NATO’s outgoing chief: ‘We cut fat, built muscle’

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Sept. 18, 2009

When Anders Fogh Rasmussen took over at NATO, the alliance was struggling to contain a growing insurgency in Afghanistan, and some predicted it would soon follow its Cold War foe, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, into the dustbin of history.

Five years later, as Rasmussen wraps up his tenure as the 12th secretary general in NATO’s history, the U.S., Canada and their European allies are again squaring off against the Russians, and must confront a more diverse and bewildering array of threats to Western security than ever.

“We should be prepared to address all of them, whether it is a conventional threat against our territory, or what I would call hybrid warfare as we have seen in Ukraine — a sophisticated Russian mix of conventional military operations and information and disinformation campaigns — or terrorism as we see it in Iraq, or cyber-attacks or missile attacks,” Rasmussen told The Associated Press in a farewell interview.

“All this is part of today’s security environment and NATO must stand ready to protect our societies and our populations against all those threats,” said Rasmussen.The 61-year-old Dane’s last day as the U.S.-led defense alliance’s top civilian official is Sept. 30. In one of his last official acts, he was scheduled to deliver a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday.

On Rasmussen’s watch, NATO continued to wage what has been the longest and most extensive military operation in its 65-year history in Afghanistan, a campaign that is supposed to come to an end this December.

Rasmussen played a valuable role in helping convince NATO members to contribute additional forces to President Barack Obama’s surge strategy,” said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow for trans-Atlantic security at the Washington, D.C.-based Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “This was a major accomplishment because the momentum had been for allies to decrease their commitments in Afghanistan. . . .”

Rasmussen told AP he has no regrets.

“We have reformed our alliance, streamlined structures, so all in all it’s fair to say we have cut fat and built muscle during my tenure as secretary general,” he said. “And I hope and I trust it will be remembered for some years.”

Image: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Sept. 18, 2009 (photo: NATO)