Oct 15, 2016 (AFP), ROME – NATO head Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Friday European efforts for a more closely integrated defence policy, boosted since Britain’s vote to leave the EU, but warned against trying to create “an alternative” to the North Atlantic Alliance.
“Stronger European defence will be good for the European Union, it will be good for Europe and will be good for NATO,” he said at a press conference with Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni in Rome.
Stoltenberg said enhanced cooperation between European nations could only be positive and urged countries to increase defence spending because “we live in a more dangerous world with new challenges and new threats and we have to respond and adapt”.
But he said “we must make sure to avoid duplication with NATO structures and that what Europe does is complementary to NATO”.
“I’m very much assured by the strong statements from minister Gentiloni and many other European leaders that this is not about establishing something that is an alternative to NATO,” he added.
While EU defence ministers have held talks in recent months to discuss ways of boosting defence cooperation, the move has angered Britain which has vowed to oppose any attempt to create an “EU army” following the Brexit vote.
The challenges facing NATO and the EU include “an increasingly assertive and unpredictable Russia”.
“In recent weeks, Russia has deployed missile systems closer to Alliance borders that could carry nuclear warheads… We will continue pursuing our policy of strong defence combined with political dialogue.”
Minister Gentiloni said Italy would play a part in a move to counter Russian war games in areas bordering NATO Baltic states since the start of the Ukraine crisis, sending 140 men to join other battalions in bolstering the alliance’s eastern flank.
The news sparked an outcry from Italy’s left wing and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which slammed “a move which risks exposing our country to war-like scenes and puts us back 30 years.”