The European Union must put more money and muscle into defence if it wants to become a global player, the head of the NATO alliance said on Saturday.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also cautioned that Europeans could not take the transatlantic alliance with the United States for granted.
Speaking at the annual Brussels Forum conference, Rasmussen said the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty, agreed last year, provides for a stronger defence and security policy for the 27-nation bloc.
“But this will remain a paper tiger if it is not followed up by concrete contributions when we need concrete military contributions,” he said.
“We have a strong responsibility to demonstrate a clear commitment politically as well as through investment in necessary capabilities,” he said, referring to dwindling European defence spending.
Former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who is heading an expert group drawing up NATO’s new mission statement, noted that public support for NATO was at its lowest in the United States. Rasmussen said Europeans needed to show Americans the value of the alliance.
“We Europeans should not take this strong transatlantic relationship for granted,” he said.
“The best way to demonstrate the value of the alliance is through practical examples, like non-U.S. allies’ contributions to our operation in Afghanistan.”
MISSILE DEFENCE AN OPPORTUNITY
Linking into a NATO-wide missile defence system advocated by U.S. President Barack Obama was another area where Europeans could show commitment, “and thereby also demonstrate to an American public that the alliance is relevant”, he said.
Rasmussen called on NATO states to agree at a November summit in Lisbon to make missile defence systems against states including Iran an alliance mission, saying this would show collective will to defend against a growing threat.
He urged them to look at every opportunity to cooperate on missile defence with Russia.
Rasmussen said current trends showed a “real and growing” threat from weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, with more than 30 countries possessing or developing missiles with greater and greater ranges.
“In many cases, these missiles could eventually threaten our populations and territories,” he said.
He said Iran, which the West suspects of working to produce nuclear weapons, had said it possessed missiles with a range putting NATO members Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria within reach.
If Tehran were to complete development of intermediate and intercontinental missiles after taking a key step in introducing a space-launch vehicle last year, “the whole of the European continent, as well as all of Russia would be in range”, he said.
Last year, Obama shelved Bush-era plans to install a land-based missile shield in Europe to guard against long-range threats from Iran, in favour of sea-based interceptors and a second phase of land-based systems to which existing anti-missile hardware in NATO states could be linked.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)