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NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Georgetown Speech

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Mrs. Albright,
Dr. Arend,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank Georgetown University and the Center for New American Studies for this opportunity to meet with you all.

And let me also take this opportunity to pay tribute to you, Secretary Albright. You have paid exceptional service to the United States for many years and last summer, though still busy, you accepted to take on the task of leading the Group of Experts to develop the draft for NATO’s new Strategic concept. For that I am extremely grateful. NATO will benefit from your unique experience. Thank you.

Georgetown has an excellent and international reputation. I’m quite sure that many of you will be in key positions a few years from now, dealing with important issues of national and international security.

That’s why I am keen to share with you my views on the security challenges of today and tomorrow, and in particular on the role of NATO — the security Alliance that connects North America and Europe — in meeting those challenges. Because, in a nutshell, I believe NATO doesn’t fully get the visibility it should, in the US, for what it does to preserve security today.
And because I am sure that it will be, and should be, an essential part of this country’s security for a long time to come.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” In that spirit, I will try to be brief – even though being too brief can be counterproductive. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin once was asked to describe the situation in his country in just one word. He said: “Good”. “And – he was asked -if you had two words?” ”Not good!”

So you see: Being too brief can distort the message. And my message to you is, in fact, quite straightforward: if we want to be secure in a world of global risks and threats, likeminded and democratic nations need to cooperate. The problems of the 21st century can only be solved multilaterally. And there is no stronger, more effective framework for that cooperation than NATO.

Now, I realise that this is probably what you would expect the Secretary General of NATO to say. You might even think that I am paid to say it. But you don’t have to take my words at face value. Let me give you three concrete examples that demonstrate my point.

First, terrorism. On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered a devastating terrorist attack. And of course, the United States was powerful enough to strike back and deal a heavy blow to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

But did you know that, on September 12th, all of America’s Allies in NATO declared that they considered this attack on America as an attack on them as well? Did you know that NATO sent aircraft to patrol the skies here in the United States? Did you know that all NATO countries put their ports and airfields at US disposal for the operation into Afghanistan? Or that most of them sent Special Forces, alongside US soldiers, in the initial military response?

That was true solidarity, at a critical time. But that solidarity is just as important in Afghanistan today. Making Afghanistan inhospitable to terrorism is a huge challenge. It is complicated, and expensive, and often painful. No one country – not even the United States – could do this alone. But because of NATO, you are not alone.

44 countries have soldiers in Afghanistan, under NATO command. Sharing the risks, the costs and the burdens with the United States. The non-US members make up 40% of the total number of forces. They also take 40% of the casualties. That is an enormous demonstration of solidarity in fighting terrorism together.

Second, cyber attacks. You all know the upside of the Net. You can chat with people you would have never met. You can turn on the heating in your house from another country. You can even get someone else’s text for your university paper with one Google search – though I’m sure no one at Georgetown would dream of doing that.

But like with anything, there is a dark side. Interconnectedness also means vulnerability. A well-orchestrated cyber attack can shut down air traffic control. It can turn off the power in your house, your city, your country. It can shut down banks – which means no money for anyone.

This isn’t fiction. It has happened. Our NATO-Ally Estonia suffered a few years ago from a sustained, directed cyber attack that shut down a lot of essential services.

Luckily, Estonia was able to withstand the attack. but NATO was called upon to provide advice and assistance, and we’ve set up a team that can deploy wherever needed, to support any Ally in case they come under this kind of attack.

Cyber attacks can’t be stopped at the border. You need sustained international cooperation, between countries that trust each other. And that certainly includes NATO.

My third example: nuclear proliferation and missile defence. President Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world has received a lot of attention, and for good reason. But it is a long-term vision. Right now, Iran and North Korea are looking in quite the opposite direction. And more and more countries are looking to acquire missiles. In the coming years, we might well see more fingers on more triggers. And so missile defence has become a strategic imperative.

To my mind, missile defence makes the most sense in an Alliance context. That way, you get forward-based sensors and infrastructure. Allied defence systems can fill the gaps in the US system’s coverage. And doing it through NATO can help to share the cost.

In short, doing missile defence together is the better deal, in terms of effectiveness and price. It is also a concrete manifestation of shared security – one roof that we build together, that we support together, and that offers protection to us all. Including, I hope, to Russia.

These are just three examples. I could easily extend that list – protecting our energy supplies; combating piracy; coping with the security implications of climate change. But I hope my first point is clear — that we can only cope with these challenges if we work together.

