INTERVIEW: Ex-Sec Gen of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Libya, NATO and the importance of America

Europe needs America, now more than ever.

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Rasmussen is a real charmer. His tanned skin, slicked back silver hair and impeccable fashion sense hinted at why this man has become one of the most senior politicians in Europe.

Having served as Prime Minister of Denmark from 2001 until 2009, Rasmussen became Secretary General of NATO during a period of heightened NATO interventions. He now serves as a Special Advisor to the Ukrainian President.

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Rasmussen the silver fox.

Reflecting on his time as Secretary General of NATO, Rasmussen described the decision to engage in Libya in March 2011 as the most challenging. This NATO led intervention secured a mandate from the United Nations Security Council to defend and protect the civilians of the Libya. However, it is widely criticised by the international community for its overstretch of that mandate – many accuse NATO of going in for regime change – and destabilising effect it had on the country.

Whilst he sees the intervention as a “military success”, he accepts that it was a “political disaster”. This being said, he still rejected the notion that NATO had overstretched its mandate, instead arguing that the problem with the intervention was in the limited nature of the mandate provided by the UN. “Our mandate only allowed us to conduct an air campaign, but with no boots on the ground, its little surprise that now you have a failed state”.

His parting wisdom is therefore to never to start a military operation without a well thought political strategy for post-conflict reconstruction. This is something Rasmussen felt was lacking in the case of Libya, and must become an integral part of all NATO operations in the future.

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According to Rasmussen, NATO’s intervention in Libya was a military success, but a political failure

The question still remains, however, that NATO’s origins and purpose means it has no role intervening in the affairs of African states. Rasmussen was clear about the purpose of NATO: “to defend our members against any possible act of aggression”. This he saw as increasingly relevant, even in the post-Cold War world especially in light of Putin’s actions in Ukraine. It was therefore put to Rasmussen that NATO should concern itself with the security of its own members and not with promoting global democracy or protecting Human Rights on other continents.

For Rasmussen though, such an outlook is naive. According to him the UN is “not strong enough” to protect democracy, Human Rights, or the Rule of Law. Moreover, it includes countries who are opposed to a strategy such as that of NATO’s, which since 2010 has placed increased emphasis on the importance of global human rights and protecting democracy. There is therefore a need for a coalition of the world’s democracies to take the mantle of ensuring threats to democracy and human rights and dealt with. NATO fulfils such a criteria and the expansion of its strategic outlook in 2010 included a “corporative security arrangement” with the world’s “likeminded democracies” to preform a job the UN is simply unable to carry out. This for Rasmussen is the underlying context of NATO’s intervention in Libya, and will provide justification for further interventions around the world.

Behind this vision for NATO though is Rasmussen’s unwavering belief in the import of US hegemony. This was perhaps the take away message from his interview, and was certainly the selling point for his new book, “Will to Lead”. To summarise, in the book Rasmussen argues that there is a great need for determined American leadership. In other words, “we need the world’s policeman”. We should therefore be grateful for US involvement in European security affairs.

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Rasmussen was critical of Obama’s foreign policy. He saw his unwillingness to engage in global conflicts as dangerous

It follows that Rasmussen has negative views towards the foreign policy of the Obama administration. Obama’s unwillingness to engage in global conflict has been evidenced by America’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and their decision not to intervene in Syria. This he sees as the cause of recent instability in the region. “When America retreats they leave behind a security vacuum which is filled by the bad guys, such as ISIS”.

There was, however, a tension within Rasmussen’s conception of American hegemony. As a member of the audience acknowledged, it is not possible for America to pursue a policy of promoting human rights, protecting democracy, and providing stability and security around the world as often these ambitions are odds with one another. The example of Libya is case and point; NATO with the US as its bedrock intervened to protect human rights, but in doing so undermined regional stability and security.

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Anders Fogh-Rasmussen painted red in an anti-war protest in 2003

Rasmussen was forced to concede that the most important task for his American hegemony is to provide and protect stability within the international community. He responded to the criticism that the example of Libya runs counter to this claim by envisaging what might have been had the US not intervened. For this he drew on a historical argument, citing the cases of Rwanda and the Balkans before turning to the more contemporary example of Syria. In all of these cases, Rasmussen argued that the situation was far more destabilising before US or NATO involvement.

He made a neat habit of finishing every answer with “in conclusion” and on this he concluded that “in my opinion American intervention should and could stabilise global society”.