Leading by Example: Women, Peace, Security and NATO

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Georgetown University in Washington DC

  • 19 Mar. 2014 -
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  • Last updated 24-Mar-2014 15:44

Leading by Example: Women, Peace, Security and NATO - Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Georgetown University in Washington DC

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

I am very pleased to be back at this great academic institution.  And I am deeply honoured to receive this distinction. 

So let me start by thanking President DeGioia, Melanne Verveer and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

I'm also very pleased that Ambassador Fulton is with us. I clearly remember the conference in Copenhagen that Ambassador Verveer mentioned.

I also want to salute the woman who has given her name to this award – Hillary Clinton. 

A powerful voice for peace.  For democratic freedoms.  And for human rights. 

Hillary is an inspiration for us all.   She challenges us all to show leadership on the vital issues of women, peace and security.  She has consistently encouraged NATO to lead by example.  And that’s exactly what we have done.

It is of course a challenging task.  

Armed conflict often hits women and children harder than men.  They lose access to basic services.  To education and economic opportunities.  And increasingly, they are subjected to sexual violence.  The harsh reality is that, in many conflict areas today, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier.

Many conflicts persist because peace talks break down.  Because agreements are ignored.  And because parties find it easier to fight than to negotiate.  Time and again, women find themselves marginalised in these processes.  And they don’t get a chance to make their views known. 

But if women do not play an active part in making peace, and keeping peace, then the needs and interests of half of the world’s population are not taken into account.  So it is vital that we continue to develop our understanding of how women are affected by conflicts.  And how they can be a prominent part of their resolution.  Not sometimes.  But every time. And it is important for me to stress that we should not regard women as victims, but first and foremost as assets.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted almost fourteen years ago.  Since then, we have made progress in ensuring that women are able to assume their rightful place in matters of peace and security.  Particularly at NATO.

NATO’s 20 years of experience in challenging missions and operations has shaped the way we view the role of women in peace and security.  And none more so than our engagement in Afghanistan.  Where we have helped Afghan women and girls to exercise their rights.  And increasingly also to shape the future of their country.

Female experts, both military and civilian, continue to play an important part in our mission.  To ensure that commanders at all levels take women’s perspectives into account.  To provide additional lines of communications to local communities which are not open to male soldiers.  To help build trust and confidence.  And to alert commanders to the specific needs of women and girls, including for basic services and health and education.

Women in uniform lead patrols.  They conduct security checks.  And they provide medical care to the local populations as well as our own troops.  They make a tremendous difference.  And they demonstrate our commitment to the values we hold dear.  Because customs, traditions, and social norms must be respected.  Perhaps even more importantly during conflict.

We have also encouraged Afghan women to join the country’s military and police.  Over 2,000 women are now part of the security forces.  That may not sound like many.  But for a country like Afghanistan, it is a visible change for the better.

Since 2001, the lives of millions of Afghan men, women and children have improved.  Life expectancy has gone up.  Maternal mortality has gone down.  Over 3 million girls now attend school, from almost none under the Taliban.  And women make up 27% of the members of parliament.  This is more than in any other country in the region.  And in fact it is more than in some western countries.

On my many trips to Afghanistan, I have met remarkable women.  Women who are activists, entrepreneurs or politicians.  They are brave. They are  ambitious.

My main message to them is this: play your full part in building a better Afghanistan.  And play your full part in this year’s crucial elections.  As voters, candidates, observers.  And in the forces that will secure the elections.  All Afghans now have the chance to decide their own future and develop their own country.  It is an opportunity they must seize, to preserve the gains that we have made together.     

But of course, NATO’s work to advance women’s roles in peace and security is not limited to crises and conflicts.  Nor should it be. 

We have also worked hard to integrate the principles of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 into our other activities.  We now ensure that gender-related considerations are part of our military planning.  As well as the education, training and exercising of our forces.

We work closely with the United Nations and other international organisations.  And with over 40 partner countries on five continents.  To share experiences and best practices.  To learn from each other.  And to make sure that we complement and reinforce each other’s efforts.

Last but not least, more women now than ever before are actively shaping NATO’s policies.  And putting them into practice.  For the first time in NATO’s history, I have appointed several women in senior positions at our Headquarters in Brussels.    And I will continue to push for women to take their rightful place in our Alliance. 

Eighteen months ago, Mari Skåre, a senior diplomat from Norway, became my Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security.  Having someone like Mari in a dedicated permanent position gives a face and a voice to this vital issue.  Every day, Mari makes sure that we keep women, peace and security high on our NATO agenda.

