Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato secretary-general
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato secretary general, is concerned at declining defence budgets among European nations

Europe must urgently face up to its responsibilities in defence, or face a security crisis on its borders and international marginalisation, according to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of Nato.

In an interview with the Financial Times on the eve of the European Union’s first summit to discuss defence in five years, the Nato chief warned that Europe had become “introverted” and “preoccupied” by its own internal economic crises.

Closer “co-operation and co-ordination” between the EU and Nato and greater national spending is necessary Mr Rasmussen said. EU-level defence policy remains a contested-issue not least thanks to the UK’s own resolute stance against more EU defence procurement planning or support.

“A lot is at stake . . . [Europe] has instability and insecurity in its near neighbourhood – in North Africa, in the Middle East . . . these regions are becoming breeding grounds for terrorists, for arms trafficking . . . drugs trafficking . . . human trafficking.”

“If the current trend continues,” Mr Rasmussen warned, “then soon Europe will not be able to participate in international crisis management.”

“The vacuum will be filled by other powers that invest more in defence and security,” he said, in a nod to the growing influence on Europe’s borders of global actors such as Russia and China, and of regional powers such as Saudi Arabia.

Mr Rasmussen’s words are aimed at heads of government, including the bloc’s leading military powers France and the UK, due to meet in Brussels on Thursday. The Nato chief has been invited to address the summit – a first – in a calculated attempt by Herman Van Rompuy, EU president, to push defence squarely to the forefront.

Defence remains one of the most fractious and long-running policy impasses for EU member states. Concern among Brussels technocrats – and at Nato – is nevertheless running high while the US scales back commitment to the region as part of its strategic “pivot” and prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan.

“We know from recent operations that our European allies lack critical capability,” said Mr Rasmussen who has been Nato secretary general since 2009, and is due to step down next year.

During the 2011 intervention in Libya, UK, French and other European planes were dependent on US planes for aerial refueling. US aircraft conducted an estimated four-fifths of all such refuels.

Chief among Mr Ramussen’s fears for the vitality of European nations’ role in Nato is their declining national defence expenditure. “We have seen drastic cuts in some European nations,” he said.

The EU could help by co-ordinating expenditure on particularly expensive projects or by supporting research and spending in areas such as drones and cyber-warfare, the Nato chief said. He was clear though that ownership and operation of defence assets and strategy was firmly “a national issue”.

Such “pooling and sharing” measures should reflect and be complimentary to Nato’s own “smart defence” policy, he added. “It would be useful on a regular basis if the council engaged in discussions on defence.”

“If we are to protect and defend our values, it is important that Europe is part of the international scene and that should be underpinned by a determined defence and security policy.”

This article is subject to a correction and has been amended.

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