NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen talks to journalists as he arrives at an EU summit in Brussels Thursday. (Alain Jocard / Getty Images)
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has come out strongly in favor of European countries developing military capabilities such as observation drones, air-to-air refueling and heavy transport following a summit of EU heads of state and government here Thursday.
His remarks come with EU leaders set to agree on pursuing work in these three areas. For air-to-air refueling, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and EU member states are examining buying a European strategic multirole tanker transport capability in 2020.
As for drones, the European Commission is preparing regulations for the insertion of drones into civilian airspace. The EDA, meanwhile, is hoping to run a €50 million (US $68 million) Joint Investment Program on UAVs for air traffic insertion. The demonstration projects would focus on technological priorities such as sense and avoid, taxi, automatic take-off and landing, air traffic management interfaces, safe automated monitoring and decision architecture.
“We all want to see a strong, committed Europe able to play its part in managing international crises. And we all want to make sure that European nations have the tools they need to make that happen,” Rasmussen said. He stressed that the capabilities are owned by individual nations and not NATO or the EU.
“This is not about creating a ‘European army.’ It is about making sure that the countries of Europe are strong and capable. So that they can contribute to crisis management when they choose, and how they choose — whether it be through the European Union, NATO or any other way,” he said. “Each country only has one set of forces, and one set of taxpayers. Duplication is a luxury we cannot afford. So we need greater cooperation, coordination and cohesion within Europe, across the Atlantic and between the European Union and NATO.
“Unless we recommit to our own defense, we risk seeing America disengage and Europe and America drift apart. This is not what any of us would want. And it would benefit neither ourselves nor the rest of the world,” he said.
Asked about NATO’s role, he said he saw no contradiction between a strengthened defense in Europe and a strong NATO. “If European nations decide to invest more in critical capabilities like drones, air-to-air refueling and heavy transport, it will make their contribution to NATO stronger. A strong Europe means a strong NATO,” he said.
As for the international counter-piracy missions off Somalia, Rasmussen argued that the missions complement each other “because NATO can also bring to bear certain capacities that are not at the disposal of the EU.” While arguing that the joint international counter-piracy operation has been successful, with the last successful attack some time ago, he said he thought it was still needed as “deterrence.”