De Maizière urges more military might in Europe
German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière said Europe should not fear a renewed US focus on Asia and must increasingly look after its own backyard militarily, in remarks made during the 48th annual Munich Security Conference.
"We have to be able to do more, and we have to be able to do more together," he said.
With a view to the withdrawal of US troops from Germany and Europe, de Maizière said the continent must assume military responsibility for its own security and for the broader region.
But in comments made ahead of the conference, the defence minister downplayed expectations that Germany could assume a leading role on that front. "Some years ago, simply debating that would have been breaching a taboo," de Maizière told German daily Die Welt.
The United States stressed trans-Atlantic ties during the conference on Saturday, saying Europe remains Washington's security "partner of first resort" despite a US strategic pivot to Asia, but urged Europe to pull its weight.
In a twin effort to reassure Europe about the historic US commitment to the continent, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta delivered carefully calibrated messages of support.
Hot foreign policy issues such as Iran, Afghanistan and Syria also loomed large over the Munich Security Conference, a gathering of world leaders, ministers and top brass.
In a speech at a roundtable talk with Panetta, Clinton pledged cooperative efforts for a united and secure Europe, mutual economic recovery, an "agile" security alliance, and a democratic Middle East along the Mediterranean.
The chief US diplomat also urged her European partners in the southern German city of Munich to work together in meeting "the opportunities that lie ahead" in the Asia-Pacific region.
"I've heard all the talk about where Europe fits into America's global outlook. I've heard some of the doubts expressed. But the reality couldn't be clearer: Europe is America's partner of first resort," she stressed.
Forced to make tough choices in tight budgetary times, the United States is shifting its military priorities to Asia and the Middle East – even if it has pulled its troops out of Iraq and begins a drawdown in Afghanistan.
Reducing its military presence in Europe while tailoring it to future threats, Washington sees the looming strategic challenge in the Asia-Pacific as a newly powerful and assertive China rattles US allies in the region.