My second point is that NATO is, and will remain, the gold standard for security cooperation, for this country and for all the Allies.

Why? First, because NATO brings together the United States, Canada, and Europe – in short, the transatlantic community. This community remains the strongest and most likeminded group of democracies. We are nations that share the same values: freedom, individual liberty, religious tolerance, and the rule of law.

But we are also a unique economic community. As a matter of fact, the European and American economies have never been as intertwined as they are today. Even in the current economic crisis, with less than one eighth of the global population, America and Europe generate more than half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. Of course, China is growing, and so is India. But when it comes to open, rules-based trade between like-minded democracies, Europe and North America are unique.

Now, like-mindedness, shared values and economic interdependence are certainly good things. But do they also translate into common security policies? I believe that they do. And Afghanistan is the best demonstration. All 28 Allies are in this mission together. Many have taken serious casualties. In fact the five Allied nations with the highest casualty figures per capita are Denmark, Estonia, UK, Canada and the United States. In that order. Still, in spite of the heavy costs in blood and treasure, none of those countries has quit.

In fact, when President Obama announced a major increase in US troop levels, 35 other countries announced increases of their own.

And I believe that these new forces, and our new approach, is already having an effect on the ground. There is new momentum. I am confident that this year, we will be able to start transferring security responsibilities to the Afghans themselves – district by district, province by province. And eventually, we will be able to concentrate more on support and training of the Afghan armed forces and police.

Of course, there will be bad days, included when we cause unintended civilian casualties.

I just spoke to President Karzai and expressed my deep regrets and condolences for the latest incidents where Afghan civilians have lost their lives.

As I just said, all 28 NATO Allies are in Afghanistan. But the total number of nations working together in the International Security Assistance Force is 44. And that points to another reason why NATO is unique: it provides a tried-and-tested framework that generates cooperation far beyond its member states.

NATO is a permanent Alliance, with a multinational political and military structure, and with over 60 years of experience in security cooperation. Put another way, we are no ad-hoc coalition of the willing. And this gives NATO a degree of competence, credibility and legitimacy that encourages even non-NATO countries to put their forces under NATO command.

We have those partners because, after the end of the Cold War, NATO adapted. We reached out. And we will have to do more of it. A key priority for me is to enhance NATO’s “connectivity” with the broader international community, by building new ties to civilian actors – the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, all the way to the NGO community.

We are also deepening our partnerships with countries from across the globe, from Australia to Japan. I believe we should also reach out to the rising stars of this century, such as China and India, where we have common security interests. And we are pushing ahead with the transformation of our military forces, to make them more flexible and useable.

In order to bring these different strands of NATO’s adaptation together, we are currently working on a new Strategic Concept. This is a guiding document for NATO. We revise it about every ten years. The new one will describe how NATO will handle future security challenges, and allow us to set the right political and military priorities.

I have asked a group of independent experts, chaired by Madeleine Albright, to come up with recommendations for our new Strategy by the end of April. Their report will provide the baseline for NATO’s internal deliberations. At our next Summit in Lisbon in November, we will publish the new Strategic Concept.

The development of our new Strategy is the most open and inclusive process ever in the history of the Alliance. We’ve gotten input from experts and the broader public – not just in our own member countries but all over the world. And I would encourage you to take a moment to go the NATO webmodule on the Strategic Concept, have a look, and let us know what you think. And let me assure you – we really do read it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO was founded 61 years ago – before almost anyone in this room was born. Yes, including me, in case you were wondering. It cut its teeth in the Cold War – which yes, I remember, but for many of you is just history. So you have every right to ask: “What is in it for me today? What will be in it for me tomorrow??”

Well, NATO is doing a lot for you – and for all the 900 million people in NATO countries. It defends our values and our interests. It embodies security cooperation amongst democracies who can trust each other. It provides solidarity and legitimacy where it matters – including in difficult operations. And it draws an ever larger group of countries into a common multilateral approach.

In sum, the Atlantic Alliance squares the circle of multilateralism and effectiveness. That is not easy to do. But today, more than ever – when we are looking for security, in an age of uncertainty – it is precious. You can find it in NATO today. And you will be able to rely on NATO tomorrow as well.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Madeleine Albright before the speech

Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Madeleine Albright before the speech

Speech courtesy Anders Fog Rasmussen’s Facebook page.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.