BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for European countries to firmly commit to invest in security and defense or risk losing credibility and influence.
His remarks to the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee May 6 came as the European Union plans for a rare meeting in December of EU leaders devoted to security and defense.
Setting out his bottom line, Rasmussen said that in the context of the December meeting, “if European nations do not make a firm commitment to invest in security and defense, then all talk about a strengthened European defense and security policy will just be hot air.”
“We Europeans must understand that soft power alone is really no power at all. Without hard capabilities to back up its diplomacy, Europe will lack credibility and influence. It will risk being a global spectator, rather than the powerful global actor that it can be, and should be,” he said.
He painted a scenario in which “a continuing decline in European defense and European defense budgets will inevitably result in a declining role for our continent on the global stage,” with Europe then “unable to participate in crisis management.
“The only way to avoid this is by holding the line on defense spending. To stop the cuts. And to start reinvesting in security as soon as our economies recover,” he added.
As he has said before, Rasmussen urged Europeans to do more together, both within the EU and within NATO, “to deliver the critical defense capabilities that are too expensive for any individual country to deliver alone.”
Both the EU (via pooling and sharing) and NATO (via its smart defense initiative) are working on how member countries could spend together on projects.
But Europe “must also have the political will to use them to deal with security challenges on Europe’s doorstep, to help manage crises further away that might affect us here at home. And to better share the security burden with our North American allies.”
“The European Council in December should showcase a Europe that is both able to act, and willing to act. And it should encourage the European Union and NATO to do more together. To consult more. Coordinate more. And cooperate more,” he said.
Rasmussen also said that he envisaged EU-level security cooperation with NATO as being a mixture of police missions and diplomacy. Referring to the western Balkans as an example, he said, “NATO has shown its capacity to act quickly and in high-intensity crises, while the European Union is able to deploy a wide range of civilian and military expertise to help rebuild nations.”
Asked if he was interested in taking over as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy after the incumbent, Catherine Ashton, leaves next year, he said, “I haven’t started thinking about the next step.”
In a press statement, British Geoffrey Van Orden, who is known to be deeply skeptical about the EU having its own defense policy, described European defense policy as “merely a case of the EU looking for ways to justify its existence and push for more European integration.
“The most important decisions in the EU Defence Council [summit of EU leaders on defense] in December should indeed concern investment in critical defense capabilities. But, at a time of scarce defense resources, for the EU to be creating parallel structures and replicating existing NATO activity — from new headquarters to helicopter training programs — is wasteful and completely unwarranted, particularly as the driving motive is European political integration,” he argued.
“If our countries faced a serious security threat, which organization would we turn to, NATO or the EU? The question answers itself.”