Women are in key positions in NATO and taking key decisions. This was very clear to me last month, when I chaired a meeting of Alliance Defence Ministers. I was pleased to see  a record number of women sitting around the table. A picture of them together, captioned “Power Women at NATO,” went viral on Twitter.  It didn’t get quite as many hits as the “Oscar selfie”, but it was a powerful image of how far we have come. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For well over six decades, NATO has protected our shared security and our common values.  By reaching out to our neighbours after the end of the Cold War, we worked tirelessly to advance the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.  And we have spread stability across the entire Euro-Atlantic region.

But recent events in Ukraine have shown that we cannot take that security and stability for granted.  And that we need to stand up for our values.

We have seen Russia rip up the international rule book.  Trying to redraw the map of Europe.  And creating in just a few weeks the most serious security crisis since the end of the Cold War. 

This sort of behaviour goes against international norms.  And it simply has no place in the 21st century. 

NATO Allies stand with Ukraine.   We stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  We stand by the right of every nation to decide its own future.  And we will continue to support all constructive efforts for a peaceful solution in accordance with international law. 

In this crisis, as in any other, the link between North America and Europe is the foundation of our strength.

This transatlantic bond remains vital for both sides of the Atlantic to deal with the serious challenges we face.   That is why NATO matters for America, and for Europe.  Because we are stronger within the Alliance than we can ever be alone.

In September, we will hold our next NATO Summit, in Wales in the United Kingdom.  This is an important opportunity to take tough decisions in view off the long-term strategic implications of today's crisis. And to shape an Alliance that is fully fit to provide security for your generation, just as it has done for Hillary’s and mine.

We will make clear that our commitment to the security of Allies is unbreakable. We will take decisions about NATO’s operations and capabilities.  What more we need to do to prepare for future security challenges.  And to offer our partners around the world greater opportunities to consult, decide, and act with us.  So that we ensure that NATO remains an anchor of stability in an unpredictable world.

But we will not forget that our greatest asset will always be our people – the courageous, hard-working, smart women and men in our civilian and military ranks.  They embody our values and our way of life. They are the true strength of the world’s strongest Alliance.

We want to continue to inspire all those men and women.  And we want to continue to inspire and call upon people like you. 

Georgetown has an excellent tradition of service.  It is a renowned institution on international affairs.  And it is a preeminent educator of our next generation of leaders.  Young men and women from across this country and around the globe.  Young people who are hungry to shape their world.  To make a difference.  And to make the future better for all of us.  I expect you will rise to the challenge.

Thank you.

MELANNE VERVEER (Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS)): Obviously questions about whether or not a security agreement will get signed that will enable NATO and its forces to be able to continue in an advisory and a training mode.

Similarly, you discussed the very important role that women in Afghanistan have played. And thank you for the kind of support that NATO has rendered and demonstrated.

But there are tremendous fears on the part of the women there that the great strides that they have made will be reversed as this transition goes forward and they will not be able to play the role they've been playing in advancing the peace stability of the country.

So how do you see the possibilities for the future agreement in terms of the security arrangements going forward after Afghanistan assumes full responsibilities? And how do you see the prospects for women in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Thank you very much. Let me go directly to the bottom-line. I think the bottom-line is we will get a security agreement. We will get a signature on the security agreement. But I don't think President Karzai will sign. So it will be for a new president to sign.

I'm confident we will get a security agreement because a lot is at stake. It's not only about security. But obviously if we don't get a security agreement in place we cannot deploy a training mission after 2014. So if there's no signature, there will be no troops. It is as easy as that.

But it goes beyond security because if we have no troops on the ground I think it will be difficult to generate financial resources to sustain the Afghan Security Forces after 2014. We have built Afghan Security Forces to a level of around 350,000 soldiers and police. This goes far beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government. So if they don't get international financing, they can't pay the salaries! That would a very, very... I would say dangerous situation. Because it might, in the worst case, lead to a dissolution of the Afghan Security Forces. And we would see the security situation deteriorate.

I think the Afghans are very well aware of this. And that's why we have seen all presidents and candidates express support for the security agreement. We also saw last November Loya Jirga express a very clear view that they want the security agreement to be signed as soon as possible. So for these reasons, I do believe we will see the security agreements signed. And we will be able to deploy a training mission from 1st of January 2015.

As regards women's rights, it is a matter of concern but the Afghan government has committed itself to protect human rights, including of course women's rights. And that pledge was delivered at several conferences in Bonn, in Kabul, in Tokyo. And seen from the international community's perspective, it is a mutual commitment.

We have committed to support Afghanistan after 2014 also financially with development assistance. But in exchange we would expect the Afghan government to protect also women's rights. And to put it very bluntly: if women's rights are put in danger in Afghanistan, I think it will be very, very difficult to generate financial resources in many countries to support the Afghan government. So also in that respect, a lot is at stake. And that's why I'm confident whoever will be elected president this year, the new government will protect women's rights.

