Western Mediterranean countries plead for increased NATO presence

The defence ministers of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have called on NATO head Jens Stoltenberg to ensure the Alliance has a stronger presence in their region.

[NATO]

Defence ministers from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have called on NATO to increase its presence in their part of the world. Euractiv Spain reports.

Spanish Defence Minister María Dolores de Cospedal said after a meeting of the so-called “Southern Quartet” in Porto yesterday (6 February) that their request for more NATO involvement is justified because “today, the risks facing Europe are different to those in years past and they originate from more sources”.

Cospedal added that “it is true that NATO traditionally does not have a strong presence in the south of Europe”, yet she and her three counterparts are still advocating more Alliance-involvement in their region, especially in the Mediterranean.

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The four countries signed a joint letter that has been sent to NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg. In it, the quartet insists that “it is important to strengthen and increase the value and the role” of the organisation in the continent’s south, explained the Spanish minister.

“The collaboration and interaction that has been bolstered between NATO and the EU is crucial for the future,” Cospedal continued, adding that cooperation is essential if the two unions are to be strengthened and complement each other on missions.

Portuguese defence chief José Alberto Azeredo Lopes, who hosted the event, said that they would not disclose the exact contents of the letter until NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg had had a chance to look at it.

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Lopes said that the EU-NATO relationship is “calm and serene” and that the Union has to reassert its own defensive capacities without affecting the role of the Alliance.

He added that the Porto meeting had given the “southern flank” ministers plenty of scope to prepare in advance for a full meeting of the 28 NATO defence ministers on 15 and 16 February in Brussels, as well as the next full NATO summit.

That meeting, scheduled for the end of May also in Brussels, will be attended by new US President Donald Trump, a development that the Portuguese defence chief called positive.

“Contrary to the doomsayers” Trump’s participation in the meeting is a cause for optimism, he insisted.

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Italian counterpart Roberta Pinotti explained that they had used the Porto meeting to share their own opinions on the changes being made in Washington since the Trump administration took power, as well as other matters like the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The four ministers also discussed the fresh challenges facing Europe in terms of security and defence, because “weapons being used by a new breed of terrorist are not conventional and they are difficult to counteract”, Pinotti warned.

French minister Jean-Yves Le Drian emphasised the importance of NATO as well. He also agreed that the Alliance would have to be adapted to new terrorist threats and risks.

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The four ministers also praised the cordial nature of the meeting and its timing. It is the third such meeting of the “Southern Quartet” and its first since 2012, when the four countries dispatched their defence gurus to the French port city of Toulon.