Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Anders Fogh Rasmussen fielded questions and concerns about nuclear proliferation, Western imperialism, and post-Cold War Europe in a talk Wednesday afternoon at the International House.
Rasmussen talked up the developing partnership between NATO and Russia, stating the need for the two former adversaries to settle their differences and move forward on issues like counter-terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and human rights.
“[The creation of NATO] was clearly a work against the threat of Soviet communism and the Eastern allies of the Soviet Union. Then things happened in Europe that suggested that this model was no longer as obvious as it had been before,” Dean of the Harris School of Public Policy Colm O’Muircheartaigh said while introducing the talk.
Rasmussen praised the passage of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), calling it “a real milestone.” New START succeeded the original START I agreement, which was passed in 1991 and expired in 2009.
“Russia and the United States hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal. This means that both countries have a responsibility to work together on nuclear issues, and NATO has a stake in that too,” Rasmussen said to the roughly 100 people who attended the lecture.
Rasmussen also discussed NATO’s recent military actions in Libya, describing them as a sign of improving relations with Russia. Russia originally opposed the United Nations Security Council resolution mandating NATO air strikes, but rather than voting against the resolution and preventing its passage, Russia exercised restraint, he said.
NATO’s involvement in Libya remained a theme in the question-and-answer session. Responding to allegations that NATO’s involvement was tantamount to imperialism, Rasmussen maintained that the operations were a response to the Libyan people’s demands for freedom and democracy.
One audience member said President Barack Obama should not have attacked Libya due to his African heritage.
Rasmussen rebutted by saying that the blame should lie with Libyan President Muammar al Qaddafi. “I think that, instead of blaming NATO for taking responsibility to implement a UN mandate, you should blame the Qaddafi regime for systematic and absolutely outrageous attacks against its own people,” he said.
However, Rasmussen was asked by an audience member how he could reconcile NATO’s intervention in Libya with its decision to remain uninvolved in Syria, where government forces have cracked down violently on demonstrators.
Though the Syrian government’s actions are opposed to NATO’s values, he said, the alliance has “no intention whatsoever” to intervene.
The mandate’s three military objectives in Libya are an end to attacks on civilians, the withdrawal of Qaddafi’s military forces, and the provision of quick humanitarian aid.
Rasmussen believes that the United States’s cooperation is crucial to NATO operations, adding that Europe cannot tackle certain security issues without the United States and its unique military capabilities.
Part of NATO’s long-term objective is to close the gap between American and European militaries through increased defense investment, he said, adding that NATO expects its member nations to make their own security contributions.
Rasmussen also spoke at the U of C last year about counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. He was the leader of Denmark’s Liberal Party and the Danish prime minister from 2001 to 2009.