UK calls for closer European defence cooperation
by Daniel Mason
The United Kingdom's defence secretary has said European countries should work more closely together to maximise their defence capabilities and take on more collective responsibilities even as budgets shrink.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute's annual chief of the air staff's air power conference in London, Philip Hammond said: "The nations of Europe must find the political will to take on more responsibility for our own backyard, and fund the capabilities to allow that.
"Certainly that means shouldering the burden in the Balkans and the Mediterranean – but also being prepared, if necessary, to take a bigger role in relation to North Africa and the Middle East.áThe bottom line is that Europe, as a whole, needs to do more at a time when the reality is that, across the continent, aggregate defence expenditure is certain to fall in the short term and at best recover slowly in the medium term."
At a time of "budgetary discipline", Hammond said the "stark" challenge was "maximising the capability we can collectively squeeze out of the resources we have" through greater interoperability and specialisation, and by closing capability gaps through joint working. "If we can't spend more, we must do things differently," he said.
For example he said the UK was overhauling its strategic lift and combat air capabilities in a way that would "allow us to offer capacity to share with our international partners in new, innovative and mutually beneficial ways". Meanwhile "we will depend on others for support with maritime patrol aircraft".
"The level and sophistication of the integration between coalition partners, forged in campaigns such as Afghanistan and Libya, needs to be maintained and then taken forward long after those campaigns are behind us," he said. The Libya operation in particular showed the strength of the alliances in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation but also "cruelly exposed the imbalances and weaknesses in NATO and thus the scale of the task facing European NATO nations".
Hammond spoke of a "strategic lesson" to be drawn from recent campaigns, adding that the Libya had "shone a bright light in relative military and political capabilities in terms of who 'could but wouldn't' and who 'would but couldn't' – a reference to Europe's reliance on the United States for certain equipment and a lack of political unity including Germany's decision not to contribute to the operation.
In response, UKIP defence procurement spokesman Lord Hesketh said: "The reality on the ground and in the air is that even in Libya most of the serious heavy lifting was done by our traditional allies. It was the Americans that dealt with Libyan air defence while the French battled for headlines over relatively undefended Benghazi.
"When we talk about interoperability it is imperative that we do not risk our ability to operate in theatre with countries such as America, Australia and the Anglosphere by chasing the hope that the European Union will provide effective military support," he added.
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