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BRUSSELS — European Union countries on Monday launched a new era in defense cooperation with a program of joint military investment and project development aimed at helping the EU confront its security challenges.

Twenty-three of the EU’s 28 member nations signed up for the process, known as permanent structured cooperation, or PESCO. Britain, which is leaving the EU in 2019, and Denmark with a defense opt-out were among those not taking part.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described it as a ‘‘historic moment in European defense,’’ and added that ‘‘23 member states engaging both on capabilities and on operational steps is something big.’’ Those who didn’t sign up can join later.

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Mogherini said countries have already submitted more than 50 joint projects in the fields of defense capabilities and military operations.