MUNICH — As European nations look to increase defense cooperation, France’s defense minister is acknowledging the continental defense industry is not strong enough to stand on its own without strong exports.

“We Europeans are extremely fragmented right now. So one day, if we were to produce just for ourselves without exporting anything, we would be faced with a stark reality — we wouldn’t have the capacities to do this,” Florence Parly, the French defense minister, said through a translator during an opening panel at the Munich Security Conference Friday.

Parly was responding to a question about weapon sales and what regulations go into them. Some European countries have raised concerns about weapon sales in recent months to countries involved in the conflict in Yemen. But Parly defended the French export policy, saying it follow strict rules — and that it is vital for industry.

“In other words, arms exports must be handled according to very strict rules, but they should not be presented as purely negative, Parly added. “It is a difficult, complicated subject, but it is necessary.”

However, Parly did seem to acknowledge that even with foreign sales, the European defense industry may need to make moves in the future, saying “the armaments industry, as well as other branches of industry, must consolidate themselves.”

Her comments came the same week that U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis visited NATO and had discussions with the European nations signed onto the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on security and defense, a new group designed to drive greater security cooperation.

American officials have expressed concern that NATO will be impacted negatively by PESCO, as well as raising concerns that it could become a protectionist framework for the European defense industry.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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