Co-operate on defence, Minister tells nations of Europe

European nations must take on more responsibility for security in their “own back yard”, says Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

Mr Hammond said working in coalitions is more important than ever, as demonstrated in campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya.

And “inter-operability” between nations will help close “gaps” in capability, especially in times of economic austerity, the Cabinet minister told the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Conference 2012 in central London.

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“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.

“With the United States reflecting, in its strategic posture, the growing importance of the developing strategic challenge in the Pacific, the nations of Europe must find the political will to take on more responsibility for our own back yard, and fund the capabilities that allow us to do that,” Mr Hammond said.

Mr Hammond told the conference, organised by the Royal United Services Institute, that, for the Royal Air Force, working with allies had become “second nature”.

But pperations in Libya not only showed the strengths of Nato alliances, but also “cruelly exposed the imbalances and weaknesses”, he said.

“It shone a bright light on relative military and political capabilities in terms of who ‘could but wouldn’t’ and who ‘would but couldn’t’.”

Mr Hammond maintained that combat operations in Afghanistan will end by December 2014.

He said “budgetary discipline” was vital but that Britain will continue to aim to stay in “the top rank of military powers”, saying some air capabilities are being overhauled, including a range of remotely-piloted air systems.

But he admitted that, for the time being, Britain will depend on others for support with maritime patrol aircraft.

Mr Hammond added that there will be changes in the Ministry of Defence in order to make it a “more capable and intelligent customer”.