MELANNE VERVEER: Thank you for that. Now to our questions. And please give us your name and school you're in.

Q: Hi, Secretary General, thank you very much for taking the time to come to Georgetown. My name is Dominique Gilbert. I'm an Evening Program Public Policy student here. And by day I work at Home and Security in our Multilateral Engagement.

My question for you is while I appreciate what you're saying about the importance of respecting the customs of the countries working with, from your perspective what do you think are the first steps in dealing with the cultures that are very different from Western cultures? And then secondly of that is do you see any lacking research that would helpful to put forward when trying to work in these complex situations and trying to encourage governments to include women?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, … quite complicated questions actually. On research, I would leave it to experts actually to elaborate on that. No doubt... no doubt that there is a potential for further research activities. I suppose it's about women's role in preventing conflicts and the resolution of conflicts.

We know... relating this second part of your question to the first part of your question... we know that women play a very particular role in these societies. They have a very strong role in the family. They have a very strong role in the local community. And this is the reason why it's so essential to draw upon women and their human assets in preventing conflicts and in the resolution of conflicts. And no doubt without being an expert in research, no doubt that further research in that area could strengthen the focus on women's role in peace and security.

Now, on the first part of your question, of course, it is a balance. Let's use Afghanistan as an example. I mentioned that it's of upmost importance to respect local traditions, local culture and also that also goes when it comes to the role of women.

But on the other hand we belong to a culture where we do believe that women have equal rights. And obviously we can't and shouldn't suppress that. So though it's a delicate balance, we should of course promote women's rights even in a conservative society where women's rights have not been the focal point. And that's why I mentioned the example from Afghanistan; because we have actually, I think, achieved a lot.

When I meet female politicians in Afghanistan, I'm struck by their determination to promote women's interests and women's rights. When I meet a female journalist I can assure you that they do a tremendous job to protect women's interests and women's rights. And I have met female entrepreneurs. And they have been very creative in establishing new businesses.

So that's also... that gives me some optimism when I meet the young generation, when I meet young women in Afghanistan, I feel confident they will never ever accept to return to the darkness of the past under the Taliban. So it's a balance we have to be prudent in the way we approach this issue. But we should not compromise on our basic belief that women have equal rights. And we should promote these rights also in these societies.


Q: Thank you.

MELANNE VERVEER: And we hope here at the Institute we're going to add to that research data and scholarship base on this issue.

MELANNE VERVEER: Let's go to this side.

Q: Hi, thank you for coming here as well, my name is Elizabeth. And I'm in the School of Foreign Service. So a fair optimism in that security agreement with... on Afghanistan will be reached in the next year. But do you think that say in a situation in the near future where perhaps NATO isn't directly on the ground that only provides financial support to the Afghan Security Forces, do you consider... do you think that it is... that the structures that are in place, helped women in Afghanistan, are sustainable without direct NATO or US military support? I only ask this because it does seem that there is a correlation between, you know, military presence in Afghanistan and the improvement in the rights of women. Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, let me stress that I am indeed very impressed by the capability of the Afghan Security Forces. They have now been in the lead of security since mid-2013. And they have dealt with security challenges in a very professional manner. So that's why we are confident that they will be able to take full responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan by the end of this year as planned.

But having said that, we also believe that they will need our assistance for some time when it comes to training, advice and that's why we have offered to establish a NATO-led training mission after 2014. So if we are not able to establish that training mission, my concern is that they will lack that training, advice, assistance that we could provide.

But more seriously, as I indicated, they will also lack funding. And I think that's the real problem if the international community is not willing to sustain the Afghan Security Forces financially it will be... to go directly to the point, it will be impossible for the Afghan government to sustain the Afghan Security Forces. And in that case, the security situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate.

So... let me stress what I said in my answer to the first question that I feel confident that we will get the signature and will be able to deploy a training mission after 2014. So hopefully your question is a hypothetical question.


Q: Hello, Secretary General, thank you again for coming here today. And my name is Leo Luall (?). I'm a student in the School of Foreign Service. My question is: What do you see as the most pressing security challenge facing the world in the near future? And could you explain NATO's … how you see NATO's role in it?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, hum, if you'd ask two months ago my answer might have been different from what I will answer today.

Q: Maybe both answers?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes. That's exactly what I will do; because we are where we are now. So right now, seen from a NATO perspective, the crisis in Ukraine is the most pressing security challenge right now, also because it goes to the heart of what NATO is about. NATO is about ensuring security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. And what we have seen in Crimea is a threat to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. So right now, this is actually the most severe security challenge.

If you had asked me two months ago, I would have pointed to maybe a range of security challenges, including of course Syria, including the risk of a nuclear proliferation...I could mention Iran as an example...the risk of cyber-attacks.

