Let’s Mind Our Own Defence, Not Who Sits In The White House, Dutch PM Rutte Tells Europe


By  Alexandra Brzozowski

(EurActiv) — Europeans should focus on ramping up military capabilities and supporting Ukraine instead of worrying about who will be the next US president, outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a top contender to be the next NATO chief, told Euractiv.

Speaking to Euractiv on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Rutte doubled down on comments made earlier on the stage on Saturday (17 February), where he told European security leaders to “stop moaning and nagging and whining about Trump”.

His comments came after former US President Donald Trump sparked outrage in Europe, saying that if re-elected in November he would not defend NATO allies who fail to spend enough on defence.

Asked by Euractiv what contingency plans NATO should take, as ramping up defence spending might not be enough, Rutte said the problem with the question is that it would then appear “that we would be doing it because of Trump – let’s see who gets elected”.

“We have to make sure that we ramp up production and ramp up spending on defence systems – and defence generally – because it is in our interest,” he said.

Rutte, who unexpectedly announced his departure from Dutch politics in July, is being considered the sole front-runner to lead the Western military alliance after incumbent NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends in October.

According to NATO diplomats, Rutte, who has been in office for more than a decade and had a productive relationship with Trump, could be the next ‘Trump-whisperer’, a term often used to describe Stoltenberg.

“Trump was president for four years, he didn’t leave NATO – I have confidence not only in his judgement, ultimately, but also in the US Congress in the US Senate to prevent this,” Rutte told Euractiv.

“There are many bipartisan people who will understand that if [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin will be successful in getting influence or even overpower these parts of Europe,  that this will be a direct threat to the United States,” Rutte said.

“They will understand that NATO is not there because of its historical connection and that we have to help ‘those poor Europeans’ – no, it is in their interest,” he added.

“Trump is right – just like Biden, by the way, and Obama in his days – to tell us Europeans we need to move towards 2% [NATO’s defence spending target] – and we have to move,” Rutte said.

European coordination needed

With the EU’s new push to ramp up the European defence industry, current tensions inside the bloc are over whether the new EU-wide defence policy should be limited to EU companies and encourage member states to buy within the bloc.

Over the past years, the US has been pushing European countries — which already spend about half of their defence purchasing on American equipment — not to make a radical change to spend more of that money domestically.

Asked by Euractiv how Europe could make sure to have a state-of-the-art defence industry to match the current needs, Rutte said “Europeans will need to coordinate better among themselves”.

“It’s very positive that as nations we coordinate better amongst ourselves, and fantastic if it is European, but always in an open connection to the rest of the world,” Rutte said.

One example of that would be the US F-35 fighter jets, Rutte said, which remain the prevailing choice across the European defence landscape over Europe’s future emerging fighter jet designs.

“Obviously, if we can buy full European, fantastic, but to be honest, you will never get there without also buying American, and then you can still do it in a very open way,” he added.

Post-war security arrangements

Asked whether he agreed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s plea not to fear a defeat of Russia, Rutte said:

“Yes, he’s right. If that happens, Russia will not go away.”

He said Zelenskyy “is the only one who can trigger peace negotiations bilaterally with Russia”.

“But when that happens, we will also have to sit down with the US, within NATO, [and] collectively with the Russians to talk about the future security arrangements between us and the Russians.”

“It could be like when the German unification took place in 1990 because, at the same time, the discussion was going on the security guarantees for the whole of Europe,” he added.


EurActiv publishes free, independent policy news and facilitates open policy debates in 12 languages.

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