Why NATO matters for you

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the City College of New York

  • 27 Sep. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 08 Apr. 2013 12:42

President Coico, Dean Rosen, thank you for hosting me, and for your tireless service to your university and your community. It is a great honor to speak here today and really a great pleasure to be standing here in this great hall.

Just before the meeting started I had the pleasure to meet a group of students from the Colin Powell Center. And it was indeed a great pleasure for me to talk with them, to listen to their personal stories and their expectations and answer a few questions. And I wish them, and I wish all of you the very best.

And let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to Colin Powell. To the work of Colin Powell. He was an outstanding military leader. He was a remarkable politician. I enjoyed very much working with him on several occasions. And you can be proud that an important center at the City College bears his name.

City College’s mission has always been to ensure that an outstanding education is available to all, including those whose families find it difficult to afford higher education. City College has earned a reputation for this noble endeavor which has included the education of many immigrants and their children.

My own family knows the American immigrant experience. Actually, my son is an immigrant.

He and his family live in Illinois. And I am proud to say that two of my grandchildren are American citizens.

A significant part of City College’s student body was born outside the United States. As you can probably tell from my accent, so was I. I grew up in Denmark, the son of a farmer. I remember getting up very early in the morning to clean the barn. Then after school, I would feed the cows and help take care of our sugar beet crops. It was a great life, although it may not sound like it.

As a farmer, my father has always believed that if you work hard enough, you can achieve success. He instilled that same belief in me. And I have tried to instill it in my own children.
With hard work, and a level playing field, anyone can succeed. This idea has always been central to America’s promise and to the mission of City College. For many years, this institution has encouraged hard work and achievement. And it has helped to demolish the barriers that artificially divide societies -- class, color and country.

I especially commend your Presidential Community Scholars Program that gives local students scholarships in exchange for community service. These scholarships encourage the interaction we need to bridge the gaps between different communities. And they help to give your generation the bright and prosperous future you deserve.

But for a prosperous future you will need a secure future. And that secure future can only come through cooperation. Cooperation within our communities. And cooperation among our countries.

The organisation I represent – NATO - is dedicated to such international cooperation. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the strongest military alliance in history. It is made up of the United States and Canada and 26 European countries. Together, we are committed to help each other defend our territory and populations from attack. If one Ally is attacked, we consider it an attack on all; and the other Allies will send their militaries to the defence of the attacked country. This is the principle, “all for one, and one for all.”

NATO has preserved peace and stability in Europe for well over six decades. For the first forty years of our existence, we deterred the aggression of the Soviet Union. Then, after the end of the Cold War, we reached out to help the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. And many of them have since become members of NATO. We also stepped in to prevent mass murder and restore stability in the Balkans.

But you may wonder whether the Alliance has any relevance for the United States and for your generation. You may ask: What has NATO done for me lately?

My answer is one word: Freedom. The NATO Alliance is defined not by the threats we face, but by the values we share, and by our shared vision of the future we desire. All 28 Allies are united by the same fundamental values of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. We believe that the freedom of the individual is essential to achieving peace among humankind. We are all prepared to defend that freedom. And to fight for it, if we have to.

Centuries ago, my country, Denmark was the centre of one of the largest empires in Europe. Over time, parts of the Empire fell away. Then, during a devastating war in the 19th century, the existence of the country itself seemed at stake.

The country turned inwards, and in an attempt to avoid being involved in conflicts, Denmark pursued a so called neutrality policy. But it didn’t help. Germany attacked and occupied Denmark in 1940.

Denmark survived, not least thanks to the courage and sacrifice of American troops who liberated Europe from the evil of Nazism.

So, when the Danes decided to join NATO in 1949, it was very much in the knowledge that when countries look for security on their own, they usually find only insecurity for themselves and for everyone else. Denmark needed international cooperation for its security. We needed a strong military bond with the United States. And we found it in NATO.

In today’s world, we have all become a bit like Denmark. Because only by working together for our security we can achieve true stability and peace. In our complex, unpredictable and interconnected world, that applies not just to smaller countries like mine, but also to a superpower like the United States.

Just over eleven years ago, terrorists struck at the very heart of this city, and this country. NATO Allies rushed to America’s aid. For the first time in history, we invoked Article 5, the collective defence clause in our founding Washington treaty. Planes flew from Europe, across the Atlantic, to patrol the skies here. We demonstrated in the clearest possible terms that the attacks on the United States were considered an attack on us all.

Since that time, we have stood together as Allies to prevent another “9/11”. We took action in Afghanistan, where we lead the biggest international coalition in recent history, to ensure that that country will never again be a safe haven for terrorists training and planning to strike us at home.

We acted last year over Libya, where we prevented a massacre and helped protect civilians from attack.

We continue to keep peace, and provide a safe environment for all ethnic and religious communities in Kosovo.

We are also present in the Indian Ocean, as part of the broader international efforts to ensure free passage for ships facing the threat of piracy.

In all these missions, we have the political support and operational contributions of many other countries and organizations. Because none of us is safe from the risks and threats of the 21st century – terrorism, piracy, failing states, but also cyber attacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We all understand that these global challenges cannot be confronted by any one army, any one country, or any one Alliance acting alone. They require a new level of cooperation across borders, across regions, and even across cultures.

To preserve and strengthen our security in this new century, we need to work together – together as Allies within NATO. And also with other partner nations and organisations around the world.

And we also need people like you. People who have learned to navigate with ease through different languages, ethnicities, and cultures. So if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to consider careers in international relations. You can do the hard, but rewarding work of bringing people together. And indeed, there is a lot of work to be done.

My friends,
Not long from now, many of you in this room will graduate. And you will go out into the world with the knowledge that if we are to succeed as individuals, then we must cooperate as communities, and as countries.

Broad international cooperation provides the legitimacy and the moral basis that future security efforts will need to succeed.

This is the same spirit of working together, and acting together, that NATO has embodied so effectively through the decades. That is why NATO matters for you.

Together, we can make the difference. So your generation and future generations can face a bright future – a future free from fear, and free to realise your dreams.

Thank you.