The reason why I now point to... The fact that I now point to Ukraine as the most pressing security challenge shouldn't overshadow that we still have these other security risks and security challenges. And that boils down to the conclusion that NATO as the world's strongest military alliance should be prepared for all eventualities, whether it is a security challenge in our near neighborhood or even in cyberspace.

And that's why we are, right now, working on an enhanced cyber defence. We are building a NATO missile defence system to protect our populations against potential missile attacks. Just to mention a couple of examples. So this work will continue despite the fact that right now our Allies are, for good reasons, very much focused on the crisis in Ukraine.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Good morning, Madam Ambassador, Mister Secretary General, my name is Michelle Barsaw (?). I work for a DC-based NGO called the Institute for Inclusive Security focused exclusively on women, peace and security. There are a number of people in this room who’ve dedicated a lot of attention to thinking about how to institutionalize attention to women, peace and security within US defence operations. And one of the ways we've approached thinking about that is integrating it into the international level of strategic guidance; so for us the national security strategy, insofar that it forms the national military strategy and the guidance for the employment of forces.

I'm wondering if you can draw parallels for us for the NATO experience. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how attention to these issues has been integrated into the highest level strategic guidance. And I'm also particularly curious about the space for amending and revising NATO's contingency plans for attention to women, peace and security. If you think that's viable. And if NATO might commit to doing that. And if not, what you think the other strategic entry points are?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That's a very comprehensive... question.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes indeed. But maybe I could best answer the question by describing some of our major strategic documents. The overall document is the NATO Strategic Concept. We adopted a new strategic concept in Lisbon... at our summit in Lisbon in November 2010. In that strategic concept we defined three core tasks for NATO: first, collective defence; secondly, crisis management; and thirdly, cooperative security.

Collective defence: that is of course the traditional territorial defence of our populations and our Member States. And you will see during the current Ukraine crisis a lot of focus on that specific task.

Crisis management: you have seen a recent example on that, namely Libya in 2011. Libya is out of area; but it is an example the UN Security Council adopted an historic resolution responsibility to protect the Libyan population against attacks from its own government. NATO decided to take responsibility for that operation. That is an example of crisis management.

And cooperative security: that's very much about our partnerships. We realize that if we are to accomplish our security mission in today's world, we need strong security partnerships across the globe. So we have signed partnership agreements with countries like Australia and Japan. And we have strong partnerships with New Zealand and South Korea.

In today's world, I think it's safe to say no-one can go it alone. Even the strongest nation needs collaborators to give political legitimacy as well as operational strength. And we see that in Afghanistan with a coalition of 50 nations, 28 Allies and 22 partners. That's our overall strategic concept.

And underneath we have other strategic documents. We transformed the strategic concept into concrete military plans. You mentioned contingency plans. As a matter of principle, we never comment on concrete contingency plans. But I can assure you that we have all plans in place to effectively protect and defend all NATO Allies against all possible threats.

Q: And attention to women, peace, security within them?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but that's an integrated... as I described it in my introduction this morning, that's now mainstreamed in our policies, in our military plans. So that's actually the essence of our approach that it should be an integrated part of our strategic documents and our concrete military plans.

MELANNE VERVEER: And this will have to be the last question.

Q: (Inaudible) ... the School of Lifelong Learning. It's not a Georgetown school. Maybe it is. In any case, back when they were in power, the Taliban managed to eliminate poppy growing almost overnight with very few resources other than a few working telephones. Under NATO with all its tremendous resources, Afghanistan has become the opium capital of the world, how do you explain that?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, actually it is the Taliban that profits from the poppy production and poppy cultivation. The fact is that it is the Afghan government that has responsibility for dealing with the poppy cultivation. It's not part of ISAF's mandate. And it is... Let me be honest with you, I also consider it a major problem. And of course it is disappointing to see the development. But I also have to tell you that it's not that easy to solve the problem. Sometimes, we are advised that we should just eliminate the poppy fields. But it's not that easy because if you destroy the poppy fields without providing farmers with an alternative and sustainable livelihood then you'll just push them into the camps of the Taliban.

So the way to reduce poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is to provide farmers with crops that are more profitable than poppies. And that's a more complicated task and it's a more long-term task. Of course, if you destroy, if you burn all fields from one day to the next, then maybe you would feel some satisfaction that you have seen a destruction of the poppy fields. But it's a very, very short-term solution; because if people are not provided with a sustainable alternative livelihood then you will end up in a much worse situation.

So that's the explanation. But I share your frustration. And among the mutual commitments the Afghan government has made as part of the international conferences is that the Afghan government will intensify the fight against drugs production and drugs trade. And hopefully, they will live up to their commitment.