The Nato chief will join EU defense ministers for an informal meeting in Lithuania this week (5-6 September) where defense cooperation will feature high on the agenda.
“I intend to bring the issue of cooperation between NATO and the European Union on defense matters and the need for Europe to intensify its efforts in capability development and invest more in security,” Rasmussen said at the alliance’s monthly press briefing in Brussels.
“It is important for Europe and it is important for the transatlantic alliance because a strong Europe is also a strong Alliance,” Rasmussen stressed. “As the situation in Syria demonstrates, we continue to face significant security challenges and it is vital that we are prepared to meet them.”
In Lithuania, the EU ministers will discuss a policy paper tabled by the European Commission in July, which called for a relaunching of industrial cooperation on defence, including on drones where Europe currently lags behind the United States and Israel.
The Commission paper aimed at fostering innovation and growth by supporting small defence firms and encouraging synergies between military and civilian research.
EU heads of state and governments will revisit the matter at their December EU summit in Brussels and decide then whether to re-launch defence cooperation initiatives.
This could prove a daunting task. Previous attempts at launching joint European industrial defence ventures have yielded few results, apart from the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft and the Eurofighter jet developed by British Aerospace, which were both plagued by political interference and rivalry between participating countries.
But the Commission believes that deep cuts in national defence budgets following the financial and economic crisis makes a case for pooling resources. From 2001 to 2010, EU defence spending declined from €251 billion to €194 billion while defence budgets increased significantly in emerging markets, according to the Commission.
“In times of scarce resources, cooperation is key and we need to match ambitions and resources to avoid duplication of programmes,” said José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president.
Rasmussen echoed the same sentiment, saying at his monthly address that “For all of us, the key is cooperation – to work together to make us all strong, not to duplicate each other’s efforts and thereby make us weak.”
The Nato chief sketched a vision where Europe had “effective and modern defense industries, where competition drives innovation, where national borders are no barrier to international cooperation, and where effective equipment is developed in a cost-effective way.”
Rasmussen went further, saying closer cooperation on defense “is a vital part of Europe’s ability to ensure its future security.”
EU leaders will decide in December whether to follow his advice.