Introductory remarks

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the National Defence University, Washington DC

  • 28 Feb. 2012
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  • Last updated: 29 Feb. 2012 08:57

Ambassador McEldowney, thank you for your kind introduction and for leading our discussion here today.

Admiral Rondeau, thank you so much for hosting me here today and bringing together an impressive group of young people.

And Ambassador Hunter, many thanks to you and your team for all the fantastic work you do for our Alliance. I very much appreciate your years of dedication to NATO.

Before we launch into our topic, please allow me to express my profound condolences to the families and loved ones of the American and European service members in Afghanistan who have recently lost their lives in the call of duty. Nothing justifies these attacks. And we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

Many of you here are serving in the armed forces. And almost all of you are the same age as the NATO troops currently serving in Afghanistan. I am certain that you all have brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues who are serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. So I am sure that you feel the recent losses particularly personally – as indeed we all do.

It’s been a tough week – but we must remember why these brave men were in Afghanistan. They were dedicated to helping the Afghan people build a safer future. So that we can all be safer in our streets and in our homes. We cannot allow their sacrifice to be in vain. We must honour their memory by completing our mission. And we will continue working with our Afghan partners to deny extremists the safe haven they still seek.

I want to emphasize that the Afghans remain our partners. Afghan soldiers are alongside ours, fighting to protect the population against threats of extremist violence. Afghan National Security Forces are increasingly in the front line: and their losses are high. They want us to stay and help train and assist them, so that we can achieve our common goal. By end 2014, they will be fully in the lead. NATO will remain resolute, and will stick to the plan for transfer of security responsibility as we agreed with the Afghan Government at the Lisbon summit in 2010.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you heard from Ambassador McEldowney I was Prime Minister of Denmark. The United States and Denmark have a lot in common – except, perhaps, size. We share the same values of freedom, democracy, and prosperity. We share a desire to protect these values. And we also share a lot of history.

Let me tell you three things about Danes and the United States that you may not know. A Danish-American soldier, Hans Christian Febiger, was one of George Washington’s most trusted commanders during the American Revolution. A Danish-American artist, Christian Gullager, made the first sketches of the US symbol, the American Eagle, as well as a portrait of Washington.

And on a personal level, I should note that my son is an American citizen. He and his wife have twins, also Americans. I am sure that I look like just another foreign politician with a name that is hard to pronounce. But for me, transatlantic security is not theoretical. It is very real. And very important.

My son’s family lives in Illinois. My two American grandchildren will share the same security challenges as my two Danish grandchildren. And when NATO leaders meet in Chicago - Illinios - in two months’ time, at the next NATO Summit, we will address security issues that will be vital for the future of our shared transatlantic family.

Our Chicago Summit will be an important event. Because NATO is busier than ever protecting our shared values and our shared security. Today, over 140,000 military personnel are engaged in NATO-led missions on three continents – from Kosovo to the coast of Somalia.

Afghanistan of course remains our main operation -- and it may surprise you that almost 40,000 troops there are European. We continue to keep the peace in the Balkans. And last year, we successfully enforced a United Nations Security Council Resolution to protect the people of Libya.

Let me describe briefly how NATO works. In essence, it’s all about transatlantic teamwork.

First and foremost, NATO is a dynamic forum for consultation on our security. Your voice carries a lot of influence -- because of the size and political and military power of the United States. But before a decision is made, all Allies must agree. Every NATO decision is taken by consensus – so it has the legitimacy of collective agreement among 28 sovereign, democratic nations.

Second, all NATO Allies are covered by Article 5 of our founding Washington treaty. Art 5 states that an armed attack against one or more Allies shall be considered as an attack against all – all for one, one for all. And the first time Article 5 was invoked was in the hours after the 9/11 attacks. Soon after, NATO aircraft deployed to help patrol and defend American airspace. That was visible proof of transatlantic solidarity in your skies.

And Allied support to the United States has not been limited to countering terrorism. Following Hurricane Katrina, in August 2005, NATO coordinated a major relief operation by European nations and delivered a huge quantity of food and emergency supplies.

Third, NATO backs words with concrete action. Collectively, our military forces are the best in the world. Their training and equipment are second to none. And they have a unique record of getting things done, even in the most difficult circumstances. NATO doesn’t just talk about security – NATO delivers security.

Finally, NATO works more and more with partner countries, as diverse as South Korea, Kazakhstan, Australia and Morocco. And they want to work with us. because they know NATO and they trust NATO. In Afghanistan, 50 nations are part of the ISAF mission – that’s one quarter of the countries of the world, and the biggest coalition in history. In Libya, our partners from the region gave us priceless political and operational support. And we are keen to engage our partners even more closely in sharing the security burden around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

NATO was formed during the early days of the Cold War. I know that for many of you, that period is ancient history. But I am one of those who lived through it. And I remember how reassuring it was to be part of the NATO family in a very different, dangerous age.

The world today is just as dangerous, but in different and unpredictable ways. We face many new threats. Terrorism, piracy, cyber warfare, the disruption to our energy supplies, and the world’s most dangerous people getting their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons.

These global threats are too big and complex for any country to tackle on its own – even for your remarkable country. These challenges know no borders. They can only be addressed effectively together with friends, partners and Allies. And that is why today NATO is more important than ever.

Thank you very much.