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25th Feb 2017

Nato chief: EU soft power is 'no power at all'

  • Rasmussen spoke in the run-up to an EU summit on defence in December (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said there cannot be a credible EU foreign policy without the military means to back it up.

"We Europeans must understand that soft power alone is really no power at all. Without hard capabilities to back up its diplomacy, Europe will lack credibility and influence," he told MEPs on the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee in Brussels on Monday (6 May).

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"If European nations do not make a firm commitment to invest in security and defence, then all talk about a strengthened European defence and security policy will just be hot air," he added.

Twenty one out of the 27 EU countries are also Nato members.

Rasmussen said they lack "transport planes, air-to-air refuelling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets."

He noted that, given the financial crisis, it is "too expensive for any individual [EU] country" to buy the hardware that Nato needs Europe to have.

He also indicated that European countries are too dove-ish in their approach to foreign crises.

"We must also have the political will to use them [military means]. To deal with security challenges on Europe's doorstep. To help manage crises further away that might affect us here at home," he said.

Rasmussen spoke in the run-up to an EU summit on defence in December - the first one since the financial crisis erupted in 2008.

His remarks on EU foreign policy prompted questions on whether he is interested in taking EU foreign service chief Catherine Ashton's job when she departs next year.

"I haven't started thinking about the next step," he said, referring to his own career.

He envisaged EU-level security co-operation with Nato as a mixture of police missions and diplomacy.

Taking the Western Balkans as an example, he said: "Nato has shown its capacity to act quickly and in high intensity crises, while the European Union is able to deploy a wide range of civilian and military expertise to help rebuild nations."

He commended Ashton on her recent diplomatic breakthrough in helping Belgrade and Pristina to end a frozen conflict in north Kosovo.

But he added: "Both parties wanted assurance that Nato would guarantee the security to implement the agreement."

MEPs also quizzed Rasmussen about Syria.

The civil war saw two new developments in recent days.

Over the weekend, Israeli jets struck several Syrian targets, including a military complex near Damascus. Reports say they killed more than 40 soldiers and that they did it to stop Syrian weapons getting into the hands of Israel's fiercest enemy, the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

A UN investigator, Carla Del Ponte, also told Swiss TV on Sunday "there are strong, concrete suspicions" that Syrian rebels have used Sarin gas, a banned chemical weapon.

The developments saw the Russian foreign ministry ring the alarm on Monday.

"We are seriously concerned about the signs that global public opinion is being prepared for a possible armed intervention in the Syrian conflict," its foreign ministry spokesman told Russian media.

For his part, Rasmussen in Brussels repeated the long-standing Nato line on Syria.

He told MEPs there will be no Nato intervention because there is no UN mandate and because the conflict is too "complex." He also said the only way out is a "political solution."

He declined to comment on the Israeli strikes and he claimed he knows no more than what he reads in the papers about chemical weapons.

Nato has deployed US, German and Dutch "Patriot" anti-missile defence systems on Nato member Turkey's border with Syria.

But Rasmussen noted he has "no indications" of hostile "activity" in the Patriot-covered zone.

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