Rasmussen: NATO needs more flexibility

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued for a more flexible, more engaged NATO as the end of the mission in Afghanistan comes into view

By Asher Klein

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued for a more flexible, more engaged NATO as the end of the mission in Afghanistan comes into view at a talk in Ida Noyes Hall yesterday.

The “comprehensive approach” Rasmussen argued for would involve NATO in training local security forces and working with non-member countries, like China and India, to provide security in places like Afghanistan—a more involved role than the organization has served in the past.

“To my mind, a fundamental lesson of Afghanistan is that NATO can take on the toughest operation in the world….I believe that when this mission is complete, the Alliance will emerge stronger, more effective and more united than ever,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said NATO will soon begin formally evaluating NATO’s participation in Afghanistan—which drew fire this weekend from Afghan President Hamid Karzai—and touched on the end of NATO’s work in Afghanistan.

“Our mission in Afghanistan will end themselves can take responsibility for themselves and run the country. The more we invest now, the sooner the date when they will be able to take over themselves,” he said in the question-and-answer session that followed.

Investment in civilian infrastructure was one of the five “lessons” Rasmussen said he learned from a 2009 visit to the region. In all its missions, Rasmussen said NATO must coordinate military operations and economic development with civilians in-country; work with non-member states with stakes in the region; update members’ militaries to make them more easily deployable and purchase such technology on behalf of those members who cannot do so on their own; work to train security forces to stop armed conflicts rather than fight them; and realize that the organization can be a powerful force in what amounts to regional politics.

An overarching theme was connectivity. Rasmussen said that when he met with American General Stanley A. McChrystal, NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, days after becoming secretary general, McChrystal briefed him with “a graphic display of all the factors, military and civilian, we had to take into account if we are to succeed, and all the interconnections between them. There were hundreds of lines, going in every direction.”

The point of the projection, Rasmussen said, is that “everything is connected. In Afghanistan, there can be no development without security. But equally, there can be no lasting security without development.”

Rasmussen is the 12th secretary general of NATO, a position he took in August 2009 after resigning as Prime Minister of Denmark. A member of the Liberal party in his native country, Rasmussen served as the Danish Prime Minister for seven-and-a-half years, from 2001.

NATO will soon publish a document, called the Strategic Concept, that will guide NATO policy for the next 10 years, Rasmussen said, and he noted the importance of the document. It is being prepared by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and must be agreed upon by the heads of NATO’s member states.

After the talk, which was presented by the University’s Center for International Studies and the Chicago Council for Global Affairs, Rasmussen was asked to justify NATO’s involvement in the region.

“The purpose of our military operation in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. If we left Afghanistan we risk that terrorists will once again use Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacks on Europe or elsewhere,” Rasmussen said.

John Mearsheimer, the political science professor who moderated the question-and-answer session, said in an interview afterward: “The issues talked about are important,” Mearsheimer said, “but for the most part they don’t speak to the core problems that plague us in Afghanistan.” He cited the Karzai government and the size of the country as obstacles to success.

Although Rasmussen said the mission in Afghanistan demonstrated that NATO “can take on the toughest operations in the world,” Mearsheimer said it would fail given that the Karzai government is “not only corrupt but incapable of running the country, which means that we are supporting a government that has no legitimacy. There’s no way we can win in Afghanistan with a government like that in charge of Kabul.”

He added that there is little the United States can do to defeat the Taliban, even with NATO support. “From an American point of view it helps to have all the NATO troops we can possibly get, but the fact is there’s no way we’re ever going to have enough troops to defeat the Taliban and pacify Afghanistan. The country is simply too big and the Taliban too elusive for the United States and its NATO allies to defeat it,” Mearsheimer said.