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  NATO: new leader, old problems

Viktor Denisenko
2009 12 22

On 1 August 2009 the former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen officially took over as NATO’s new Secretary General.

The fact that he became NATO’s head could be interpreted differently. On the one hand, A.F.Rasmussen is an economist and is not closely related to the military sphere. But he has a reputation of an experienced politician: in 1978 he was elected to the parliament and later took the position of a minister. From November 2001 until April of this year he was Prime Minister of Denmark. He was even “measured” for the post of the EU president.

In 2003, while being Prime Minister, Rasmussen actively supported the invasion of the U.S. to Iraq and the position of the White House, although public opinion on this issue was ambiguous.  The Danish troops took part in the mission in Iraq from 2004 until 2007. Today Denmark provides to Baghdad exceptionally the non-military support. Most probably the country terminated the military mission because of the decreasing local support. Denmark has also sent its troops to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.

The road of A.F.Rasmussen to the post of NATO’s head  was not easy.  Because of the „cartoons scandal“ in September 2005, when one of the Danish newspapers published cartoons offending religious values of the Muslims, Turkey resisted his nomination to NATO‘s leaders. In response to the scandal Rasmussen said that press is free and that national authorities are not going to interfere into its matters. According to rumors, Turkey agreed not to struggle against Rasmussen‘s candidacy only after receiving „guarantees“ for several high positions in the Alliance from the U.S. president B.Obama.

On 9 October A.F.Rasmussen paid a visit to Vilnius as a Secretary General of NATO. The new leader of the Alliance delivered a speech during the meeting-discussion „Challenges of the 21st century. NATO’s New Strategic Concept“. It is worth while mentioning the key aspects highlighted by A.F.Rasmussen in Vilnius:

  • International terrorism has become the key challenge for the global security, therefore the focus should be given to the regions like Iraq and Afghanistan and to the situation in Pakistan.
  • The concept of security has changed. NATO shall be ready for new challenges (e.g. cyber attacks against any country of the Alliance).
  • Russia is one of the main partners of NATO, therefore it is instrumental to seek dialogue beneficial to both parties. The Alliance is ready for the dialogue, but it will not be based on the principle of „indulgence toward Russia“.

However, the above meeting has once again demonstrated that NATO‘s agenda is differently interpreted by Brussels and by Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn and Warsaw. A.F.Rasmussen had to answer the questions related to the last year‘s conflict between Russia and Georgia and to NATO‘s readiness to defend the Baltic States in case of aggression. He repeated several times the words which have already been heard many times: Article 5 of the Warsaw Treaty defends all the NATO states and the Baltic States would be protected even without a specific defense plan etc. These words could be attributed to the category of the „right words“, but their suggestibility is not high.

A.F.Rasmussen took over the leadership of NATO when it was still looking for its place in the changing world.  For quite a long time the Alliance has been existing as an counterbalance for the East block and the aggressive policy of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it seemed that NATO started to lose its “historical mission“, and it became clear that the Alliance needs a strategic re-orientation. Maybe that‘s why the abstract „international terrorism“ is frequently identified as the main NATO‘s enemy; however, it is not clear on whether the Alliance‘s structure is effective enough to meet this challenge.

On the other hand, NATO might need to return to its „historical mission“.  At the end of September Russia and Belarus held a joint military training „Zapad-2009“. Its scenario could be related to the invasion to the territory of the Baltic States or Poland(i.e. the territory of NATO); in view of the increasing Moscow’s aggressiveness, Baltic States and Poland are inclined to require more firm security guarantees from NATO.

The most interesting thing is that when the Alliance takes the position of non-confrontation with Russia (part of the Alliance‘s countries are worried about that), the latter takes the opportunity and uses this position for Russia’s benefit. Subconsciously Moscow treats NATO as an enemy inherited from the soviet times, and Russia does not want to change this attitude.  Moscow takes efforts in order to prevent membership of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO and wants to hold them in the „zone of influence“. Moreover, vague response of the West toward Russia‘s aggressiveness increases Russia‘s self-confidence.

It is understandable that the North Atlantic Alliance is not eager to return to the times of confrontation with Moscow. When speaking about the strategic partnership with Russia, A.F.Rasmussen highlighted the necessity of looking for compromise etc. But in this case everything depends not only on Brussels.

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