

In terms of legal theory, if a Nato and Brussels Treaty member state was attacked and the US-led Nato alliance failed to honour its musketeer clause, the country could instead invoke the Brussels Treaty as a back-up.

In practice, the scenario is unthinkable due to Nato's political and operational importance.

But the 1954 treaty is also significant because some of its 10 parties are interested in keeping it alive so that Article V could in future be used as the basis of a new EU-level defence pact, a source at the Western European Union (WEU) told EUobserver.

Don't throw out the baby with the bath water

The WEU is the largely-dormant institution in charge of implementing the Brussels Treaty. It costs €13.4 million a year to run, has 65 staff at offices in Brussels and Paris and is chaired by EU foreign relations chief Javier Solana.

The WEU expects its 10 member states to hold talks on its future in the few months after the fate of the Lisbon Treaty becomes clear.

One option is to scrap the WEU secretariat but to keep the Brussels Treaty intact as a legally-binding agreement, so that Article V lies ready to hand.

If the Irish referendum on 2 October says "yes" to Lisbon, ratification could follow before 2010. A No result could unravel the Lisbon Treaty, with no official EU plan B.

Framing a European defence

The Lisbon Treaty does not contain a European defence pact. But Lisbon would give EU member states a mandate to progressively frame "a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence."

An EU official told this website that if the Brussels Treaty musketeer clause is in future put forward as the basis of a new EU defence pact, it would need to be rephrased to reflect post-Cold War sensibilities.

"If it was ever transposed into an EU treaty, it would have to be different language. It's in the past. Times have changed," the EU official said.

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